The Art of Speaking Japanese – “Chunking” Level 2

2011 July 21
by PaulBenson

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on “chunking.” This was a good article, I felt, which introduced a very critical concept for native English-speakers learning Japanese. Simply put, “chunking” means to treat long strings of modifiers along with the modified noun (usually) or action as a “chunk,” a unit. Longish Japanese sentences can look complicated and complex when they’re actually very simple, structurally. Chunking is a tool I use in my daily life as a translator to really make sense of Japanese, and it’ll help you too!

For this article, I’ll pull out the long first sentence from a collection of short stories (I do it this way so there’s no prior context to get in the way!). Can you find all the chunks? Hint: there are 4 in total. (Don’t scroll down too much if you don’t want the answers!)

Short Story Collection

In The City, Vol. 2 “Zen in a Paper Cup”

“You’re Ridiculous More Than A Fool;” by Masaya Nakahara

古森裕子という名前を聞けば、あたかも普通の女性を連想させるようなイメージがあり、人によっては常にソフトフォーカスで撮影されるのが似合うよう妙齢の肌を露わにした女性や、オリンピックで輝かしい栄光を手にした女性選手を連想するかもしれない。

Komori Yūko to iu namae wo kikeba, atakamo futsuu no jyosei wo rensou saseru you na ime-ji ga ari, hito ni yotte wa tsune ni sofutofo-kasu de satsuei sareru no ga niau you myōrei no hada wo awara ni shita jyosei ya, orinppiku de kagayakashii eikō wo te ni shita jyosei senshu wo rensou suru kamoshirenai.

Plain Translation:

If you heard the name “Komori Yūko,” you might think her a normal woman; but, depending on the person, you might imagine a woman showing off her nubile body which looks great photographed in soft focus, or you might imagine a woman athlete with great success in the Olympics.

“WHOA! That’s all one sentence?!” You might say, and yes it is! So, where are the chunks? Here’s the same passage with the chunks marked:

古森裕子という名前(*1)を聞けば、あたかも普通の女性を連想させるようなイメージ(*2)があり、[人によっては]  常にソフトフォーカスで撮影されるのが似合うよう妙齢の肌を露わにした女性(*3)や、オリンピックで輝かしい栄光を手にした女性選手(*4)を連想するかもしれない。

In 1, 名前 namae (“name”) is the last noun modified, creating the chunk “if you heard the name Komori Yūko…”

In 2, イメージ ime-ji (“image”) is the last noun modified, creating the chunk “have an image [of her] that…” It’s worth noting that the sentence could end here, but it goes on.

In 3, 女性 jyosei (“woman”) marks the final modified noun, the first imagined woman, with everything before modifying this attractive young woman. The人によっては is separated from the chunk as it applies to both this and the following imagined woman.

In 4, 女性 jyosei (“woman”) marks the final modified noun like in chunk 3.

To further illustrate the “chunk” structure of the sentence, which is very simple, I’ve replaced the chunks with their numbers.

1を聞けば、2があり、人によっては3や、4を連想するかもしれない。

If you heard 1, you’d think 2; but, depending on the person, you might think 3 or 4.

Hopefully this “chunking” tool will really help you make better sense of Japanese. To reiterate, the trick is being able to correctly identify where chunks start and where they end, which comes with practice and exposure.

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If you’re in the New York area and want to add a few chunks of knowledge to your Japanese, be sure to sign up for Japanese lessons at Hills Learning!



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