23 September 2007

Reading Katakana

Katakana... sometimes a boon, sometimes a bane.

It's a boon when we see something written in Katakana. First of all, we can read what's written. Since chances of it being an English word are reasonably decent, there is a chance that we can not only read, but also understand what is written.

The painful part is to decipher it. Easiest way is to read it aloud, repeat it a few times, now add the thick accent of a Japanese person saying an English (sounding) word, and chances are (50-50) that you'll get it. Some of the more common words written in Katakana are ra-ji-o (radio), oo-i-su-ki (whisky) and do-a (door). Some are uniquely abbreviated in a Japanese style like te-re-bi (television) or ra-ji-ka-se (radio-casette player). Some need more than a few repetitions to get right ke-ki (cake), ku-tsu-ki (cookie) or mi-ru-ku (milk).

The bane of Katakana is to read names written so. Ku-ri-shi-yu-na-n is fairly straightforward. But I raised a racket at the hospital when they gave me the medical report of someone called Ooideiya. No jokes there. That's how my name's written in the Latin alphabet. This is after getting totally massacred by entering it the hospital computers in Katakana. After a few of Aditi's teachers struggled with reading my name, they now call me Aditi-chan-no-mama (the mother of little Aditi). And there my poor mother thought she was doing me a favour by giving me (what she thought was) a short and sweet name.

The real fun starts with movie titles. We want to watch a movie today. And I open the local cinema's online listing, and start to decipher. The first thing to do is eliminate all movie titles written in totally in Kanji or Hiragana. If it's part Kanji part Katakana, I'd read the Katakana bit before discarding it as a potential choice.

Once I start reading the Katakana, I repeat the word aloud a few times to see if it sounds meaningful in English. One of the movies playing today is ハリー ポッターと不死鳥の騎士団. The Katakana part reads Ha-Ree-Po-Tsu-Ta. Say that a few times, and you realise that it sounds like 'Harry Potter' spoken in a thick Japanese accent. And Harry Potter it is. The Kanji part reads "With horseman group of immortal bird". I am not making this up. Copy and paste that into Babel Fish, and see for yourself.

Well, we've watched Harry Potter. So what else is playing, asks A? There's to-ra-n-su-fu-o-ma. Say it aloud. Read it out a few times. Sounds like 'Transformer', doesn't it? Yes, that's the listing for Transformers. And there's fu-a-n-ta-su-te-i-tsu-ku-fu-o, mi-su-po-ta and also ra-tsu-shi-yu-a-va-3.

The last one is fairly easy. Think back on on the sequels and trilogies all this year, and it's not too hard to read that as Rush Hour 3. A is not too keen on watching what he calls 'boring movies' like Miss Potter.

Anyone wants to guess what movie we've finally decided to watch??


Preethy said...

Rush hour 3 right?

Katakana! You are bang on! Its a journey indeed- read aloud twice-thrice ,pregnant pause and then light bulb! 'Chio-ko-re-tto...see?

Tys on Ice said...

my bro is in japan rite now...and i hope to good that he manages to get something to eat...ur post is worrying me...u really speak it? how hard was that?

Vidya said...

@preethy: Nopes.. that was Fantastic Four. One of these days, preferably a Sunday, I have this grand plan of walking around town taking pics of some katakana signs that are a scream. But other than you and Arun no one else is likely to understand that :D

@Tys: If your bro is a carnivore, he has nothing to worry about. Other than whether his dinner is still alive, or cooked. Speak it?? My friend, I read and write some too. I got 2 scripts down pat, and starting to learn the third. Otherwise this little village can drive u nuts

bee said...

you are a trooper, ooideiya ... lol, living in japan and tryign to grasp its lannguage and culture within such a short time span. more power to you.

RJ said...

First time here from jugalbandi.info.
Nice blog, will blogroll.

Do you not get frustrated living in a place where you don't understand language ? It must be hard. Is it ?

TBC said...

OMG! and I thought moving to the U.S. was tough! I will never complain again:-)

Vidya said...

@bee: Thanks for the cheer.

@rj: well, at some point I guess I choose not to let it get to me. Otherwise life can be really frustrating. And the way I look at it, I'm not likely to live in a prettier place than this. Or in a totally alien culture. So I'm trying to live life to the hilt.

@tbc: at least you understand what someone's saying to you instead of trying not to look dumb :D

Nikita said...

First time on ur blog. Very interesting. You are one brave family. I am living in Bangalore and find it difficult coping with kannada in 3 years. Well, I never really made the effort coz I can very well make do without it.