Linguistics of Exploring Akita (Living in Akita, Pt.5)

 Since I’ve started to adjust to Japan and am feeling better, I’ve felt the need even more to explore around my locale. Fortunately, the route to Akita City from the school is fairly simple, fast, and not all too expensive if you can catch the right combination of trains and busses. We were able to figure it out with a group of just under 10 people, thinking together with the route information in hand.

 I talked earlier about the benefits of traveling with a group, but more than that, the benefits extend exponentially when members of your group come from different linguistic backgrounds. This became clear from the moment we left the school, and became increasingly apparent as the day went on.

 As Akita is in rural Japan, almost all of the commerce and business takes place in either typical Japanese, or Akita-ben, the local dialect. Although clearly based in Japanese, from what I’ve heard from many of the foreign students who have had conversations in which the person they were speaking to spoke the dialect, it can be difficult to communicate between a foreign accented individual and someone who speaks mainly in the dialect. Fortunately for us- as no one spoke Akita-ben- much of the communication in the city took place in standard Japanese.

 Because of that, from the moment we got to the bus stop only communication between the students was in English. Getting train tickets, thanking the bus driver, navigating the stations, and everything else that took place between us and Japan took place in Japanese; which made for an interesting mix of linguistic compensation.

 Because most of us were at a beginning level of Japanese (between Japanese 1 and 6), we gradually began working out systems to get where we needed to go. To begin with, if someone didn’t understand something, they would generally appeal to the closest person who seemed to know the most Japanese, or who was in the highest class. From there, that person would often confirm with someone near their level; if they didn’t know, they would usually bring it to the whole group, and discuss the grammar before generally agreeing and moving on.

 It’s interesting especially because often, within consultation and discussions, everyone would bring their own strategies, and then filter them through the group strategy. Even deeper, if more than one appeal happened, a given phrase could go through as many filters as people to reach a final form, gradually becoming more or less correct until our individual grammars combined into a democratic, pod-based grammer that was generally (give or take a few confusing moments) understandable enough to navigate through the days activities.

 I find it intriguing as well how that interacts with the cultural pragmatics of assisting others in linguistic contexts, and the other social filters constantly at play in everyday interaction. With all the factors at play, one would think it would be exhausting or difficult, but it turned out to be an enjoyable experience for everyone, and we’re looking forward to exploring more next weekend. Until then, 頑張って!

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