Posted by: patenttranslator | November 28, 2010

No Doubt About It, The Japanese Are a Long-Lost Germanic Tribe!

 
Don’t laugh. Hear me out first. I have been studying both languages for a very long time. Japanese for more than 35 years, and German for more than 40 years. I still don’t understand them very well, although I can fake both languages well enough to get paid for translating Japanese and German patents to English. But I do understand the striking similarities between these two languages and cultures, although nobody seems to know about them except for yours truly.

I was a legal immigrant both in Germany and in Japan, I was gainfully employed in both countries, I paid taxes, held long discussions in German about the injustices perpetrated by white Europeans on American Indians (Germans always talk about this when somebody mentions “Amerika”, or at least they used to in the eighties). I spent long hours well past midnight with my Japanese coworkers drinking sake and eating yakitori (grilled chicken) in cheap Japanese restaurants in Tokyo while talking about (I really can’t remember …. what the hell were we talking about? I can’t remember a thing). Fortunately, at the last moment I realized that I was becoming too Germanized/Nipponized, which scared me so much that I moved to California. Twice, actually, once from Germany and once from Japan. Also, my first love was a German girl, my last love was a Japanese girl, and I could go on and on. I’m just saying these things to give you an idea of what an ardent student of both cultures I have been most of my life.

I don’t have a degree in anthropology, sociology or ethnography, but since I do have a degree in Japanese studies, my theory is based on the uncanny and most improbable similarities between the two languages. My own explanation for these linguistic and cultural similarities is really quite logical and simple. During the great wandering of tribes in Europe (which is in German called Völkerwanderung, between 300 and 800 AD), when Germanic tribes such as the Vandals, Huns, Saxons, and Goths spread throughout Europe, one of these tribes must have made it all the way to Japan. I don’t know when or how, but I would like to study this issue in more detail at some point. If I can’t find enough time and resources at present, perhaps I will become an ethnographer in my next lifetime if there is one.

If you study early Japanese history, you will see that most historians and anthropologists assume that there were successive waves of immigration to Japanese islands in different historical periods from what is today China and Korea, but also Siberia, the Philippines and even Mongolia (via Korea). There are no written documents for these waves of immigration and we don’t really know when exactly this immigration occurred. The evidence that is available is mostly anthropological or genetic, similarities in pottery designs, etc.

Based on my theory, one of the tribes that ended up on Japanese islands was a Germanic tribe. Although no historical evidence exists because writing was introduced to Japan relatively late (with Buddhism in the 5th century via Korea), the evidence can be found in linguistic and cultural similarities between the Japanese and German people. First of all, both the Japanese and the German language has the verb at the end of the sentence, pretty much regardless of how long that sentence is. When you speak Japanese or German, you really have to concentrate on what you are saying because otherwise you may not remember which verb you were going to use at the end of a very long sentence. As far as I know, only the Japanese and the German language is  insane exactly in this manner. Japanese interpreters who translate into English must wait until a sentence is finished (because in an English sentence, the verb usually comes right after the subject), while being glared at by an uncomprehending monolingual lawyer who is in charge of the deposition.

Another peculiar feature of the German language are compound nouns. Mark Twain wrote eloquently about the insanity of the German language more than a hundred years ago. You can read about it from his viewpoint here. The Japanese version of German compound words is called 熟語 (jukugo, or compound words or characters). You can string together 3, 4, 5, 6 or more characters when the indomitable Yamato spirit of the Japanese people moves you to create a new word in Japanese, just like Germans can string together as many or more nouns, without any separation between the words. In Japanese, there are no separations between characters or words anyway, and it’s not really clear what a word is or if there is such a thing. Again, both languages are equally insane in this respect, except for one thing. In German, you at least know how to pronounce the word roots in a long compound. In Japanese, you usually have two or more choices for pronunciation from which to choose. There are rules for pronouncing characters depending on the context, but there are so many exceptions to these rules, for example in 当て字 (ateji, or irregular characters), that you could also say that there are basically no rules. You either know how to pronounce it, or you don’t. Mark Twain would love it.

One thing in the insane German language that Mark Twain riled against was what he called split verbs. Japanese does not have an exact copy of German “split verbs”, but it has 助詞 (joshi, auxiliary words or particles) which are positioned after the relevant noun or adverb or anything else, something like “postpositions”, which to my mind are very similar. Let’s first take a look at Mark’s Twain English explanation of  what a German split verb looks like.

The Germans have another kind of parenthesis, which they make by splitting a verb in two and putting half of it at the beginning of an exciting chapter and the other half at the end of it. Can any one conceive of anything more confusing than that? These things are called “separable verbs.” The German grammar is blistered all over with separable verbs; and the wider the two portions of one of them are spread apart, the better the author of the crime is pleased with his performance. A favorite one is reiste ab — which means departed. Here is an example which I culled from a novel and reduced to English:
“The trunks being now ready, he DE- after kissing his mother and sisters, and once more pressing to his bosom his adored Gretchen, who, dressed in simple white muslin, with a single tuberose in the ample folds of her rich brown hair, had tottered feebly down the stairs, still pale from the terror and excitement of the past evening, but longing to lay her poor aching head yet once again upon the breast of him whom she loved more dearly than life itself, PARTED.”
(From The Awful German Language, by Mark Twain).

Whenever I translate a German patent or a Japanese patent, I always have the same feeling of chasing after something, like a fox chasing after a fast, cunning and malevolent rabbit (a verb, the second part of a split verb in German, or a particle in Japanese), which instead of being where it should be, somewhere where you can see it easily, is hidden somewhere behind something else, usually so far away from me that by the time I find it, I no longer remember what was it that I was looking for. Or if  do remember the first part, by the time I get to the second part of the verb in German or to the particle in Japanese, I forget the technical term in English because it is a word that I will probably not encounter in another patent for the next twelve years, at least. If I was translating from Japanese to German, I would not have this problem. Had I been born as a German or a Japanese child, my brain would be trained from infancy to remember that according to the proper and natural order, there is something at the end of the sentence that will suddenly give meaning to the whole paragraph. This concept appears to be perfectly normal to German and Japanese children. But not to children born in the rest of the world, because their genes were not contributed by the same tribe that traveled during the Völkerwanderung all the way from Europe to Japan.

In addition to seemingly unexplainable linguistic similarities between the Japanese and the German language, there are also many similarities confirming my theory about the same origin of both nations between cultural concepts that can be seen for example in Japanese and German idioms. Certain ingrained cultural notions and attitudes translate seamlessly from Japanese to German and vice versa, but not to other languages. One of them is the basic Japanese and German natural rule that everything, and I mean everything, has to be structured in a certain way. There are absolutely no exceptions! The Japanese word for this philosophy of a certain natural and preordained structure in absolutely everything! is ちゃんと (chanto, which could be translated as proper or correct in English, and as was sich gehört or geignet in German, and comme il faut in French).

But since this is again a very complicated subject, I think I’d better save this discussion for another post.

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Responses

  1. Very interesting argumentation! After having translated my fair share of patents from Japanese to German, however, I can tell you that this does NOT come naturally to the German translator, either. Actually, that is the reason why I have given up translating patents. Patent lingo really is German (and Japanese, for that matter) at its worst.

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  2. “Patent lingo really is German (and Japanese, for that matter) at its worst.”

    And we can actually make sense out of this deviant and aberrant lingo (most of the time, anyway).

    On the other hand, another description of what you correctly call “lingo at its worst” is “job security”.

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  3. I absolutely agree! My mother language is German, my mother is German teacher for foreigners and my sister is trying to learn Japanese at the moment. I also tried to learn some sentences in Japanese and it actually worked quite well because the structure is similar, as you mentioned in your text.

    I sometimes also have got problems while I’m talking German because I’m talking in really long sentences and I often forget the other part of the verb. I’m living in Switzerland and I notice the same problem if Swiss people are speaking high German. German is indeed a very difficult language..

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  4. So einen Blödsinn habe ich ja noch nie gelesen. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You should try my other posts.

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  6. Du hast recht für die beiden Sprachen, ich bin gerade beim Japanisch am studieren, und finde es geil! Die einzige schwierigkeit ist Kanji, aber das andere kommt einfach vor wenn man’s kappiert hat. / You’re right about both languages, I’m actually studying japanese and I love it! The only difficulty is the Kanji, but the grammatical part comes fast in mind once you got it.

    I liked reading your article, and good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. […] In fact, as many words in Japanese are written with characters that were originally Chinese, it is not really clear what is a single word in Japanese. Compound nouns represent one of a number of interesting similarities between the Japanese and German language and way of thinking as I write in this post. […]

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  8. (The text below was copied from an exchange between kids on Reddit who did not notice that my post was a joke …. man, I’m so proud of myself!)

    What do you think? (self.japan)

    submitted 8 hours ago by BecauseImBatman92

    I showed this to my other half who is half German half Japanese and fluent in both languages as well as English. She remains unconvinced. What do you guys think?

    https://patenttranslator.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/no-doubt-about-it-the-japanese-are-a-long-lost-germanic-tribe-2/

    Complete bullshit. I am fluent in Korean and Japanese and my father is German/American. The similarities between Korean and Japanese include and extend beyond the scope of this blog entry. Because you see similarities in a language, it doesn’t imply divergent causation. Language scholars haven’t determined any divergent similarities between Korean and Japanese. Assuming some blog writer was able to find some between German and Japanese is like watching a kid find a special soft rock in the playground sandbox.

    Comparing modern day Japanese and German and then implying that a millennium ago they were similar is ridiculous.

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    [–]Karasuageha[福岡県] 1 point 46 minutes ago*

    This is what I came here to say, that some blog writer is smarter than all the linguists we have seems unlikely. I hope it was facetious, to be honest.

    Split verbs equaling particles? They have absolutely no similarity in function beyond possibly a very basic semantic one. And even that would be a hard argument to support.

    You can find similarities in almost any two languages if you look hard enough, it doesn’t make them linguistically related.

    Grammatical similarities alone simply do not cut it, you have to look for syntactic and lexical similarities, as well as the whole sociolinguistics angle to make an assertion that two languages are related.

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    [–]supermodus 3 points 4 hours ago

    Seems kind of reaching to me. Particles are in no way the same in Japanese as in the example he gave of German split verbs. Plus, word order of a sentence doesn’t always mean the languages are related; I’d assume Japanese is closer to Korean in word order long before I ever made the mental leap to German.

    I’m not convinced. This sounds more like an attempt to string together two languages that feel alike but really have no basis to be compared.

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    [–]Thuruk[ドイツ] 2 points 4 hours ago

    I’ve heard the same about old turkish… Well, no idea, could both be possible.

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    [–]Munichx 2 points 1 hour ago

    Languages are vast and complex structures, and all that is pointed out here is, japanese and german share some similarities ? You can find similarities in everything fi you look closely, but that doesn’t mean those things have the same origin.

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    [–]throwaway67655 1 point 3 minutes ago

    You guys really do need to learn how to take a joke. Here we have a patent translator that is claiming that the Japanese originated from a Germanic tribe simply based on some sentence structure and other linguistic similarities.

    I think a lot of these quotes are pretty indicative of the jocular nature of the piece.

    “uncanny and most improbable of similarities”

    “perhaps I will become an ethnographer”

    “although no historical evidence exists”

    “seemingly unexplainable linguistic similarities”

    He even has a song from Kill Bill, which is a movie depicting a severely warped representation of the world.

    It’s subtle. But it’s a joke. Have a laugh at it.

    Source: PatentTranslator, the author, is my dad.

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  9. I believe there may be relics left over in the languages. If one looks at the past tense in both swedish and japanese, both words often end in -ede or -te in swedish, -da or -ta in japanese.

    “to love”
    japanese: ai / aiste
    swedish: älske

    “to buy”
    japanese: kau
    german: kaufen
    swedish: köp

    I believe there may have been some common descent tens of thousands of years ago, before the two groups branched off. And one wonders if this could have anything to do with the Ainu, a group of indigenous ethnic group who have been living in the north of Japan for thousands of years, and who have some Caucasian-like physical features.

    There are a few more eery similarities. Both peoples reside in heavily temperate forested areas. There are some strikingly unusual cultural similarities:
    http://www.angelfire.com/hi/HambergHawaii/swejap1.html

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  10. Also, “onna” means woman in Japanese, but the word was in fact “womina” in old Japanese. How is that possible?

    There are other, much less clear similarities, like for instance “Awa” which is “bubble” in Japanese, sounds very much like “aqua”, etc. The influence of Chinese on the Japanese language made it impossible to find evidence of similarities between Japanese and other languages before Chinese characters were introduced to Japan.

    Nobody knows what the contribution of the Ainu language might have been, but you know, Ainus were blond and blue-eyed. How is that possible?

    I went to an Ainu museum in Sapporo almost thirty years ago, but I found no answers to my questions there. All they had were cute black-and-white photographs.

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  11. Great post. I was checking constantly this blog and I’m impressed!

    Very helpful info specially the last part 🙂 I care for such
    information a lot. I was looking for this certain info for a very long time.
    Thank you and good luck.

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  12. The Best post i read in last few months ….
    and the comments are also rich with the similarities and diffs among the two …

    I were been to Japan for odd 5 years and in completely in love with the country.

    and i think sometime the same, though i never been in Germany, not i read much about the country. But as i feel about Japan, somewhere in my subconscious mind i think German and Japanese are same.

    and today FINALLY i summed my courage and searched Similarities between two nations.

    Thank god i came to this article.
    Thanks to you too. Keep it up.

    your Experience is really awesome.

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  13. Here are a few interesting videos – Watch both very closely, mute the sound if not to your liking ; }

    Icelandic pop solo artist Bjork

    Björk – Army Of Me – 1995

    Japanese Koean pop band

    2NE1 – I AM THE BEST (Japanese Ver.) – 2011

    Extras –

    Playlist for Bjork

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  14. Here is a jpop by Ayumi Hamasaki if you like as well : ) though this one takes some grit to watch as it is about a nightmare.

    Moments / 浜崎あゆみ – 2004

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    • Interesting. I too have found similarities. I have found connections between the Danish and the Japanese language. Check this video. The same words in Danish “Kyowa” and “dewa” are the SAME words in Danish as they are in Japanese. Eg; kyo wa nani o shi masu ka, or dewa arimasen. The words Kyo – wa and Dewa match EXACTLY with the danish words for the same meaning and others. I noticed it while watching Meme videos on youtube surprisingly… Here check this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkuo7-sefEQ

      Watch towards then end when he makes a comment….

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  15. Ha! This is wild. I too study both German and Japanese, as well as Spanish, and while I am very new to Japanese, I am not new to making etymological connections within languages, although it’s mostly been strengthening my understanding of Scandinavian languages through my German. I’m only a very short while into Japanese, and noticed the grammatical similarities quickly (although from my viewpoint, Japanese grammar seems FAR less complex) I found your article after searching for comparisons. My curiosity came when I noticed the word “今” bore a striking similarity to immer (Or maybe just in my head). While I understand immer is not the same as jetzt, immer mal becomes a little closer. It’s really fun to find little anchors to better your understanding, regardless of how much ignorance they may be founded on haha

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