Final in Classical Japanese


am currently sitting in the department conference room watching my students take their Classical Japanese final. They all have their game face on, but I have yet to see anyone sweating….

Classical Japanese is–in my view–not THAT hard. It can be confusing, however, without the right approach. Like modern Japanese, it is very regular. No, I take that back, it is more regular than modern J. There are a few irregular verbs, but 97%–my ad hoc figure–are regular. The problem, of course, is that there are about seven different regular forms, and they all conjugate differently. Students usually memorize them by memorizing the endings. For example:

IKU (to go): ika– iki– iku– iku– ike– ike–

And to these forms are attached suffixes to provide tense, aspect, etc. Right Now, all four step verbs will conjugate exactly the same.

YOMU (to read): yoma– yomi– yomu– yomu– yome– yome–
KASU (to lend): kasa– kashi– kasu– kasu– kase– kase–

As a result, most students will just memorize the endings and apply them when they see the verb.

a– i– u– u– e– e–

Well, before the exam, when everyone is locked into these conjugating forms, one student decides to screw everyone up by singing:

oo-ee-oo-ah-ah… ting-tang-walla-walla-bing-bang…

Hahahaha, the whole class started laughing and then suddenly got rather upset at being made to think of the stupid Witch Doctor song instead of the conjugations they were so focused on.

Oh well, maybe you have to be here–and know some classical Japanese–to appreciate the situation.

Anyway, they are sighing now, breathing deeply, frowning, grabbing their hair, rubbing their eys, or just staring at the empty space on the desk right above their exam… They are so cute…

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