Classical Construction Ahead: Why Modern Japanese Speakers Should Still Care About the Ancient Verb あり
The picture you see above was taken yesterday on a main street in a sleepy suburb of Tokyo. At first sight there seems to be nothing particularly difficult about this short Japanese text. But on a closer look you will notice one word that appears very unusual: what could that あり possibly be doing there?
Before we reveal the answer, let's go over the text as a whole. The sign says:
The opening lines of the short story A Lamp (一燈 | いっとう) by Dazai Osamu (太宰治 | だざいおさむ):
It may not always be obvious in everyday life — where the word すごい forms about 86.93% of what people say to each other — but Japanese has a very rich and precise vocabulary that can sometime refer to extremely particular phenomenons in the world.
四半期 (しはんき) is a common word in news reports, and it becomes much more common every January when the media analyzes various data from the previous year.
But there is something strange about this word. 半期 means "half year", and I've previously discussed how it's used in the terms 上半期 and 下半期. So when we see it used with a prefixed 四, we experience a slight mind-bend. Is it "four halves"? That doesn't make any sense.
One of the things that never fail to amaze me about Japanese is how, in practically every text I read, I come across new words that I have never seen before. When this keeps happening to you after more than ten years of extensive exposure to a language, you know you're dealing with something so vast and rich that any attempt to "master" it can only end with the would-be master himself getting mastered, owned, and thoroughly humbled.
Falling below the mark: １００万人割れ
With Japan being one of the most prominent birthically-challenged countries in the world, the local media has long ago made reporting on annual birth statistics an enduring year-end tradition.
One of the difficult things about reading Japanese literature is that common words are often written in uncommon ways. While every learner expects verbs, adjectives, and nouns to do their worst with kanji, there are other parts of speech that are normally written in hiragana but suddenly reconnect with their dark kanji side in more advanced texts.
Many new readers and subscribers have joined Reajer, and you all came just in time for the shiny new corner here on the blog: Japanese News Vocabulary.
These posts will pick up and look into key words in high-profile news stories in the Japanese media, with the aim of giving you practical insight into how current affairs — both in Japan and the rest of the world — are perceived and described in Japanese.
So without further ado, let's start learning our first four news vocab items, which appear in stories on events that range from Japan all the way to the Wild West.
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