Author Topic: Unnecessary language barriers to riichi mahjong.  (Read 2095 times)

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Unnecessary language barriers to riichi mahjong.
« on: February 13, 2014, 09:54:33 pm »
This post relates to casual conversation and play of riichi online, in forums, and in person, and does not relate to terminology as required for the world stage in settings such as the World Riichi Championship.

A direct quote from a recent BoardGameGeek post:
Even though Riichi looks very interesting, I can't get over the completely different set of vocabulary it uses just after finally understanding chows, pungs, and kongs!

A perfect example of why some factions of the riichi community are squelching it's popularity in the West by insisting on speaking a hodge-podge of Japanenglish to play an otherwise easy-to-learn game.

It's pretty much the only variation of mahjong where there's so much pressure to learn an extensive foreign vocabulary in order to play... which is terrible because it also, IMHO, happens to be one of the the best versions out there. Consider how obscure chess would have remained world-wide if its propagating players had insisted on everyone using the original sanskrit vocabulary to discuss it openly in public "because it's a Persian game."

Granted, there are some foreign terms for which there are no decent universal translations for... and in language those terms become adopted words; words like deja vu, or aloof, or in this case riichi, furiten and dora.

The game originates from China, but even the Chinese don't impose such language restrictions but for a select few adopted words like chow, pung, and kong. The World Mahjong Organization has kindly offered an official English translation of it's rules and vocabulary to help the game spread... and it's working. Chinese official rules went from nothing to a substantial world-wide following in a little more than a decade, no doubt aided by such translations of their rules.

Along the same vein, I think the riichi rules as listed by the EMA strikes a nice balance between introducing adopted words like chow, pung, kong, riichi and furiten, while for the most part offering full English translations of the rest of the mahjong vocabulary, from the list of scoring yaku to the semantics of game play itself.

One often hears the arguement that "but it's a Japanese game." Ignoring the fact that mahjong is actually a Chinese game, not even the Japanese adhered to an obstructive policy of learning a foreign language to enjoy the game. The Japanese, no doubt to help facilitate the popularity of mahjong in Japan, didn't force themselves to learn Chinese to play mahjong in Japan... for the most part they use their native language... Japanese! This gives rise to their own unique vocabulary for chows, pungs and kongs, using words like shuntsu, koutsu, and kantsu. In this sense, to truly follow the Japanese tradition, cultures should likewise translate the terms to fit their own needs as well.

It's also worth pointing out the irony that many of the Japanese riichi terms English players insist on saying in "Japanese" are themselves actually adopted English words to begin with any way; words like dabuton and dabaru riichi (double East and double riichi), dora (dragon), orasu (all last), ruru (rule), and puro (pro), among many others.

I think Jenn Barr recognized the language barrier that was holding back the popularity of riichi mahjong in the West when she decided to use the NMJL mahjong vocabulary for her book "Reach Mahjong, the Only Way to Play." She was trying to make this wonderful Eastern game more accessible to a Western audience.

The NMJL vocabulary isn't entirely necessary, however, considering words like chow, pung, and kong are pretty well accepted in most Occidental cultures anyway.

But posting something like this monstrosity...

During oorasu, after shimocha kiru, I called kan for diaminkan, and agari with rinchan akihou finishing my chinitsu. basically saying to a potential new player that the barriers to learning this version will be insurmountable.

Imagine that same player scrolling around trying to learn more about riichi mahjong, and that same cryptic post had been written in the same language as its intended target audience:

In the last hand of the game, after the person to my right discarded, I claimed it to meld a kong, and then won the game with my supplemental tile finishing my full-flush hand.


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