Japanese beginner question: use of 食べます

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Jinx
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Japanese beginner question: use of 食べます

Postby Jinx » Sat May 08, 2021 12:50 pm

I am a brand new baby beginner to Japanese, and I have a question about the practical usage of the verb 食べます.

I just did Assimil "Le japonais" lesson 3, which introduces this verb. I listened to the audio first, of which I understood about 90%, and as usual my brain couldn't help but imagine the scenario in which the dialogue was taking place. For some reason I imagined someone running into her friend who was eating breakfast at a café or something, and asking the friend "What are you eating?" (literally "Are you eating [food]?") – and when I read the Japanese, it seemed to confirm this interpretation:

Speaker 1: パンを食べますか。
Speaker 2: 食べます。
(etc., for various types of food)

But the French translation says "Voulez-vous [food]?" – which creates a very different scenario in my mind. If someone's asking "Voulez-vous..." I would imagine that's a server asking a customer what they want to order.

Here's how the translation looks in the book:

Speaker 1: Voulez-vous du pain?
Speaker 2: Oui.

And these two lines in Japanese are parsed into French as follows:

Speaker 1: (pain / [objet] / manger / [question])
Speaker 2: (manger)

Which of these interpretations is correct? When you ask someone a question using 食べます in Japanese, is that generally more along the lines of "What are you eating?" (such as when your and your friend's food arrives at the table and you sociably ask each other "So what did you get?") or is it more like "What would you like to order?"
Could it be either one, depending on context? (such as when a server asks you in English "What are you having?" as a casual way of asking for your order)
And if it's only one of these things, how would you say the other?

EDIT: This question also applies for the verb 飲みます.
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Re: Japanese beginner question: use of 食べます

Postby vonPeterhof » Sat May 08, 2021 4:55 pm

食べます isn't really the appropriate politeness level for a server to use towards a customer, but it's not exactly the most casual form either. So パンを食べますか is closer to "are you going to eat bread/are you having bread" (incidentally, the same phrase can be used to ask "do you eat bread" in a more general sense), with the caveat that the interaction is taking place between strangers in a more or less equal position, acquaintances, co-workers, etc. rather than close friends or family members.

There is a number of ways to adjust the politeness level of the phrase up or down, but personally I think the most natural way of saying it in a more casual setting would be something like パン、食べる? With the server/customer interaction it's a bit trickier to say, since I haven't studied specifically how to talk to customers in a restaurant. The most straightforward way to rephrase it would be to replace 食べます with its more respectful equivalent 召し上がります (which also works as a replacement for 飲みます), but if we imagine a situation where the waiter in a Western-style restaurant already heard the order and wants to ask if the customers would like a bread plate as well then it would probably be something like (ご一緒に)パンもいかがですか - "How would you like some bread [to go with it]?"
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Re: Japanese beginner question: use of 食べます

Postby Jinx » Sat May 08, 2021 5:43 pm

Thank you for this detailed answer, vonPeterhof! I should have guessed that politeness levels might play a role here.

The French says in formal language "Would you like [bread, etc.]?" – so what I'm getting from your analysis is that this might not actually be the most accurate translation of the given Japanese phrasing.
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Re: Japanese beginner question: use of 食べます

Postby vonPeterhof » Sat May 08, 2021 6:34 pm

Well I'm pretty sure it's customary to translate the Japanese ます forms as "vous" forms in European languages that fully retain a T-V distinction, which doesn't always correspond well to how those interactions actually play out in different cultures. I'm guessing they're saving the "tu" for when they introduce the plain verb forms (some streamlined courses aimed at tourists barely mention them at all).
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Re: Japanese beginner question: use of 食べます

Postby golyplot » Sat May 08, 2021 6:47 pm

On a side note, I'd highly recommend learning the dictionary form (食べる) instead of the masu form (食べます), since this will help a lot once you start learning conjugations. It's easy to go from dictionary form to the masu form, but the reverse is more difficult.

This is a bit like a French textbook teaching you that the verb "to eat" is "mangez" instead of "manger".
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Re: Japanese beginner question: use of 食べます

Postby Jinx » Sat May 08, 2021 8:04 pm

vonPeterhof wrote:Well I'm pretty sure it's customary to translate the Japanese ます forms as "vous" forms in European languages that fully retain a T-V distinction, which doesn't always correspond well to how those interactions actually play out in different cultures. I'm guessing they're saving the "tu" for when they introduce the plain verb forms (some streamlined courses aimed at tourists barely mention them at all).

Ah yeah, that makes sense. Thanks!

golyplot wrote:On a side note, I'd highly recommend learning the dictionary form (食べる) instead of the masu form (食べます), since this will help a lot once you start learning conjugations. It's easy to go from dictionary form to the masu form, but the reverse is more difficult.

This is a bit like a French textbook teaching you that the verb "to eat" is "mangez" instead of "manger".

Good to see an example of the dictionary form, thank you! I don't learn well in terms of memorizing conjugation tables etc. – I'm currently using resources centered around full sentences and dialogues instead (Assimil, TY, Colloquial...), and learning those "real-life" sentences directly. I quoted the verb in that form because I'm so brand-new to Japanese that, at this point, I've only seen this word once (in the given dialogue I was asking about). But I will keep your advice in mind.
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Re: Japanese beginner question: use of 食べます

Postby smallwhite » Sun May 09, 2021 12:57 am

Speaker 1: パンを食べますか。
Speaker 2: 食べます。

In Chinese we offer to share our food like that.

Eat chips or not? = Want some chips?
Eat or not? = Want some?
Want or not? = Want some?

So I suspect パンを食べますか could mean “Do you want some bread?” said by one generous colleague to another, say.
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Re: Japanese beginner question: use of 食べます

Postby Jinx » Sun May 09, 2021 11:16 am

smallwhite wrote:Speaker 1: パンを食べますか。
Speaker 2: 食べます。

In Chinese we offer to share our food like that.

Eat chips or not? = Want some chips?
Eat or not? = Want some?
Want or not? = Want some?

So I suspect パンを食べますか could mean “Do you want some bread?” said by one generous colleague to another, say.

Oh, maybe that is indeed what's happening here. I hadn't even considered that scenario. And it would explain the French "Do you want...?" translation, as well.

Thank you!
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