For most Japanese learners, one of the first goals that our teachers recommend for us to set ourselves is to reach the level where we can comfortably read the newspaper. As a result of this, reading newspapers has become regarded as the gatekeeper of the upper level of Japanese knowledge. Ever wondered how good someone’s Japanese really is? Simply ask if they can read the newspaper or not!
However, starting to make the move from regular reading to making your way through the complicated characters and grammar that newspapers use can be intimidating at first. After all, a lot of the rules that learners are taught about reading go out the window as soon as we read our first newsprint article.
Take for example this sentence from a recent article in the Mainichi Shimbun:
(Assessments are continuing concerning the investigation of sites suitable for construction in both regions).
Can you see what is tricky about it? For years we are taught that instead of です, writers prefer to use である and its opposite ではない. These are often considered the authoritative versions of the more common ending です. These endings make the writer sound like they are speaking with a voice of authority and knowledge. So you’d expect to find both である and ではない in newspapers, right?
Actually no! Most learners soon discover that である is rarely used. As in the above example sentence, you will often see だ used instead. To further complicate matters, many newspaper writers don’t even use だ a lot of the time! Writing without だ or です or である is quite common.
Another strange thing about this typical sentence is the linking verb: 進めており (~ is continuing). Contractions like this are very common in newspapers as the writers like to blast the reader with a lot of information and need to use contractions to make all the information easy to read. In the above article, the verb 進めている was contracted to 進めており.
Learners can probably quickly spot what is strange about that construction! In newspapers, the ending ておる is often used as a continuous form instead of the ている-ending that learners are more familiar with. おる is most likely used as abbreviating ておる to ており looks a little cleaner than abbreviating ている to てい.
As interesting as these grammar points are, at this level, there is also plenty of new vocabulary to learn, too. One of the most important concerns quotations.
Have a look at these two sentences:
(Mr. Fujii, the creator of the virtual reality experience application called Hakosuko, tells me…)
(In a correspondence that was published on the 28th of April, Sunda is first mentioned in the following manner…)
Both of these sentences are interesting because they include vocabulary points that indicate quotes. In the first sentence, we have the construction 藤井さんはこう語る which uses the tricky verb 語る to make it clear that the writer is quoting someone (In this case, Mr. Fujii). The second sentence uses 次のように to accomplish a similar task – in this case announcing to the reader that a quote is coming.
While these are the most essential points for readers looking to start reading newspapers, it must be remembered that these are guidelines, not rules. One of the most interesting things about newspapers is that the more renowned writers all have a unique style and will often intentionally use Japanese in a strange or surprising way. For learners, this is part of the fun as we can enjoy seeing all the fascinating ways that the Japanese language is manipulated by these talented wordsmiths.
Now I throw the question open to the readers. What are some things that fascinated you when you started reading newspapers? What interesting things have you come across in them?