Thursday, June 03, 2010

New Beginning 756

What was I, Danielle Crupp, doing on a flight to Tokyo? Especially with a name like Crupp?

My name had always been unremarkable until Japanese I class my freshman year at Rock Creek U. Taking roll, Murata-sensei got to me and stopped. “Uh, Crupp is not a good name in Japanese,” she announced. “We don’t have the u sound like in up, so we say your name with an ‘a’ like in ‘Cr-Ap.’” She shook her head. “You cannot be ‘Ms. Crap.’”

No kidding.

But then Murata-sensei gave me a real Japanese name, Kurohara-san, a lucky pick because, now as a “K”, I was seated alphabetically next to Megan McCarthy. Within weeks, Megan and I were sweating over dialogues, testing each other on Kanji, and cursing our classmates who had the advantage of being part-Japanese. By our second year in Japanese II, Megan and I were best friends.

At decision time for junior year, I fully expected to go for Japanese III, but Megan had other plans. “I’m applying to study abroad at Kowa University in Tokyo,” she told me. “It’d be awesome if you did too…”

“Me? Go to school on the other side of the world? Not happening."

But as I followed her Facebook posts that first semester, it sounded so great I just had to go.

The Japanese businessman in the seat next to me gave a kindly smile and said, "I hope you will have a wonderful time in Japan. By the way, what do you plan to do after you graduate? Will you use your Japanese?"

"Oh yeah. I want to work for the Convention and Visitors Bureau in my hometown, marketing to Japanese tourists."

"And where is your hometown?"

"I'm from Gary, Indiana," I said and sang him a few lines of the "Gary, Indiana" song from The Music Man. By the time I finished he was laughing so hard green tea was spewing out his nose.

That's how I learned that Gary sounds like the Japanese word for diarrhea. I start Norwegian next semester.

Opening: MC.....Continuation: John


Evil Editor said...

I like this just fine.

In the sentence: By our second year in Japanese II, Megan and I were best friends, You might surround "in Japanese II" with dashes so it doesn't sound like they were taking Japanese II for the second time. Or change "second" to sophomore.

Also, as universities tend to have a lot of courses in any one subject area, it seems odd they would number them with Roman numerals. A high-level course in Japanese literature might turn out to be an unwieldy Japanese CCLXXIII. Maybe your introductory course should be numbered 1 or 101.

Anonymous said...

This is fabulous. I love it. "You cannot be Ms. Crap. No Kidding"--hilarious.

Great voice, great setup. Gets a bit weaker by the end, not sure why, maybe the dialoque is more trite? But the first 4 paras are great.

Amy said...

I like this. I agree that it gets a little weaker towards the end of the excerpt (dialogue a little phony), but I'd read on.

Dave F. said...

There's a definite tone in the first paragraphs that doesn't carry into the last two. Your character changes her voice in the last two paragraphs. It goes from slightly irreverent and snarky in the first four paragraphs to prim and proper in the last two.

Evil Editor said...

Is it normal for each level of a language to be taught over the course of a year, or would Japanese 1 & 2 be taught first year, 3 & 4 the second year, with one semester per level?

Angie said...

Can't really add to what everyone else has said. Do want to give kudos for the voice in the beginning.

In high school we took Spanish 1,2,3,4 for an entire year, but at my college an entire year was crammed into 1 semester.

Dave F. said...

I know that the latest language courses teach by immersion and give the recipient passable conversation ability in six to eight weeks. It's not perfect. It's not pretty. But it works. I've spoken and worked with some very impressive students of that method -- from China no less.

I think that second and third year college courses would venture into writing the language and reading the literature in the original.

Considering the complexity of Japanese (inflection, pictograms, at least, two alphabets), a third year abroad makes sense to me.

MC said...

Author here.

Thanks for the fun continuation, John, and for the comments - particularly about the change of tone in the last two paragraphs.

As to how much of a language is taught when, EE, it depends on the language and the university, but ones with hard core Russian, Arabic or East Asian studies programs do each level for one year, for 2 hours/day every day, often starting the first year at 8 am - a major deterrent for incoming freshmen!

Ellie said...

To each their own--for me, this has a lot to like, but doesn't seem to work as a whole. I agree with others that the "Ms. Crap" thing is pretty funny.

But the fourth paragraph just raises a lot of questions for me. Do university classes really have people sit in alphabetical order? None of mine ever went through that trouble. Why is she happy to be next to Megan? If it were high school, I'd assume Megan was popular, but how do they know each other in college? What's so great about Megan?

So I'm thinking these things, and then I get to the next paragraph, and it feels like it's a closed loop now. "What was I doing on a flight to Tokyo? I was going to study at Kowa University with my friend Megan." And I'm like, well, okay then. I don't know anything about Megan or Danielle or why they're interesting, so I'm not especially compelled to read on.

Like I said, to each their own! I'm obviously the odd one out, so it might be better to ignore me. *laughs* But I did want to put in my two cents.

_*rachel*_ said...

My experience is that Roman numerals mean high school language classes, whereas digits mean college. If a college is large enough to have more than a few languages, it'll have enough classes it can't stick Roman numerals on them.

Google "Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures" and check out college course listings if you want more specific titles that tell you what semester you're in. Especially check out big language places like Middlebury, Indiana University, and Columbia University.

This semi-interested me. I like it with the language differences (I actually do an on again/off again blog on that sort of thing), but as an opening it felt a little slow for me.

OK, so my (recent) experiences with Arabic: 100 the first semester, 150 the second, and so on. Classes taught almost exclusively in Arabic, 5 days a week, by grad students (who, interestingly enough, are often native speakers of neither Arabic nor English), not uncommonly at prohibitive hours of the day. Within a semester or two, you could conceivably know enough of the language to go into survival mode until you found somebody who spoke English.

Two years of the language before study abroad is a good time length (it'll have to be). A college with a decent language and study abroad program, especially the ones mentioned above, will almost certainly have an excellent (stay with a family, classes taught in that language) program for Japanese. (If I start ranting on Arabic study abroad programs, tell me to shut up.)

Sorry to spend so much time on the setup and so little on the piece itself, but I thought I'd be more helpful there, and it's something I know how to talk about in great length.

iago said...

This certainly zips along lightly and the voice is nice, though it reads more YA to me.

As another example of "each to their own", I'm personally not a huge fan of the Crupp/Crap joke, mainly because it feels like you called her Crupp just so you could have the joke.

(They could also get away with the name thing by transliterating to クルップ instead of クラップ)

Anyway, given Japanese doesn't have the "th" sound either, I feel a little sorry for Megan Maku-arsee.

MC said...

The target audience here is upper YA - i.e. kids in high school.

Anonymous said...

EE LIKES THIS JUST FINE!!!!!?????Congrats, bouquets. I had a comment but I forgot it.
Go baby go,

pacatrue said...

I had a problem here that most of your readers won't have, but I can't help it, which is that the crupp/crap thing doesn't match with my dialect of English and knowledge of Japanese. Japanese has five basic vowels, as I understand, [i], [e], [a], [o], and [u] (though the last [u] has a different lip shape). Those sounds in words are roughly the sounds in heat, hate, hot, hote? (boat, tote, etc.), and hoot.

Now in American English the word crap has none of those vowels. So I get there and I'm thinking "but Japanese doesn't have the crap sound." I finally realized it's because I'm doing American English and you are likely assuming a different dialect in which crap is said with something like the [a] sound.

Anyway, I don't know if the crap/crupp joke works for all the other Americans here because they aren't as American-centric as my shallow self and flipped dialects, or if they just happen not to know that Japanese doesn't have the vowel they are hearing in their head for crap.

Virtually everyone in that class is going to have some sounds in their name that aren't easily pronounced in Japanese, such as McCarthy, which has a violation of Japanese syllable structure in all three syllables, so it's not clear to me why Crupp is singled out. I've only taken one semester of Japanese years ago, but when I took Chinese, all of us were given Chinese names.

MC said...

Pacatrue -

The "a" in Japanese sounds like the a in "hat" or "crap." There's no long "a" as in "hate" so anyone who has studied Japanese will get the Crap/Crupp joke, and anyone who hasn't will have to trust the author's claim here.
(Also there, is no "o" sound like in "boat" as you suggest.)

You're right that often teachers give everyone Japanese/Chinese names in these types of immersion classes. I'm still trying to decide whether I should do that in this story.

iago said...

Also there, is no "o" sound like in "boat" as you suggest.

Uh, yes there is. お/オ sounds just like the "o" in boat/tote/rote.

MC said...

Not to get into a linguistic back and forth or anything, but, no, that Japanese "o" sounds like the spanish "o" in "No" or somewhat like the English "o" in "or". The sound is definitely not the sound of the "o" in boat, nor is it the "o" in "hot" which is why it's hard for many native English speakers to speak with a good Japanese accent.

iago said...

If you like.

pacatrue said...

I may be wrong, but my understanding has been that the basic vowels in Japanese are:

1) high front unrounded [i]
2) mid front unrounded [e]
3) low central (to back) unrounded [a] (discussed more below).
4) mid back rounded [o]
5) high back unrounded (it's not simply unrounded usually, instead it's done with lip compression often, and then it can take rounding from adjacent consonants through coarticulation, but basically it's high back unrounded [ɯ].

So, I agree with MC that the [o] sound in Japanese is a simple [o] and not the diphthong that occurs in English which is, basically, [ou] (some transcribe [oʊ]. If you say the diphthong by starting at [o] and sliding slightly higher and back, it gives you an English accent in your Japanese. As MC says, a simple [o] is used in Spanish and French. I used boat as an example because it's the closest sound in American English without writing this current paragraph.

The only important thing for the query, however, is that low central (back) vowel: [a]. In American English, the sound in hat and crap is not [a], but [æ]. It's a pretty subtle distinction and I can see why a Japanese teacher might say it is the sound in hat, even though my check of Japanese vowel charts currently agree its not [æ]. [æ] occurs in almost all American dialects, while [a] only occurs in some, and [æ] is close, I guess. [a] can be the vowel in that Boston dialect, park the car in harvard yard. To me the Japanese [gawa] is just really different from [gæwæ], and I couldn't go there with the author.

Anyway, I don't know if any of this is important. I teach phonetics and so it popped into my head uncontrollably. It won't affect the large majority of your readers. It's probably better to just have a few readers who speak Japanese and English read bits of it. If they buy it, then my comment here is Crupp, I mean, crap.

Anonymous said...

But the question is, why would the "ru" in Crupp get transliterated to "ra" in Japanese when Japanese has a perfectly acceptable "ru" sound?

Why would Crupp become ku-ra-ppu when it can become ku-ru-ppu?

Evil Editor said...

My guess: so the teacher can get a cheap laugh out of the males in the class at the expense of Ms. Crupp. Or so the author can get a cheap laugh out of the males reading the book.

MC said...

Thanks for your extensive comments!
P - You're absolutely right that the "a" in "gawa" in Japanese is different than the "a" in "crap," but I figured it's close enough to make the joke.

In any case, this is all moot 'cause if I'm lucky enough to sell this manuscript, the editor will probably tell me the book really begins with chapter two...