Amparo Bertram (spacealien_vamp) wrote,
Amparo Bertram

Japanese Political Correctness

The department of the school responsible for educating the teachers (and students) about human rights and equality issues frequently leaves handouts on all the teachers' desks. I usually glance through them and then toss them, because they deal with Japanese issues ("How shall we care for our aging population?") that don't concern me.

Today, however, a little corner of the handout was devoted to addressing political correctness.

There were two separate issues, so I'll handle them each in turn.

The first one is that words with "offensive" kanji should be written with hiragana instead. There were two examples:
1) 子供 → 子ども (kodomo, "child")
2) 障害 → 障がい (shougai, "disability")

Let me interpret this. Hiragana is nothing more than a way to represent the way the word is pronounced. Thus, the word hasn't actually changed, it's simply written phonetically. In English this would be the equivalent of saying, "The word 'policeman' is sexist, so from now on, always write it as 'policemæn' instead...that way no one will think of the word 'man' when they see it."

Yeah. Right. Like THAT would work.

The second big problem with this is that hiragana, due to its simplified nature, is considered more childish than kanji. I mean, really...if you saw a person write "policemæn," would you think, "Hey! This person is being very considerate and non-sexist!" or would you think, "What the heck? This person doesn't know how to spell!"...? The same principle applies. A person who writes the word out in hiragana would be considered not smart enough to know the correct kanji.

Now, let me talk about why these particular kanji were chosen for hiragana-ization. The 害 (gai) in shougai means "harm." So, the idea behind this is that we do not want to associate the concept of "harm" with a person who has a disability. I can kind of see where they're coming from with that.

However, the kodomo example stumped me, so I asked my neighboring teacher about it.

Me: Why replace the 供 (tomo) in kodomo?

Teacher: Because tomo means "to accompany," so it's rude to refer to children as "accompanying" their parents.

Me: //But...children DO accompany their parents...// I could understand if it were saying the children were "property," but what's wrong with being "together"? Wouldn't it be worse to say that the children are alone, with no caregiver?

Teacher: ... You're right. Let me go ask someone. <consults with various other teachers> Okay, the word tomo originally had the meaning that the "accompanying" person is of lower status.

Me: ?_? //Children DO have lower status than their parents. They're MINORS.//

Teacher: It's like saying they're "extra," that they are just "tagging along."

Me: ... //Children DO "tag along" with their parents.//

Teacher: It denies them their right to be considered as individual human beings.

Me: O_O

Is it just me, or does this seem indescribably silly?

There was one more topic, and that was how to refer to people with disabilities.

Good: 障がいのある人 (shougai no aru hito, "people who have disabilities")
Bad: 障がいを持つ人 (shougai o motsu hito, "people who have disabilities")

But wait! Looking at the English translations, don't these two phrases mean exactly the same thing? I wondered that myself, so while I was asking about the children issue, I asked about this as well. The teacher didn't know, so she again consulted other teachers. She got two different interpretations.

First of all, the background: the words aru and motsu both mean "to have," but they carry different associations.

1) Aru--"to have/possess" with the association "to be (exist)/to be located"
2) Motsu--"to have/possess" with the association "to hold/carry"

This brings us to the first interpretation. Using the verb motsu, which has the implication of carrying in one's hands, does not fit with a disability, since it is not a physical object. Therefore, aru is better. (The verb motsu is used for other non-physical objects, however, so I'm not sure I buy this explanation.)

The second interpretation is that motsu implies that the carried object truly belongs to the person, intrinsically, and is essential to the person's identity. That's a bad thing to say about a disability, which is separate from the person's own identity as a human being. Rather, the word aru is preferable, because it implies that something "exists" or "is located"--thus, the disability simply happens to "be located" with the person.

As one can see, native Japanese speakers themselves either don't know or can't agree on why these particular changes are necessary. I did find it quite fascinating, though.

In other news, there was some tension regarding Ritsumeikan's plans to renovate the school. Next year, the new Ritsumeikan co-ed class will arrive, along with new Ritsumeikan teachers. That means they need to set up bathrooms for the boys and space for more teachers. Apparently, the current teachers are pissed off that Ritsumeikan wrote up a renovation plan that has far more changes than they feel are necessary, and Ritsumeikan has already gone to a construction company and worked up a timetable for the renovation. Ritsumeikan wants to get started on the construction as soon as possible, but the teachers don't like their plan and want them to put it on hold until a compromise can be reached.

I found out that, although the students don't have to show up at the Creative site until noon (which is when I thought I was supposed to show up as well), the teachers are supposed to get there at 9am. They need to do setup and have a last-minute practice session for the song we'll be singing. This made me a bit frantic, because I had been counting on those three hours to do some cleaning and shopping. (In fact, I had a dream last night that my parents showed up unexpectedly on my doorstep, and I insisted, "I was intending to clean Saturday morning! Honest!")

I rushed out and did my shopping right after I got off work. Mainly, I wanted to buy a tripod for my videocamera so I can set it up and (hopefully) record the song at the event tomorrow. As for cleaning...well...^_^;
Tags: language, school
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