Thursday, June 16, 2016

What is a sentence pattern?

Bunkei to ha nanndesuka?

Year of Requirement Part 11

Like I mentioned previously, many of my schoolmates went to juku, or cram school. I didn’t. I had it in my head that my family was poor (we weren’t) and that most juku focused spent a lot of time on math and English (they did), the only two subjects I was better in than most people. I did see that there was a pattern or technique to answering the exam questions, and I thought that an intensive summer course might help me in that aspect.

The school actually passed out flyers for these courses. They were anywhere from one to two weeks long, and run by local or national chain juku. I looked at the flyers carefully and picked the one that spent the least time on math and English. I put on my school uniform and rode my sister’s bicycle to a building near the train station. There, I met some girls from my school. Actually, I didn’t really recognize them at all, but they were wearing the same uniform and they recognized me because I was famous in the school, being the only new person to come to the school that semester. Oh, and the whole “girl from the USA who wasn’t tall, slender, and pretty” thing (see Part 2). We agreed to bike together every morning for the rest of the course (safety in numbers and herd mentality and all that). I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’d met the part of the school’s female overachiever set that wasn’t in Class 5.

The classes were what I’d expected. I didn’t quite get to master electrical currents and astronomy and Feudal Japanese history as much as I’d hoped, but I figured I was headed in the right direction. I also decided that I should not study English in any form or capacity for the rest of my natural life. During the English class, the instructor started talking about sentence structure. My plan had been to lie low and keep my nose clean, but this has never been and never will be my strong suit, and when he started talking about “first sentence pattern” and “second sentence pattern” and “third sentence pattern” and I thought he was speaking Swahili or something because I could not understand what he was saying, so I did what I’d always been taught to do since kindergarten in this situation, which was raise my hand and wait to be called on, and he called on me, so I asked “what is a sentence pattern?”

The whole class laughed at me.

(Forget sentence patterns, look at thepattern of my life in Japan so far.)

(Have you ever heard of sentence patterns? Apparently, “first sentence pattern” is SV, as in, “I rowed in university.” “Second sentence pattern” is S+Verb of being +C, as in “I was a coxswain.” “Third sentence pattern” is “SVO” as in, “I coxed the varsity boat in university.” “Fourth sentence pattern” is SVOO, as in “I gave my rowers chocolate.” “Fifth sentence pattern is SVOC, as in “That made them happy.”)

I never studied English. I did, however, study the relevant Japanese. The only way examiners could tell I understood the material was by making me translate it. So I studied Japanese so that I could give them the answers they wanted from me so that they’d let me go to the high school I wanted that would let me go to the university I wanted that would let me have the job I wanted.


Annie Crow said...

It's very interesting reading about how English was taught. I've studied several languages now (none of them long enough to be fluent in but there's always retirement), and none of them were taught in that way.

pumpkinmommy said...

I don’t know if the concept of numbered sentence patterns is unique to Japan, or if it has to do with the languages you have studied. I know you studied German and French and Spanish, which are grammatically similar enough to English so word order isn’t as big a deal as it is when you’re Japanese and studying English. It’s a handy way to learn English when the grammar is as dramatically different as it is when your first language is Japanese, but what was absurd is that sometimes it was a test question (“’Mike went to school by bicycle.’ Which sentence pattern is this sentence?”).

Annie Crow said...

In fact, with German at least, word order is less important, since the articles reflect the role of the noun they're modifying.

The only other language I studied was Russian, and that is similar enough in structure to the others to not need much explanation, at least at the level I got to.

What would a simple sentence in Japanese look like if translated word-by-word into English? I realize I don't know how Japanese is structured.

pumpkinmommy said...

It doesn't always work as neatly as this, but for example, "I bought a shirt" would be "I shirt bought."