Apr 17, 2014

Japanese Underground Hip Hop?

If you are learning Japanese and are not subscribed to Vice Japan on Youtube, I would suggest you do so now.

Anyway, I came across a video about Japanese underground hip hop from the Vice Japan Youtube channel. It was quite interesting to say the least. I am always fascinated at how certain cultural aspects can transcend nations and make it all the way across the world. Hip hop is definitely one of those things, whether you like it or not.

My first thought about watching this Japanese hip hop video was that these guys are HOOD. They go their swag turned on like Soulja Boy. These guys were decked out in bandannas, doo-rags, pants to the ground, hat turned sideways (100 points if you get that reference). Apparently the Japanese hip hop scene is very small. It's funny how trends in hip hop fashion can spread so fast. They were even doing hand signs. I'm black and these guys are blacker than me. LOL

There are many people, specifically black people, that will decry any emulation of hip hop culture by anyone who is not black. I am not one of those people. Yes, hip hop and rap were started by black people here in the United States, but it has gotten so large that hip hop scenes are emerging at every corner of the world, with the mecca of course, being here. I don't like the idea of hip hop and rap being something that is solely and authentically "black." I am black and I do not participate in hip hop culture nor do I listen to rap music. It is not to defy some stereotype. I grew up around rap music and know plenty about it even though I don't go out of my way to listen to it. Occasionally there is a song or artist that I will like but that's it. I don't consider myself a special snowflake for not listening to rap; it is what it is. Being black does not have to be associated with hip hop culture, though that is something that most people don't seem to understand. Since images of black people portrayed in the media are quite limited, most of the images people get are from rap and hip hop music. Thus, it gets associated with all black people and the black experience.

That is why I have no problem with others indulging in the culture, the clothing, the mannerisms, etc. They are not trying to be "black" by doing these things just like I am no less black by not doing those things. Yes, I made a joke about these Japanese hip hop artists being blacker than me, but that is merely in jest and partially referring to people who call me "white" for not being a walking stereotype. Now, that doesn't mean that no problems exist. There are people that take no this guise of faux-blackness as a commodity and selling point, at the expense of black people who have been doing these things all along. It is no coincidence that white rappers like Vanilla Ice (yep, he sold over a million records at one point. It was a dark time), Eminem, Macklemore, etc. gain fame. They produce the appeal of hip hop culture without the negative stereotypes of being black. Also, in other countries, a lot of aspects of hip hop culture and imagery are taken on as a gimmick for widespread appeal, all the while questionable and downright offensive acts take place (use of n-word, blackface, etc.) as is constantly seen in K-Pop.

All that being said, if these guys in hood in Japan want to turn their swag on, wear doo-rags and sing songs about money and "d**k in the p****y" that's fine by me. I'm not the hip hop police anyway. I honestly just thought that it was a little silly that the Japanese hip hop artists were basically mimicking pretty much everything about hip hop culture. There was no originality at all. On the other hand, second rate rappers here do the same thing. However, as for the rappers featured in the video....maybe they should stick to their day job.

Apr 14, 2014

The Weird Connection Between Chinese and Terrible 90's Rap Music

So I have decided to start learning Mandarin Chinese. Why, you ask? Why not?

But really, I decided to watch a Taiwan drama, Hana Kimi. Then I thought, is there any reason why I shouldn't have knowledge of this language? No! Alright then I'm learning it! I have always had the thought in the back of mind to begin studying it, but everywhere you look there are reasons as to why it is so "hard." There are too many tones, too many dialects, too many characters, etc. So far, I honestly don't think it is that hard.  I am not some language learning genius or anything, but I already recognize a lot of the characters from studying Japanese, and many of the compounds are the same. Plus, the tones don't really seem that difficult either....it just seems like something you would have to get used to, but I don't see why it is in the level of impossibility. In the (paraphrased) words of the great Khatzumoto, there is no such thing as a hard language, just one you have to get used to. Besides, I would be basically be setting myself up for failure by constantly bombarding myself with the thought that it is too difficult to do, which (un)ironically I have been doing all this time, or I would have done this eons ago! People constantly rife about how hard Japanese is, but look at me now! *watches drama without subtitles*

Anyway, to explain the title of this post, the "e" sound (if you can call it that, it really is nowhere close to the e in English) in Mandarin is quite interesting. As adequately described in an app I'm using, it is similar to the sound we English speakers would make when disgusting with something. I have downloaded an Anki deck of basic Chinese grammar, and one of the words is "hungry," 饿." If you copy and paste that character into the dictionary here, you can hear an audio sample of the word. It basically sounds like "uuuh," especially the slowed down pronunciation. Which reminded me of this song:

So thanks to a terrible 90's rap song, that is one word I will never forget.

Basically, I am going to do the same thing I did with Japanese; watch tons of dramas/movies, listen to lots of music in Mandarin, SRS, the whole deal....the future awaits!

Apr 9, 2014

Why Worry About the "Why's"?

We humans are an interesting species. When we are younger, we are continuously told to do things with little explanation, other than simply "Because I said so," or "That's the way it is." For example, don't pick the cat up by the tail and throw it around. Why? Because I said so. We aren't told that kitty might not like that or that it might secretly plan your demise after years of playful abuse....

Other things we are told: "Eat your vegetables," "Do your homework," "You can't do this if you're a girl," "You can't do this if you a boy," etc. We aren't quite told why we should eat our vegetables, do our homework, or why we must follow these strict socially imposed gender roles. We just do these things because of conditioning, and as a result we grow into the adults that we are. Many of use figure out at an early age that we've been duped and lied to, and break free of these social norms, carving out our own identity.

So what does this have to do with how to learn Japanese?

The same way we are taught behaviors and social norms, we are taught language. As children, when we are developing and crafting our infantile speech, we are not going to speak articulately from the beginning. We say things like "I go pee!" and "I no want that" and other grammatical mistakes. These errors are instantly corrected by those people around us almost instinctively. This helps craft our usage of our native language. We never know why we say the things we say, we just know what sound right and what sounds wrong because it has been ingrained in us since an early age.

As I said before, when we get older, this habit of blindly following what we are told to do simply because a grown up says so slowly dissipates. This effects the way we learn languages. Instead of hearing the way something is said and remembering it at face value, we must know "why." Why is the verb at the end of the sentence? Why is that particle used that way in this sentence, but another way in that sentence? Why does this word have two meanings? So on and so forth.

It is commonly mistaken that children have a better capacity for learning languages than adults; this isn't quite true. Children just have a better ability to parrot what's being told to them, without questioning why it is said or the grammatical rules. That is why children swear after hearing adults saying these words, or why they run around spouting the catchphrases of their favorite character. What goes in ear, comes out of mouth.

As adults, there is way to much focus on grammar when learning languages. Remember learning Spanish or French as mandated in school as a kid? It is certain that the teacher didn't waste time explaining to you what the subject, object, indirect object or past participle was. They just told you a phrase, you repeated it. The complexities of grammar are way to difficult for little minds to understand.

So that is why when we take language classes, we are stuck pouring over books with long, unnecessarily complicated grammar explanations that really do little to help us learn the language. What you end learning is pointless grammar rules, and not the language itself. Native speakers of the language most certainly don't know these rules unless they studied them extensively. Think about it, how much about English grammar do you know? The majority of native English speakers don't know the difference between "who" or "whom." Heck, a lot of us don't even know the difference between "its" and "it's" or even "two", "to" or "too." We don't know why thy the plural of "hoof" is "hooves," we just know that it is like that. Why is the plural of "goose" "geese," but the plural of "moose" is not "meese?" Who cares? It does not matter, we just know that more than one moose does not equal meese.

For example, look at this wikipedia page on Japanese grammar.


Now, when it comes to learning Japanese, is learning grammar necessary at times? Yes, because some languages are just so different from English that the nuances need to be explained to be understood. When many people inquire about how to learn Japanese, commonly, they are recommended textbooks, grammar books, software, CDs and tapes (remember those?). Sure, the language learning business is pretty big, and these companies need to make money by convincing you that you need to learn all of these needlessly complex grammatical rules to comprehend a language. However, all you really need to know is how to say something, and when to say it. Knowing why you say it isn't a necessity, unless you plan to become a learned linguistic scholar. Instead of wasting time reading countless textbooks and grammatical explanations in English, it is best to approach the language in its natural habitat, so to speak. The more you expose yourself to the actual language instead English explanations of the language, the more you will learn.

There are better things to ponder about, like why cats are set to take over this planet as we know it.

Edit- Coincidentally, I have come across another blog post that supports this theory! http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/why-is-knowing-the-whys-of-grammar-a-waste-of-your-time