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Visual language overlap

November 11, 2010

On the way to work this morning I was idly reading signs on the side of the road while drifting in and out of complete consciousness. Reading random signs is something I always try to do when out and about the same way I intentionally eavesdrop on strangers to see if I can follow their conversations — I could care less what they’re saying, but it’s a great way to pick up new words. But reading billboards and signs written in one’s fourth language and third alphabet from a moving vehicle is a great way to make enemies with the parts of one’s brain that are responsible for deciphering such content. Combine this with being too groggy to focus on a perfectly engrossing and enjoyable novel (I’m reading Saturday by Ian McEwan this week) and there’s all kinds of room for error.

Japanese-Hebrew visual language overlapToday, for example, I saw a sign in English that I thought was in Hebrew so I tried to read it right to left and got confused. Then I saw a sign in Hebrew that I thought was partially in Japanese until I realized the Hebrew letters ני (noon and yud) were not, in fact, the letter り (ri) in Japanese even though the font made them look pretty much the same. I had similar problems with ב and ユ (the letter bet in Hebrew and yu in katakana, respectively), כ and コ (chaf in Hebrew and ko in katakana), and ק and ア (kof in Hebrew and a in katakana). While this results more in confusion than opportunities for learning, it’s similar to the other kind of language overlap mentioned earlier this week.

In fact, Hebrew in general has the same feel as katakana sometimes due to the letters being so angular, which can give everything a rather jarring appearance (katakana is the Japanese phonetic alphabet used for foreign words and italics or emphasis). After about 15 minutes of these thoughts, I gave up and logged on to Facebook to sleepily pass the rest of the commute.

I then realized my new Israeli BlackBerry makes Japanese characters on Facebook illegible and Hebrew perfectly clear. I wasn’t too sleepy to get a kick out of that little revelation.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Ayako permalink
    November 12, 2010 9:35 am

    Hey, this is pretty much interesting! Probably I should learn Hebrew from you!

  2. November 12, 2010 11:34 am

    I assume you are familiar with katakana words that “translate” into Hebrew words visually?

    For example, ココア (cocoa) in a coffee shop menu is קבב (kebab). Or the most famous one, plastered on every travel agency window: アメリカ (America) is מניאק (no need for translation).

    Enjoy “Saturday”, I did. But stay away from “Atonement”, a disaster of a book (and movie)…

  3. November 12, 2010 12:55 pm

    That is so true and I didn’t even notice it until I saw how you lined them up side by side like that. My native Japanese self is ashamed!
    When I first started learning Hebrew I started with the block or print letters and they just all looked the same to me. The handwriting letters have much more character.
    Great recent entries! 🙂

    • November 12, 2010 3:16 pm

      Japanese doesn’t interfere with Hebrew for you the way it does for me because you are a native speaker! Everything is kept separate in your brain but all mixed together in mine 🙂

      Hebrew letters are very uniform. I still struggle to see the difference between chet and taf in some fonts, and between daled and raesh in others.

  4. April 5, 2011 12:16 pm

    What about メガネlooking like אמא?


  1. Visual language overlap: Part 2 « From 外人 to גוי

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