Overwhelmingly, the questions and answers on this site are about learning Japanese.

However, as Tsuyoshi Ito pointed out in some comments on a question I think has no learning value, the FAQ states this site is:

... for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language

That definition leaves open room for discussion about things that are not necessarily targetted at people who want to learn or at least improve their Japanese.

I can't deny what the FAQ states, but I have to admit that I find it odd to consider questions without any learning value valid for this site.

There was a question about homosexual symbolism in Japanese literature which seems to have been removed entirely from the site (I can't find it in any searches). I believe it was closed because the only way to seriously discuss it was to have sufficient mastery of Japanese that it carried no learning value to help people get to that point.

Or perhaps it was removed for another reason, but I can't help but think that if simply "discussing" Japanese without learning being a focus, then that question should have been allowed... which I think would be a mistake.

Bottom line, isn't this site really for learning Japanese and not just for arbitrary discussion?

If learning value is not a criteria, then can someone give an example of an acceptable question that is not helpful to Japanese learners?

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I will not commit to the discussion which declares that anything that is not about learning Japanese is an “arbitrary discussion.” –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 21 '11 at 13:16
    
Well, I think any on-topic questions would be helpful for Japanese learners even if it's not asked by or meant to be answered for Japanese learners. For example, questions about interpreting passages of classical Japanese literature(which would most likely be asked by a fluent speaker) would be helpful to Japanese learners to a degree, but probably won't be as helpful as a question about how to use よろしく properly. –  Ken Li Aug 21 '11 at 20:56
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If this site is only for people learning Japanese, then who is going to give the correct answer? –  sawa Aug 22 '11 at 3:27
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@sawa: The extreme irony of you asking that question has to be mentioned: You, sawa, have posted 136 (!) answers and ZERO questions on this site. japanese.stackexchange.com/users/458/sawa The vast majority of your answers are for very simple questions. So... how exactly is it you are worried there won't be people interested in just answering questions? –  Dave M G Aug 22 '11 at 6:53
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Can you even draw a sharp line between "learning Japanese" and "learning about Japanese"? If I ask about a very specific phenomenon I observe in medieval poetry and I get an answer in very specific technical linguistic terms, this may not be as accessible as "How do I use しまう?" but I am still learning something, and one day someone else reading the same books may be looking for answers to the same question. –  Matt Aug 22 '11 at 13:54
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(When I posted that question that you linked to, my main goal was to see how I could apply the Chinese that I already know to help me learn Japanese. I feel that the phrase "learning Japanese" can be interpreted very very broadly.) –  Alan C Aug 22 '11 at 21:16
    
I hope this site isn't just for beginners "acquiring Japanese as a second language". –  taylor Aug 27 '12 at 20:25

2 Answers 2

The FAQ states:

Japanese Language and Usage - Stack Exchange is for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language.

As written, it doesn't explicitly say they have to be learning about Japanese, as long as they are discussing the Japanese language. However, questions on Stack Exchange should allow someone to learn something by reading them.

In this case, the question you linked to is asking about why the same kanji can have different meanings between Chinese and Japanese, and how the meanings of the original Chinese characters diverged. To me, I think that's on-topic for this site, because it is discussing the origin of a class of words in Japanese and is thus talking about the Japanese language. (Admittedly, as it is written right now, it might be too general.)

This question could benefit anybody who knows Chinese and wants to apply that knowledge towards also learning Japanese. (I had a few fluent English-Chinese speakers in my Japanese classes.) It can also benefit more advanced speakers, or linguists, or anybody else who is interested in the origins of the language. Just like how English Language and Usage isn't just for people learning English.

As for the homosexual symbolism question (I'm not sure that was the exact topic, because my comments on deleted questions have been removed from my activity), I believe that question was removed by the author. It was also closed off-topic because it was more of a culture question and didn't ask anything about the language itself, not because the content was too advanced.

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Literally? This question. ;) But seriously, assuming that your title topic is excluded, there is also this question or this question. I argue historical language developments don't fall under culture. –  Troyen Aug 22 '11 at 0:54
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I guess I don't know why you see a difference between the last two examples I linked and the original question that spawned this topic. Especially the one about using Chinese numbers. –  Troyen Aug 22 '11 at 3:22
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Can you give an example aside from the homosexual literature one (which was removed because it didn't touch on the language at all) of a question that would be theoretically on-topic in discussing the language but would not allow someone to learn something about the language? Maybe we have different definitions of "learning". –  Troyen Aug 22 '11 at 4:51

Isn't every question that is about Japanese language & usage going to be potentially interesting to people learning Japanese?

Judging from your comment, "To me, the common point of students, teachers, and linguists is that they are learning the language, and so all discussion on this site has an aspect of learning the language", I take it that you agree with me the answer is yes.

Also, no one is claiming on-topic questions on JLU may not have any learning value, I think. On JLU, any question that is related to Japanese language and usage is welcome, and is a learning experience to askers of any degree of mastery.

I think that last part is the crux of this discussion. Here, a quote from the original question:

I believe it was closed because the only way to seriously discuss it was to have sufficient mastery of Japanese that it carried no learning value to help people get to that point.

There are several assumptions around this idea that I think otherwise.

  • (1) After you cross a certain line, you have nothing to learn about Japanese. You only discuss about it without learning anything. (Mastery chart A, as opposed to B, where you keep learning forever)

    • (I'm getting doubtful if Dave is really claiming this point, but including it for the record)
    • My take: If a perfect Japanese sensei managed to squeeze out a valid question for JLU, then it means even a master has a question, or that master wasn't a master after all. Either way, I'd say the process of asking a question and getting an answer, knowing the unknown, is a process of learning.
  • (2) JLU is here to help people at a certain level of Japanese mastery.

    • My take: Hmm, I fail to see the need to scope JLU in such a way. The fact that JLU is a learning space doesn't mean every question has to be a learning experience for everyone. Questions/people with different scope (within the scope of JLU) can co-exist.

    • It may make sense to restrict the questions by its required proficiency, since the problem of beginner-friendliness has been raised several times on meta, but where do you draw the line? Will it help grow the community? Could it be solved by any other means?

Well, I may be utterly wrong about assuming those assumptions, so please correct me if I got it wrong.

Lastly, I do think the word "...discuss the finer points..." in the FAQ is a little misleading, because it kind of contradicts with open-ended discussions being unwelcome on SE sites.

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