Wednesday, September 06, 2006

When Babel Founded Babble 1: Three Dots

You say it best/ when you say nothing at all... (Ronan Keating)

My kawaii-na sensei was asking a few of us who were in class early yesterday if we were going to take the JLPT Tribulation in December. Normally, at this part of the year, if you're still stuck at Intermediate 3, conventional wisdom has it that you go for the easier mountain to climb so that you'd have a better chance of preserving your body in its entirety after everything is over. My logic, combined with some consultation with other senseis, was that I am still in time to complete Intermediate 4 classes, which will punch my ticket to the JLPT 3 Grand Slam, with a month more or so to prepare myself before the Day arrives.

So, when the kawaii one came to know I signed up for JLPT 3, she went, "So desu ka? ..." The whole punch didn't come from the "So desu ka?", but from the three dots that followed. That is what is meant by what you don't say speaks louder than what you do say. That three-dot moment lasted a fleeting 4.5 seconds before other words followed, but the look on her face augmented the weight of those three omnimous dots, and gave an audible quality to silence.

"... so desu ne. Gambatte yo."

Coming from someone whose ID includes descriptions like kawaii, the above line seemed disarmingly innocent and, most probably, encouraging. It reads, "... that's the case, yeah? Do your best, y'hear?" in a pseudo-black fashion. But, as I have had the priviledge of reading her face as she mouthed those words (and you didn't), we can endeavor to analyse this one more time combining the two factors, namely facial expression and words, in one coherent delivery, and we might unearth what actually went through her head at that immortal moment.

The three dots at the front need no further explaination. "So desu ne" spoken with a falling intonation meant something like, "Is that so?" or simply, "So...". The whole point of saying that is to express an understanding that, man, the deed is done, and there's no turning back. Something like what Hokkien would say with the suffix "liao". The range of emotions can be pretty broad, but I should take it to mean, in this case, that she was surprised anybody would be this audacious in his undertakings. To be fair, this is pretty new to me, too. Never in my academic life have I done anything like skipping a grade, so to speak.

"Ganbatte yo" in plain black and white means "Do your best." "Yo" is a Japanese equivalent to an exclaimation mark. Again, there is a range of emotions that could be conveyed with that one word, the subtlities of which can pretty hard for one to appreciate through reading alone. In it's more campy and innocent form, it just goes, "Do your best!", coupled with a V hand-sign and a toothy smile, and the the listener is supposed to feel encouraged or motivated. In this particular scenerio, however, the tone of her voice and how the words were delivered made all the difference. Expect no "Gambatte yo!" pumped out through the diaphragm with a clenched-fist downward-pulling action, but a much gentler, more feminine, and dunno-what-else-to-say kind of "gambatte yo." The former shouts "Go for it!", while the latter utters "Good luck, boy."

In the age of MSN and other forms of communications made possible and viable by microchip technology, previously invisible thoughts can now be materialized in written or pictographic forms (think those pesky emoticons). Those moments of heavy silence from the bygone era can now appear right in front of you as three dots or other things. The next time you see three dots appearing in your written communication, be sure to pay heed to what they could possibly telling you, for what isn't spoken sometimes speak louder than what is.



What am I to make of all this, then? Well, as the story went, there was nothing more to it than surprise as the kawaii one did not expect anyone from her class to have enough brass to go straight for level 3. As a sensei, however, I'm guessing that she could be secretly glad that somebody is taking this study enough to at least try. As the class went on, I could feel her trying to give me a little more chance to practise, though her Japanese ramblings sometimes zips past me, offering no respite. So, kawaii-na sensei, arigatoo gozaimasu yo. Kitto gambarimasu ne.


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