Monday, March 12, 2018

・ Middle Dot

In Japanese, sometimes words are separated by a middle dot, a ・, also called an interpunct, or interpoint, or nakaguro 中黒, "middle black [mark]," nakaten 中点, "middle dot," nakapotsu 中ぽつ, "middle spot," nakamaru 中丸, "middle circle, " etc. But what does this ・ mean in Japanese?

Well, it has multiple functions.

Pause Function

Before anything else, let's understand one thing: the middle dot in Japanese forces the reader to pause. The ・ isn't pronounced, you just shut up for a bit, maybe. It works like a comma in the phonetic aspect.

In a sense, this is like how spaces are used in Japanese. Except that a dot isn't a space, obviously. A middle dot is more explicit than the implicit pause of the space. And so the middle dot is used in ways the space wouldn't, but it's also used in ways the space would.

How to Translate

The spaces aren't used in Japanese like they're in English, and neither are the middle dots used like English interpunct, so the exact translation of the ・ may vary depending on context.

It can be translated as a word like "and" or "or," or as a comma, or as a slash, or as a colon, or if you know how to use semicolons maybe it can be a semicolon too, who knows.

Separating Parallel Terms

The middle dot may be used to separate parallel terms in a phrase. In this case, we're talking about a group of terms that are said in sequence, but the order of the terms doesn't matter. That is, each term is an individual noun or noun phrase with no grammatical relationship with the others. For example:
  • hikari no sangenshoku wa "aka · midori · ao" desu 光の三原色は「赤・緑・青」です
    Light's three primary colors are "red and green and blue."

Now, there are two things of important note.

First, "red and green and blue," the translation. Naturally, you wouldn't say something like that in English. You'd say "red, green and blue." Or with an Oxford comma: "red, green, and blue." Or, a translation that matches the Japanese pauses better phonetically:
  • Light's three primary colors are red, green, blue.
    (using commas, without any "and" in it.)

Second: aka · midori · ao 赤・緑・青 sound like it could be written with commas. It's true, it could: aka, midori, ao 赤、緑、青. Some people will write it with commas, some with middle dots. It depends.

The important thing is: commas are usually used to separate clauses, while middle dots just don't do that. The best those middle dots can do is separate words. And that's kind of useful sometimes, because you might end up reading 赤緑青 as if it were a single word with multiple kanji instead of three words separately if there were no middle dots to hint there's a pause.

A silly example would be uma, shika wa kawaii 馬・鹿は可愛い, "horses, deer [are] cute." Without the middle dot you could read baka wa kawaii 馬鹿は可愛い, "idiots [are] cute." Because baka is written with the kanji for horse and deer.

Other examples:
  • chuu, kou 中・高
    Middle [school], high [school].
    (these are abbreviations for school years.)
  • do, nichi 土・日
    Satur[day], sun[day].
    (these are abbreviations for weekdays.)
  • nenrei, seibetsu, juusho 年齢・性別・住所
    Age. Sex. Location. ("address.")
  • manga, anime, geemu, shousetsu 漫画・アニメ・ゲーム・小説
    Manga, anime, games, stories.

Parallel Prefixes

Just because you're saying a bunch of things at once, in parallel, that doesn't you have to say entire words. This is specially the case when you have multiple words that start the same way, have the same prefix, which acts like an adjective, then only the last one gets the rest of the word. Example:
  • shou, chuugakusei 小・中学生
    Elementary, middle school student

Parallel Numbers

In some cases, parallel numbers in a phrase are separated by the middle dot. This can happen if there are code numbers, like "number 16, number 17, do something!" or if there's a rough count like in the phrase "another shitty harem MC with 4, 5 girls around him..."

ato 2, 3 kai koukai shitara kono mura wo hanarete zutto kita e mukaou to omotteru. Sailing another 2, 3 times [we'll] leave this village and head far north [I'm] thinking. Quote from the manga One Piece, example of the middle dot usage in Japanese.

Parallel Credits

In credit rolls, when someone is credited with multiple roles, a middle dot may be used between their multiple, parallel roles.

Credits from anime Made in Abyss. Example of middle dot usage for multiple roles.

Separating Katakana Words

A common function the middle to has is to separate katakana words just like a space separates words in English.

This normally happens when an English phrase gets katakanized. If it was just a word, there would be no space in English. But a phrase of multiple words have words separated by spaces. In Japanese, the middle dot would act like a loaned space.
  • tenisu テニス
    Tennis.
  • kooto コート
    Court.
  • tenisukooto テニスコート
    tenisu kooto テニス・コート
    Tennis court.

This usage of the middle dot is specially common in names of foreign (non-Japanese) people. Another case is titles of anime that contain English words.
  • Detoroito Metaru Shithi デトロイト・メタル・シティ
    Detroit Metal City.

    Descriptions and Titles

    Sometimes, a middle dot may come after a title, or some other sort of introductory phrase for someone, before an appositive, etc. That is, you have a description, a pause, and then the name of who or what you're describing. For example:
    • dai maou, Satan 大魔王・サタン
      The Great Demon King, Satan.

    I want to remind you that how you translate the middle dot varies. I mean, in this case, appositives and all, it seems like a matter of course that you'd put a comma in there. After all, everybody's used to putting commas before appositives, right? Commas, appositives, they always go together. Like, my good old friend (comma goes here) appositive, whom I've known ever since... to be honest I learned the word appositive today.

    Anyway, you could also translate it with colons, because you can put colons before appositives, instead of putting commas, and everybody knows putting colons instead of commas makes people think you know punctuate stuff. For example:
    • Dai Maou: Satan 大魔王・サタン
      The Great Demon King: Satan.

    Prefixes

    Sometimes, a description may include a prefix. Like "former," moto 元, or "current," gen 現, etc. And sometimes, those prefixes get separated by a middle dot. An example:
    • Shin Megami Tensei 真・女神転生
      True Goddess Reincarnation.

    Now that one in particular is particularly a pain in the ass, because: "True Goddess Reincarnation" sounds like there's a goddess, who's been reincarnated, but that's not the "true goddess," that's some fake ass goddess, and now we're gonna reincarnate the right one, the one true goddess. However, from the placement of the punctuation, you can see "true," shin 真, is modifying not "goddess," megami 女神, but the whole phrase, megami tensei 女神転生, "goddess reincarnation." So it's more like True Reincarnation of the Goddess. Implying the other reincarnation wasn't true enough and this is the truer one or something like that.

    moto mahou shoujo: Uno Sayori. Former Magical Girl: Uno Sayori. Example of the middle dot in Japanese from the manga Mahou Shoujo: Ore 魔法少女 俺

    Space Equivalency

    In some rare cases spaces are used instead of middle dots for such descriptive titles. For example:
    • Mahou Shoujo: Ore 魔法少女 俺.
      Magical Girl: Ore.

    Ellipsis

    Sometimes, the middle dot may be used to make an ellipsis.

    For those not familiar with the word, an ellipsis is those three dots.

    You know, those...

    ...

    ...

    Yeah those... up there!

    Like this: ・・・

    Generally they're written as three dots or multiples of three. Like six dots ・・・・・・, or nine dots ・・・・・・・・・, etc. Just like we do in English.

    By the way, in Japanese the "ellipsis" is called a riidaa リーダー, literally a "leader," because it looks like it's leading somewhere....... somewhere distant............ who knows where............

    Other Usage

    The middle dot can also be seen used in other ways sometimes that don't fit in the above.

    For example, the middle dot can introduce a pause between letters to hint they're separated as an abbreviation.
    • N.H.K ni Youkoso! N・H・Kにようこそ!
      Welcome to the N.H.K!
    • Nihon Hikikomori Kyoukai 日本ひきこもり協会
      Japanese Shut-in Association.

    The middle dot may be used as bullet points, because, you know, it looks like a bullet point.

    ・ The middle dot may be used to separate parts of a date or time, like year, month and day, for example.
    ・ The middle dot may be used in place of dashes or other punctuation in vertical writing.
    ・ The middle dot may be used as a decimal separator. For example: 三・一四 is 3.14.

    How to Type

    Finally, how to type the middle dot in Japanese.

    The / key (slash) is the easiest way, as it normally types a ・ in Japanese IMEs. Note that this would be if your physical keyboard has an English layout. I, for example, have a Brazilian keyboard, so ; (semicolon) is the physical key that creates a middle dot.

    If those keys don't work just smash your keyboard until you find the key that work. And if even then it doesn't work, type nakaguro なかぐろ and press space a couple of times that the IME should convert it to a middle dot eventually maybe.

    If all fails just google the damn thing and copy-paste the character.

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