May 23, 2024

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Yoda and Japanese Word Order

One thing I’ve rarely ever seen was a simple and straight-forward explanation of Japanese grammar.

Call it “zen-attitude” if you like, but I’m all about keeping things simple and minimalistic! Therefore there are a couple of points I want to tackle when speaking about the Japanese language.

I’ve discovered that one of the best ways to explain Japanese, is by using literal translations, sometimes accompanied by an “implied translation” with the focus-point(s) highlighted or underlined. Here’s what I mean:

Japanese: Kore-wa pen desu.

English: This[-of what I speak] pen is.

Implied translation: This is (a) pen.

The reason for this is that, while it’s really nice to know what people are saying in a foreign language – it’s also extremely helpful if you know how those foreigners think and speak in their native language!

The other reason is simply that once you start thinking like a Japanese person, with Japanese word-order in mind, your sentences and grammatical structures will start to flow more naturally. This natural flow of things is known as “the Force”.

Really!? Well no, but that helps us transition to our next point: Yoda.

Yoda is of great interest to Japanese language-learners because his grammar structure is almost identical to basic Japanese. For example:

Japanese: Watashi-no tomodachi-no kuruma-wa shiroi desu!

English: My friends’ car[-of what I speak] white is!

“Yoda-style”: My friends’ car, white it is!

Implied translation: My friends’ car is white.

More precisely however, the word order in the Japanese language is classed as “subject-object-verb“. Consider the example sentence about the pen: Kore-wa pen desu.

Literally it reads as “This pen is“. In that sentence the subject is the word “This” which is marked by the grammar-marker (or “particle” as they’re called) “wa”. Finally the verb to be is conjugated in the present tense as “is” or in Japanese as: desu.

You will hear the word “desu” a lot in Japanese. Although the proper way of writing it phonetically in English is “desu”, it actually sounds more like “dess”.

The Flexibility of Japanese Word Order

In the previous paragraph, I mentioned the words “grammar-marker” or “particle”. These are important aspects of the Japanese language which I’ll be covering in a future article, so we won’t go over them just yet. For now it’s enough that you understand that Japanese word order is extremely flexible because a “particle” tells you what a word is doing in a sentence.

For example in this sentence the particle “wa” stands behind the word “This” (written as “kore”) to indicate that it is the subject of the sentence. Take a second look: “Kore-wa pen desu.”

For now remember simply to follow the way of the Force and you won’t go wrong in Japanese!