Just so all y'all know, I'm a really lazy language student. You may assume that since I'm playing a complicated visual novel thing in Japanese, I'm fluent in it. I'm hilariously not. I know a lot of grammar, I have a mostly-photographic memory, and I have some kind of weird mutant power that lets me take blind stabs at things having to do with natural languages and almost always be right. I can give a pretty exact translation/interpretation, but it requires time, a dictionary, and the irresistible urge to footnote everything, which is why I do document and media translation, not simultaneous spoken.

Why any of this magical linguistic jiggery-pokery works, I have no idea. It just does. There's no conscious trigger, and it operates almost as happily on things that have not been presented to me as language, even obfuscated stuff like ciphers.

With Japanese, eight or nine times out of ten I will look at a kanji that has no assigned place in my conscious filing system at all, and my brain will miraculously cough up a meaning, a reading, or both, which I later find it is correct either by context or by looking it up the next time I'm in range of a dictionary. Often I am too lazy to bother. The thing about games like Gyakuten Saiban is that, while the vocabulary is hella weird, they make up for it by using the same hella weird vocabulary words every third speech balloon. Unless I someday take a trip to Japan that goes catastrophically wrong, I am never, ever going to actually need to know how you pronounce the words for "wiretap," "autopsy report," "blunt-force trauma," or "District Court". I just need to know that that particular blot stands for that particular thing, and that Ryuuichi needs to pull it out now and holler "IGIARI!" so that the music will stop dramatically, and Mitsurugi will look like he's on the verge of having his third aneurysm of the day.

(I did happen to already know the words for "victim" and "murder case" and "investigate", but that's because my university Japanese instructor was cheerfully weird, and is another set of anecdotes entirely. Some friends of mine got their paws on Azumanga Daioh at one point, and we debated whether our teacher would find it funny if we called her "Yukari-sensei" to her face. [Probably yes.] One year the class plotted en masse to send her off for Christmas break with a Playstation and a copy of Spyro the Dragon. She was thrilled to discover that Spyro could set the sheep on fire.)

Quite often I couldn't look the thing up even if I wanted to. The DS only has so many pixels. The blot for "wiretap" is made of two kanji that appear to have upwards of about fourteen million strokes apiece, most of which have been reduced to so few dots I can't tell which way they're supposed to be slanted or travelling. You can't look those things up by radical if you can't tell what they are; unless someone happens to stammer at that point in their dialogue, I don't even have a first syllable I could use to figure out which page in the pronunciation guide to pore over. It happens that the WWWJDIC at Monash brings up the word they're using if you look for 'wiretap' in English, but inasmuch as writers of these sorts of things tend to engage in a practice I like to call 'making shit up' when they don't find a term they like in the plethora of words already available to them, this isn't always the case.

Mostly, I get by with knowing the informational content of individual kanji plus the grammar conveyed by the okurigana, rather than having any fucking clue how anything is read aloud. Beats the hell out of me how you pronounce the top thing on the Move menu, but I do know that 1) that string of characters says "Naruhodou law-things-doing working-place" and 2) that button in the English version says "Wright & Co. Law Offices". I read Chinese the exact same way, only worse.

With things that are written in an alphabetical system in which I am fluently literate, the internal workings are even more obscure, even to me. The more I think about what I'm reading, the less sense it makes. If I just sit down and read it, I'm generally fine. The difference is even more marked when I'm dealing with a language I don't technically speak, but which is related to one that I do. If someone asks me for a translation I can often give them nothing at all, but if they ask me what it says I can give them a perfectly coherent answer based on the information that appears in my head when I skim. I haven't got any more clue how this one works than I do the magic kanji-guessing power --- if you've got any theories, feel free. I feel annoyingly slow in French and even more so in German, but that's only in comparison to how quickly I read in English, where I have a ridiculously large recognition vocabulary.

You might also consider that I've been doing this a long, long time. I've been around Spanish consistently -- including terrible Mexican telenovelas and luchadores on TV -- since I was maybe three. I first took a French class at fourteen, got a Japanese tutor at sixteen, started university German about five years ago, and somewhere in there I also decided to learn bits of stuff like Esperanto and Italian and Welsh. I do pick things up quickly -- someone in my first semester German class asked me how long I'd lived in Germany; I've never been -- but, y'know, on-going curiosity and practice really do help.

Idiosyncratically, numbers always come though the stream in English. I can make them match the surrounding language, if the rest of it is not in English, but I have to think about it. Dunno why; numbers are one of the first things you learn out of any language textbook, and I'm perfectly capable of counting basically forever in any of the things I speak if I'm lying there being particularly fail at getting to sleep. It happens whenever I run into anything written as an Arabic numeral, whether it's cardinal, ordinal, or other formats like time/date, hotel rooms, or serial numbers.


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