Emily, an exchange student, is staying with the Yamamoto family and is heading out in the morning.
Emily: Anou, ima nan-ji desu ka. Um, what time is it (now)? あのう、今 いま 、何時 なんじ ですか。
Yamamoto: Etto…hachi-ji desu yo. Let’s see…it’s eight o’clock. えっと、八時 はちじ ですよ。
Emily: Ja, itte kimasu. じゃ、行い ってきます。 Well, see you later.
Outside, Emily sees Mr. Tanaka, a neighbor.
Emily: Ii otenki desu nee. It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it? いいお天気 てんき ですねえ。
Tanaka: A, Emily-san, gakkou desu ka. Oh, Michael. Are you going to school? あ、エミリーさん。学校 がっこう ですか。
Emily: Ie, kyou wa gakkou ja nai desu. No, not school, today.
Arubaito desu. I’m working. いえ、今日 きょう は、学校 がっこう じゃないです。アルバイトです。
anou あのう um… (hesitation noise)
ima いま 今 now
nan-ji なんじ 何時 what time
desu です is X etto えっと let’s see… (hesitation noise)
hachi-ji はちじ 八時 eight o’clock
ii いい good
o- お affix indicating politeness
tenki てんき 天気 weather
otenki おてんき お天気 weather (polite)
ii otenki いいおてんき いいお天気 good weather
gakkou がっこう 学校 school
ja nai desu じゃないです is not X
arubaito あるばいと アルバイト part-time job (of students), side job
＋baito ばいと バイト abbreviated form of arubaito
＋~han 〜はん 半 half (past the hour)
＋ame あめ 雨 rain
＋yuki ゆき 雪 snow
＋atsui あつい 暑い hot
＋samui さむい 寒い cold
＋shigoto しごと 仕事 work, job
＋kaisha かいしゃ 会社 company, work
＋kaimono かいもの 買い物 shopping
＋sanpo さんぽ 散歩 walk
＋yasumi やすみ 休み time off, absence, (store) closed
/Noun + desu / 'is N' /Noun + ja nai desu/ 'is not N'
/X desu/ means ‘is X’ (Affirmative) and /X ja nai desu/ means ‘is not X’ (Negative). These noun sentences are Non-Past and Formal.
Ame desu yo. It’s raining.
Kore wa gakkou desu ka. Is this a school?
Honda-san ja nai desu ka? Aren’t you Ms. Honda?
A negative question can be also used 1) to show some uncertainty, and 2) to politely correct someone.
1) Ima, na-ji desu ka. What time is it?
-Yo-ji ja nai desu ka? Isn’t it four?
2) San-ji desu yo. It’s three.
-Anou, yo-ji ja nai desu ka. Umm, isn’t it four?
Recall that what is obvious from the context is usually not mentioned in Japanese. In the dialogue above, Ms. Tanaka sees Michael going somewhere, and checks if he is going to work. All she has to say is ‘Is it work (that you are going to)?’
A sentence X wa Y desu is usually translated as ‘X is Y’. However, unlike the English translation, where X equals Y (Y is the identity of X), the interpretation of the Japanese sentence is more open and flexible. Consider the following:
Honda-san wa shigoto desu.
This sentence does not mean ‘Ms. Honda IS work’, but rather for Ms. Honda what is under discussion is the work. So, there are numerous possible interpretations depending on the context. For example, she is at work, her priority is her work, her plan for the weekend is to work, what she likes is her job, to list a few. So, be aware of the context and be imaginative. Now, test your imagination. What can the following possibly mean?
Honda-san wa Panda desu.
Hours are named by attaching –ji to the number. Minutes will be introduced later. You can attach –han to the hour to mean ‘half past the hour’. Note that, unlike English, when asking what time it is, ima ’now’ is commonly used in Japanese, as shown in the dialogue above.
Hesitation Noises: Anou and Etto
Hesitation noises are very common in Japanese conversations. Without them, a conversation may sound too mechanical and abrupt. Japanese conversations tend to favor less direct and less confrontational exchanges. ‘Beating around the bush’ may not be such a bad thing when speaking Japanese. One way to do it is to use hesitation noises. A lot of them!
Anou and etto are two of the most common hesitation noises in Japanese. Anou is the all mighty hesitation noise while etto indicates that you are searching for the right answer. So, when asked what your name is, for example, anou is fine, but not etto. Anou is also used to get attention from a person, but not etto.
Besides the hesitation noises, you also hear Japanese speakers elongating the last vowel of each word, or inserting desu ne between chunks of words to slow down speech.
Imaaa, anooo, Honda-san waaaa, shigotooo desu. Honda is at work now.
Ashita desu ne, anoo desu ne zenbu desu ne tsukurimasu. I’ll make all tomorrow.