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Intermediate Japanese Language Learning with Dazai Osamu

Complimentary Japanese Reading Lessons From Maplopo Schoolhouse

Season ONE—水仙 (Page TWENTY)

 

EP20. Spotlight: ではあるまいか, Dazai Osamu (太宰治), Daffodil (水仙)

Video file / Audio File / Online Intermediate Japanese Course

Read the full EP20 transcript, Spotlight: ではあるまいか | Intermediate and Advanced Japanese

[Soft Piano Music Playing]

Okay, folks… so, today’s spotlight is on the expression ではあるまいか

Let’s hear the Japanese:

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

“The lord could be a master of great swordsmanship.”

Okay. So, let’s break this down a little bit. This is a really useful expression, actually, and it’s something that you’ll find, uh… is quite common once you learn more Japanese, and you’ll recognize immediately as useful and common in English as well, right? This expression is used when you want to talk about something that is “almost certainly so.” It’s “most likely to be true.” That you kind of have “no doubt about.” But, you’re also guessing… you’re supposing… you’re kind of inferring the truth of this statement that you’re gonna make, right?

So, this expression is used when the speaker is withholding a little bit of their assertion, and not really making a solid conclusion about something. They’re… they’re putting their their assuredness about it on hold, right? And the speaker is feeling some sort of reluctance to be conclusive or decisive. It’s a very, very common sort of thing that we do, right? We’re not sure, but we’re [stuttering] we’re kind of sure… (but we’re guessing), so we’re… not sure, right?

Now, why would we do this? We do this because we want to be discreet. We might not really want to come across as too confident, or overconfident, maybe. Or, too sure about something, right? So, you can see how common this is.

By using this expression, it gives you a little room to wiggle. And, it lets you off the hook if your assumption here is not really… correct. As we move through this paragraph, you’ll notice that Dazai uses this expression three times in a row. Here, you’re being treated to just the first example. But, he mentions it three times. There’s rhythm to it that he’s giving us as a reader, but also his repetition of it reinforces the idea… he’s trying to pull us to his side, right? …and get us to also be asking, like, “is it possible that the lord is a master of swordsmanship?” Right? He’s trying to make a point, and raise a point, and he wants our opinion. At least he wants us to be thinking about that, right?

Another thing to note here is that this expression is actually an older expression, and it’s a bit more formal. You’ll see it in writing, and it has a little bit of an older feel to it. It would be more common to use a different expression which we’ll hear now:

(Speaking Japanese)

So, you’ll hear this version in speech… and, you’ll see this version in writing. Let’s listen to it one more time:

(Speaking Japanese)

Example time.

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

“Although Yura looks young, she could be a lot older than me.”

Next one:

(Speaking Japanese —1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese —2nd Reading)

“I feel as though Yukiko loves me.”

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

“The 5,000 yen bill I lost could still be at the station.”

Now, this is a real life example—it happened just this week, actually…

So… I was out for a run, and when it was time to go through the train station… went to top off my card and realized… holy cow… I was missing 5,000 yen. And, so I didn’t almost know what to do. I couldn’t even get out of the station because I didn’t have enough money on my card.

So, I went to the gentleman and said, “Hey, can you help me?” He makes a call to the station I just left… turns out somebody was kind enough (because this is Japan)… to pick up the money that I had dropped on the, uh, station floor in Motomachi and hand it to the, uh, guys at that station. I was able to go back, get it and… uh, the rest is history, as they say. Japan is as lovely as they say. So, real life example.

Another quick thing I just want to note here is that there’s a lot of nuance to the use of this expression. If you start the sentence with a pronoun, or a name, you’re going to end up with a slightly different sentence, right? If you speak it, tone will tell more about the sentence than when you write it. How you feel about the situation when you’re writing it will… come out on the page (or, not), right?

So, it’s all very, very, very highly nuanced. But, the thing to remember is this is effectively, or essentially, a rhetorical question. And Dazai has some faith in his interpretation of this idea that the lord is a master. Um, and he’s asking himself this question… but, he’s not answering it… he might be saying—if he were to vocalize it—”Yeah, probably…” or, something along those lines, right? And because it’s rhetorical you have a lot of flexibility with the structure of the sentence.

We went back and forth a lot on this, and I think this is a good enough way to think about it for now. One final thing and we’ll wrap this lesson up.

You heard each of our examples with ではあるまいか (the old-fashioned, kind of formal way). Let’s listen to each one of those again, but in the more modern voice.

(Speaking Japanese)

(Speaking Japanese)

(Speaking Japanese)

Cool-aid! Thank you for listening!

[Soft Piano Music Playing]

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