Mar 6


By translator and writer Jamie Graves (Saitama-Ken 2002-2003)

If you studied Japanese at the college level, your first exposure to the language most likely came from the red and black circles of Eleanor Harz Jorden’s seminal textbook “Japanese: The Spoken Language.” Jorden recently passed away at the age of 89, having spent her entire adult life studying and teaching Japanese linguistics to English speakers. Jorden was part of the generation of Japanese scholars that became active and influential just after World War II, and whose work laid the foundations for modern study and understanding of Japan in the English speaking world. When the translations of Donald Keene and Edward Seidensticker inspired many to study Japanese language and literature, it was often the system Jorden developed that they used to learn it.

As a linguist, Jorden was extremely concerned with accuracy and precision. Switching to Japanese in the middle of my junior year, I moved from the copiously illustrated “Genki” series of textbooks, with its illustrated storyline of Mary-san the exchange student slowly learning Japanese language and culture, to Jorden’s blocky and forbidding introduction. There were no photos, illustrations or cultural asides in Jorden’s book, just rows of text and the occasional explanatory table. Instead of hellos and introductions the book begins like a science text, defining its most basic terms. “Mora is the term we will use to refer to the syllable-like unit of Japanese: each mora represents one beat and occupies roughly the same unit of time (a 3-mora word takes three times as long to pronounce as a 1-mora word).” Read More

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