Thursday, January 15, 2009

Berated for speaking Japanese like a yakuza

As you might know, I grew up in an Italian-American family in a suburb of Philadelphia. I don't know if this is something that all Italian-American kids run into, but one day my dad sat me down and - I kid you not - told me that I was never to get involved in the mafia. I thought he was kidding and kind of laughed it off, but he was quite serious. I think this may have been a real concern for people of his generation, having grown up in heavily Italian-American parts of Philly in the 1940s and 1950s, and I had the feeling that this was a talk his own dad had had with him at some point. But, as the good little suburban Eagle Scout that I was, I didn't have the first clue about how to join the mafia and the idea was so foreign to me that my dad's little sit-down seemed downright silly.

So it was with much amusement today that I got berated by my wife for speaking like a mafioso. We've been watching through The Sopranostogether lately, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that it wasn't the influence of The Sopranosthat had me talking like a mafioso, because my wife was complaining about me doing it in Japanese - not English. We had our little spat in Japanese, and apparently I started sounding like a yakuza, i.e., a member of the Japanese version of the mafia.

However, I do know where to lay the blame. Japanese movies and television featuring yakuza characters, as well as manga that I read while learning Japanese in high school, share some of the blame, but I lay most of it on the shoulders of a good Japanese friend of mine (who shall remain nameless, although my wife will surely know who I'm talking about) who goes out of his way to teach me how to say entertaining (to him) things in Japanese. These have variously included obscure slang that even my Japanese wife doesn't understand, his Tokyo dialect attempt at Osaka dialect, Okinawan words, samurai-speak, and, of course, yakuza-speak, including such "gems" as throwing ora at the end of a sentence, which basically does nothing more than to indicate that you're pretty dang peeved, or "Nani gan kureten da yo?!", which would most appropriately be translated as "What the @#$% are you looking at?!" The two of us have gotten pretty good at going back and forth with the latter in faux anger and other Japanese speakers have suggested that we take our comedic duo on the road. As fun as that might be, I think I'll hang on to my day job for the time being.

Now, of course, I wasn't dropping such bombs as "Nani gan kureten da yo?!" in the tiff with my wife, but apparently my intonation and pronunciation started getting a little yakuza like. I think my faux-anger Japanese unintentionally permeated my real-anger Japanese, and she did not appreciate at all.

Point taken. But, I do have to say that, as a Japanese learner, it is kind of fun to get berated for speaking like a yakuza. Better that than getting berated for sounding like a foreigner!

(As an aside, my wife likes to watch The Sopranoswith subtitles, because she has no idea what any of the Italian words they use are and some English words are new to her as well (today she learned "going on the lam"). I've come to love the subtitles as well because they're revealing a lot of the dialectical Italian that was spoken around me as I grew up that I could never figure out. My dad used to goofily say, "I'm one cool gubbagool," and even going over the various possibilities for how that might be spelled in standard Italian, I could never figure out what exactly it was. It turns out the word in standard Italian is capicollo, and it's some kind of meat. I'm still not sure what the heck my dad meant by "cool gubbagool"; he was a cold piece of meat? But then again he had a history of goofy little sayings, such as "lobster lips", which he lifted from a He-manepisode I was watching.)

2 comments:

  1. I dont know where you are from, but i live in Hiroshima, and the only people that use "dayo" are okamas and prostitutes, so... im not sure if you speak like a Yakuza, it seems that you are more like a chinpira. people Here in Hiroshima will laugh if you are a gaijin and try to speak like a yakuza.

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  2. That must be a regional difference then... pretty much everyone in Tokyo says "da yo" all the time. It definitely doesn't have any association with yakuza, chinpira, okama, or prostitutes.

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