Friday April 14, 2006
Planetes Word Game
The Wife and I recently finished watching the anime series Planetes, which is about the crew of a space ship that cleans up debris in Earth orbit in the late 21st century. At the end of the final episode, the romantic leads, Hachimaki and Ai, are spending one last EVA together for old time's sake before he (Hachimaki) goes off to complete his training for the first mission to Jupiter, a journey that will take seven years round-trip. As they float together in their space suits, they exchange a peculiar dialog, each in turn saying a different, seemingly unrelated word to the other. At first, I thought they might be playing a low Earth orbit version of "I Spy" because several of the words are space-related, but then I figured it out: they're playing shiritori.
Shiritori (尻取り, lit. 'taking the bottom') is a game in which players take turns saying words, each of which must begin with the kana character (mora) that ended the previous player's word. For example, if one player says 花 (hana 'flower'), the next player could follow with 夏 (natsu 'summer'), because the former ends with na and the latter begins with it. The game continues until a player either can't think of a word that hasn't already been played or accidentally says a word that ends with the final nasal ん, which cannot appear at the beginning of a Japanese word.
I've reproduced the dialog between Hachimaki and Ai below, with Hepburn romanizations and my (somewhat free) translations:
ke. kessuraa shindoromu.
"Ke". Kessler Syndrome.
mu. mujuuryouyou jikuuke.
Zero gravity bearing.
su? su. supinnuke.
ke. keiki hikou.
kenedi uchuu sentaa.
Kennedy Space Center.
a? a desuka?
"A"? Is it "a"?
Ananke [a moon of Jupiter]
ke, ke. kenban haamonika.
kami no ke.
mata ke ka yo? [I think it's ka yo, though that sounds a little odd.]
mou nai deshou?
Can't you think of another?
ke ne. aru yo. kekkon shiyou. u da yo.
"Ke", huh. Ah, got one. Will you marry me? That's "u" to you.
[yo sha.] Omae no make.
[I can't make this out.] You lose!
Some of these are a little tricky. In particular, the Japanese spelling of Kennedy Space Center ends with the katakana long vowel symbol, so Ai needs to clarify that she's supposed to follow up with a word beginning with a. There's another more clever trick being played throughout the game, though—do you see it? Regardless of what word Hachimaki chooses, Ai keeps coming back with words that ends in ke. Eventually he can't think of any more words, so Ai has to prod him a little bit—forgive him, he's male—until he finally takes the hint and asks her to marry him. When he says kekkon shiyou 'Let's get married', he overpronounces it slightly—it would ordinarily end with a phonetic long [o], but he pronounces the u, leaving it up to Ai whether she will reply with the casual form un 'yes' or uun 'no'. When she replies un, which ends with the final nasal, Hachimaki declares himself the winner of the game. Presumably Ai is thinking, "You just keep telling yourself that, smart guy."
There's another interesting linguistic bit in the series that involves the radio jargon "You copy?" and "I copy!", which have been borrowed into the characters' futuristic space Japanese as aicopii and yuucopii. What's surprising is how they make the polite forms. Several times in the series, Ai (a trainee) is asked by Hachimaki (her instructor): yuucopii? Instead of simply replying aicopii, which would be a plain form and inappropriately familiar, she replies aicopii desu, adding the polite version of the copula (lit. 'It's "I copy"'). I was a little surprised by this since there's a straightforward way in Japanese of making foreign-vocabulary nouns into verbs: the addition of the light verb suru 'do', which can then be marked for various levels of formality. In this case, Ai could have used aicopii shimasu as the polite form, but instead she used aicopii desu. Maybe there's a subtle difference in meaning between the two that I'm not fluent enough to detect. Anybody know?
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That's neat! I'll have to remember it if I ever want to make an astronaut propose to me.
That bit you can't make out in the last line is probably translatable as "all right!" (as in the fist-pumping "all right", not the "all right, whatever, you win" one). I haven't seen any hard research on it but I'm pretty sure it's a relative of "ii" as in "good"... you have to go waay back to classical Japanese to see it, though:
ii <- yoi <- yoki/yoshi -> yossha!
(I've never heard it as just "yosha" but anything's possible.)
That last question is an interesting one... my guess is that they've adopted "I copy" and "you copy" as whole phrases -- interjections? -- and completely stripped the pronoun+verb format information that was in the English version. Maybe by analogy with "roger"? Google tells me that that's more commonly found in the form "roger desu" than "roger shimashita", although just plain "roger" is commonest of all.
(Whether they did this intentionally, or just started out using the English phrases and then decided it felt weird for Ai not to have some politeness in there as well, is another matter.)
I have had countless moments while watching anime or playing video games where confusion is replaced by the realization that the characters are playing shiritori.
I can also state from personal experience that playing this game with the names of countries is just a bad idea.
Koreans also play this game alot and it is called 끝말이기 (Kkutmarigi). I don't find it particularly entertaining, but it is very popular here.
Very cool. And a personal example of the recency illusion for me, as I just learned about this game for the first time from one of my students in Japan. She had one of the handkerchiefs that serve any purpose (except of course for blowing your nose)with words in kana on it and was a like a maze, but instead of making choices for directions you had to choose the word that fit until you backed into a "wall," where no word started with the necessary syllable. The thing was from MacDonald's.
"Mata ke ka yo" --- idiomatic emphasis. "Ke again?!"
aikopii would sound a bit like an -i adjective to a Japanese speaker, for which the polite form would be to add desu. Presumably, if you didn't understand the message, you'd reply aikopikuna.
Hi, I came here because this was referenced in Suzette Haden Elgin's blog over at livejournal.
This was my respose there: http://ozarque.livejournal.com/349044.html?thread=6574708#t6574708
I'd gloss that differently, actually.
'aikopii' sounds like a state, so the response is "[I am] in a state of 'aikopii'".
Also, "aikopii shimasu" sounds like I *will* aikopii. And "aikopii shite imasu" is I am aikopii-ing (right now).
Frankly, 'yuukopii' again sounds like "requesting confirmation of state 'yuukopii'", rather than "are you copying?"
also, the negation there is simply wrong.
'aikopukuna' would be "aikop[i]ku-ish" I think it would be "aikopii-nashi", or "mu-aikopii". I suspect there's a clearer negation used in military communication that I'm unfamiliar with. (aikopiikunai would be 'un-aikopii', but not 'not aikopii-ing')
Never heard of that game... I'll have to do some research on it... thanks for the info...