The Fascinating Language of the JLPT2
By Matthew Coslett
On September 7, 2015
Whereas the previous JLPT tests seemed to have essential words and phrases in them, JLPT2 can seem to be intentionally obscure. After all, do we really need to know all those words for different types of writer (記者,小説家,作家,筆者,著者,文学者) or different types of cooling down (冷える,凍える,冷める,冷やす)? Who decided that 民 would be considered JLPT2 kanji, but its component radical 氏 be JLPT1?
The easy just got hard.
At JLPT2 suddenly everything we thought we knew about kanji goes out the window and the ones we thought we’d mastered turn out to have been hiding some extra meanings.
One of the first kanji most learners study is the 語かたり, but this over-familiar kanji becomes 語るかたる・to tell at JLPT2. Our old friend 行くいく likewise gains some Chinese readings such as in 行列ぎょうれつ・a procession. Even 札さつ gains a new reading in the word 値札ねふだ・a price tag.
Grammar is no different, the humble とか now gains a new meaning in sentences like 中止だとかちゅうしだとか where it means ‘heard ~ is cancelled’. Even simple ideas like 切るきる can take on an additional meaning such as in 読み切った本よみきったほん・a completely read book.
Some words even combine unusual kanji and grammar. 後 becomes のち (Its meaning is similar to ほど). Similarly, 折(おり)には is a form esteemed people use that has a meaning similar to とき. Even the kanji for husband can appear in strange places such as in 工夫 (A scheme).
Gaining an Asian perspective.
Knowing about Asian culture is important for every level of JLPT, but JLPT2 is when you start learning some of the unique ways Japan and its neighbors view the world. I remember being stuck on 同窓会どうそうかい (An alumni association) and 同窓どうそう (The same school) for a long time because the second kanji in both words was ‘window’. Saying that we both went to the ‘same window’ seems a strange way to talk about your school life!
A Chinese friend finally helped me out by telling me that in ancient Chinese culture the students would all live in a complex that usually had a giant window for light. As a result the Chinese associated the window kanji with study. Interestingly, it has become a rare idea in modern Chinese, but is still common in Japanese.
This unique perspective can also be found in fascinating ideas like 書き味かきみ (the performance of a pen) or 切れ味がいいはさみきれあじがいいはさみ (the good performance of scissors). The 味 in both these kanji means ‘the way something performs’ rather than ‘taste’.
Those interesting answers
While some answers have a cultural explanation, others are simply strange because of a quirk of the language. Test writers seem to like using かかわる (be concerned with~) because of its unusual uses. One particularly tricky one is 命にかかわる病気いのちにかかわるびょうき which is a disease that is threatens one’s life.
One of my favorite weird answers which came up in practice tests was the word 食べっぷり. It means a way of eating, usually implying that someone enjoys their food. A recent article about 食べっぷりのいい女子 (Women who eat heartily) illustrates how interesting these ideas can be.
It’s a verb, honest!
A tricky challenge in some cases is actually spotting where the verb is in some sentences. Some verbs, such as けなす (To ridicule/ put ~ down), are written in hiragana so are easily mistaken for grammar points! While JLPT2 doesn’t set out to intentionally deceive its takers, the examiners are fond of putting these hiragana verbs in the answers.
Anytime the test taker sees 自転車じてんしゃ in a question, always look for the verb こぐ (To peddle) as one of the answers. While this verb does have kanji, it is usually written in hiragana and often doesn’t look like a verb. To make things confusing, こぐ can also mean ‘to row (a small boat)’, so be careful.
If Schrodinger had ever studied Japanese, he would be excited to discover the word 有無うむ which is used whenever the presence or absence of something is unknown. This word is often used to describe taking a medical test where the presence or absence of the thing being tested hasn’t been established yet.
Many contradictory ideas can be put together to make these kinds of words. Even ideas as opposed as winning (勝つかつ) and losing (負けるまける) can be joined to make 勝負しょうぶ which covers the possibilities of either victory or defeat happening. 彼は空手では君といい勝負だかれはからてではきみといいしょうぶだ・He’s a good match for you in karate and マラソンの勝負の結果は気にしなくていいよマラソンのしょうぶのけっかはきにしなくていいよ・You should be unconcerned about either winning or losing the marathon.
These are the points that interested me when I was studying for NLPT2. Of course, studying by yourself is no fun, so I throw the question over to the GaijinPot readers. Are any of you studying for this test? What are some of the confusing or interesting points that you came across that you think others should know about?