Chicago – Whether you realize it or not, you can see the future.
To be more precise, you can hear the future. Research has shown that our brains are primed for spoken language and can actually anticipate the words someone will say next.
This makes sense if you think about it. Imagine if you had to first receive and then process each word individually as it hit your eardrums and funneled into your brain: You’d still be standing slack-jawed at the コンビニ (konbini, convenience store) register trying to determine whether or not they should microwave your 弁当 (bentō, boxed lunch). Our brains have to be more efficient.
This gift of prophecy is very useful with Japanese, which positions core information at the ends of sentences. For new students of the language, this can be a challenge. They often want to translate a sentence as they encounter it, but when the main verb doesn’t present itself until the very end, they’re flummoxed; we must train ourselves to think past the current clause we’re experiencing.
Several months of binging NHKラジオニュース (NHK rajio nyūsu, NHK Radio News) content on a daily basis has helped me realize that those learning Japanese as a second language can benefit from familiarizing themselves with common sentence endings to improve their ability to “see the future” and anticipate what will be coming next.
News アナウンサー (anaunsā, “announcers”/radio hosts) are often relaying information from other sources, which makes this an especially useful medium to understand how Japanese parcels out information.
For example, the basic way to communicate that someone said something is: XはYと言いました (X wa Y to iimashita, X said Y). “X” here is a person/organization, and “Y” is the content of what they said.
There are a variety of other verbs that can be substituted for 言う (iu, to say).
If someone is expressing an opinion or making a specific point, 述べました (nobemashita, stated/expressed/mentioned) is a commonly used verb. If the content being communicated is an announcement or presentation, then 発表しました (happyō shimashita, presented/announced) is most appropriate. 言及しました (genkyū shimashita, commented) is similar to 言う but has a connotation of addressing a specific topic.
発言しました (hatsugen shimashita, remarked) is a phrase that was in the news earlier this year due to former head of the organizing committee for the 2020 Summer Olympics Yoshiro Mori’s 女性蔑視発言 (josei besshi hatsugen, remarks denigrating women), which ultimately led to his resignation.
Students will encounter all of these regularly in daily news reports, and by familiarizing themselves with common sentence-ending verbs like these, they can focus their mental processing power instead on deciphering the core of the message that is being communicated.
For example, the following comment from Kyoto Gov. Takatoshi Nishiwaki: 西脇知事は「大型連休が控える中で最大限の対策をとりたい」と述べました (Nishiwaki-chiji wa “Ōgata renkyū ga hikaeru naka de saidaigen no taisaku o toritai” to nobemashita, Gov. Nishiwaki noted, “I’d like to pursue maximum efforts [against the spread of COVID-19] while the long vacation is more restrained.)
In addition to direct quotation, there are a number of regularly used sentence-ending patterns that express views, opinions and information indirectly.
示しています (shimeshite-imasu, is indicating) is a total workhorse that can be combined with a huge range of words using a similar structure as above: XはYを示しています (X wa Y o shimeshite-imasu, X is indicating Y).
This phrase is regularly used with words like 見方 (mikata, view), 認識 (ninshiki, recognition/knowledge/awareness), 危機感 (kikikan, sense of danger), 姿勢 (shisei, position/posture), 意向 (ikō, intention), 見通し (mitōshi, outlook/forecast) and 考え (kangae, belief) in the Y position, which themselves are then modified to show more precisely what is being indicated.
A good example here comes from a news report about COVID-19 clusters in Shizuoka Prefecture: 県はすべての感染者の検体は調べないものの、３つのクラスターは変異株のクラスターとの認識を示しています (Ken wa subete no kansensha no kentai wa shirabenai mono no, mittsu no kurasutā wa hen’ikabu no kurasutā to no ninshiki o shimeshite-imasu, The prefecture will not test samples from all those infected but indicated that they knew the three clusters were variant strains of the virus).
となります (to narimasu, will be) and となっています (to natte-imasu, is becoming) are two other frequently encountered sentence ending phrases that often appear with 焦点 (shōten, focus/focal point) and 課題 (kadai, issue/subject) to express how news is developing. The structure here is Xが焦点・課題となります (X ga shōten/kadai to narimasu, X will be a focus/issue).
The content of “X” can be a simple noun as in this example from before the latest emergency order: 宣言の期間や休業要請の範囲が焦点となります (Sengen no kikan ya kyūgyō yōsei no han’i ga shōten to narimasu, The length of the state [of emergency] and how broad the closure request is will be the focus).
But with this pattern you will most frequently find that “X” is an embedded question, as with this example following Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s recent visit with U.S. President Joe Biden: 中国とどう向き合うかが新たな課題となります (Chūgoku to dō mukiau ka ga aratana kadai to narimasu, How [Japan and the U.S.] will face China will be a new issue).
The best way to acclimate yourself to Japanese sentence structure is immersion, of course. You can find radio broadcasts for free on NHK’s website and on most podcast apps. But as you’re listening, it’s critical to be mindful of how the structure of Japanese is working so that you can make sure you’re focusing on the most critical parts of the sentence. Why do extra work if you can train your brain to anticipate what you’ll hear at the end of a sentence?
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