One of my friends told me over the weekend that my personality changes when I speak English and when I speak Japanese. She had never heard me speak English before and she is bilingual, so she’s probably a very good judge of personality in speech styles. We were speaking Japanese most of the evening, and I was speaking my normal “silly Japanese”, which is when I purposely fake a Yankee accent or Osaka-Ben. She told me it sounded “funny” when I did that, but I chose not to take that to heart. I like the way I speak Japanese, it reflects just how I feel when I’m speaking it: silly happy.
When I spoke English however, she said that my personality seemed to completely change. She said I had a “sekinin-kan” or “a sense of responsibility”. Well, I always have a sense of responsibility, that’s just the kind of person I am. Is it possible that the way I speak Japanese, while serving the purpose raising the spirits of those around me and allowing me to have the most fun possible, might also make me look… irresponsible? Do I sound like a delinquent when I speak Japanese? Do I sound stupid? Do I care?
There’s a pretty obvious reason for this split. When you speak a foreign language naturally, you are forging a speech style. I am not a native Japanese speaker. Japanese isn’t my base language. My real self is still “in English”, and it probably always will be. So when I’m speaking English, that’s the real me. That’s the “my focus isn’t on language but content” me. When I’m speaking Japanese, I have to concentrate on my language, almost more so than on content. I have to actively pursue natural sounding Japanese. I choose my incorrect conjugations, contractions and slurs very carefully to sound like a real Japanese person. No one really speaks like the text books teach. The real stuff is learned on the street, but unless you grew up there that stuff won’t come naturally to you. You have to make it a part of your speech, and that takes concentration.
I actually sat down one day and thought “what is the best way for me to talk in Japanese to try to express my personality appropriately?” I consider myself to be a little bit wild, a little bit strong headed, and a little bit reckless. I do what I want, I follow my dreams, and I don’t take no for an answer. I don’t like to be controlled and I face challenge with a grin. What’s the best speech style for a person like that? Yankee-Talk, right?
Well, now I’m not so sure. Now that a real Japanese person has told me that my personality seems different in English, I’m realizing that from a pure language standpoint, maybe this speech-style doesn’t work for me. I don’t mess up English usually. I don’t say things like “ain’t” or “got nothin’”, and I don’t talk like a gangsta. Yet I don’t feel like the gentle calm soul that correct careful Japanese portrays.
A real “Badass” is tough on the inside, not just on the outside. A real badass wouldn’t be thinking about “how do I talk to sound badass”. He talks how he talks, and if anyone has a problem with it they can get lost. Well, I have to think about how to talk, so maybe I should just speak Japanese like I speak English: correctly and with a “sekinin-kan”.