I’ve been using Twitter for quite a while now, but to many people it doesn’t appear to have any immediately obvious uses. Most of the things that can be done on Twitter can already be done elsewhere (e.g. status updates on Facebook). But for the millions of users who now find Twitter both useful and fun, I’m sure they will agree that it is “the internet service nobody knew we needed until we had it”. Every once in a while I intend to write a short post about learning 日本語 (Japanese), and I’ve decided to start with a post about using Twitter.
A few months of using Twitter had passed before I even thought of searching for Japanese users. I had no idea if Twitter was even popular in Japan. I have a friend who also uses Twitter and is learning Japanese. It was only when we began sending each other tweets in Japanese that I first thought about searching for Japanese users of the website. It turns out there are plenty of Japanese people happily twittering away. Search for the #followmeJP hashtag and you’ll see what I mean. Another popular hashtag is #sougofollow.
Twitter is a great resource for practicing other languages. Note that I say “practicing” and not “learning”. Sure, practicing is a part of your learning, but I would never suggest that someone used Twitter to learn a language from scratch. I’m suggesting that once you understand some of the basics, Twitter can be a great place to practice your reading and writing. Firstly, you are never going to come across an essay to dig through because of the 140-character limit to tweets. Secondly, the nature of discussions on Twitter tend to revolve around simple statements and questions, which are usually easy to understand. Tweets in Japanese can be far more expressive within that character limit than English, but most users still use tweets just to make a simple comment or two, and to find out what friends are up to. I think this is a great way to find other languages to read, and you might even make some new friends in the process.
I intend to write a few posts on tweeting in Japanese, covering different aspects that may be useful to know. Here are the first hints and tips for Japanese students using Twitter… Please note that most Japanese tweets are similar to casual chat in person. Just like in real conversations, the Japanese often combine words together, leaving students of Japanese utterly confused. Most of these words won’t be found in a dictionary, and some are found only on Twitter! Yes, some words have been invented on Twitter! There are quite a few, so I’ll only discuss the most common ones for now. These words aren’t real Japanese and have evolved on Twitter for various uses. I suppose you could say they are a bit like our “brb”, “lol”, “stfu” etc. Because certain phrases are often used online (or on Twitter exclusively), and because of the character limit, new words have arisen to help communicate while saving space on tweets.
「なう」is used in a lot of Japanese tweets in order to save characters. Apparently its use on Twitter was quite specific when it first appeared, but it has now taken on a far more general role in tweets. It is supposed to resemble the English word, “now”. Initially, 「なう」was mainly used with locations. For example, 「店なう」would mean “I’m at the shop now”. You can see how this kind of thing would be useful in the context of a tweet used as a status update. Three characters used to explain where you currently are is pretty good. Over time, 「なう」was used in various ways other than to state the current location of the user. Now the most common use is to explain what the user is currently doing. In this way, you can think of 「なう」as 「今〜をしている」. So if someone wanted to mention that they are currently eating their breakfast, they could simply use 「朝ご飯なう」. Now that’s efficient!
The other unusual words I see everyday are strange one that end with 「あり」. I’ll get to them in a moment. As you can imagine, there are Japanese words related to social conventions that are used everyday and often become trending topics. Watch one of the popular hashtags and it won’t be long before you see phrases and words like 「ただいま」, 「行ってきます」, 「お帰りなさい」, 「行ってらっしゃい」, 「おやすみなさい」and 「おはようございます」. These are fairly typical words and phrases, and the responses are usually much the same. Let’s imagine someone says “good morning” to me: 「@harrison_peter おはようございます」. If I’m online, I’d be polite and simply say “good morning” in return, just as I would do in English:
“@harrison_peter Good morning!”
“@random_friend Good morning!”
The strange words that end with 「あり」are used to respond to phrases like the ones above, but in a way that thanks the author of the original tweet. It makes more sense if you think about the response occurring a while after the original tweet. If someone says goodnight to me, I say it back. But if I went offline in the evening and woke in the morning to find lots of people had been very nice to me and wished me a goodnight, it would be silly to then wish them a goodnight in return. It’s now the morning. So instead, it would be polite to thank them for the “goodnight” that I had missed. You might not normally do this, but many Japanese would. Essentially, the words ending with 「あり」are used to thank individuals for the comments they left previously. The strange thing is that they aren’t really words… some are actually a real pain to speak, and they should only be used on Twitter or some other written format online. Instead of being a completely new word, they are usually two words mangled together: 「the start of the comment that was left」and 「あり」.
For an example, imagine someone said “good morning” to me on Twitter:
Now the response. Let’s break the “word” down.
The 「おは」comes from the start of “good morning”, 「おはようございます」.
The 「あり」comes from the start of the “thank you”, 「ありがとう」.
This will make a bit more sense when you see that 「おやあり」is used to thank someone for saying “goodnight”.
These words take up only four characters yet they can be used to simultaneously thank others for previous comments and indirectly apologise for not replying at the time. If you use Twitter, I bet you can already imagine other uses, such as thanking people for retweets or follow suggestions. I hope some of this helps any new Japanese students using Twitter and explains what these weird words are for!