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In a colorful article, Professor T. Kaori Kitao reveals the lively fashion in which English is being adopted by the Japanese.

Every language has imported words in its lexicon. But the golden palm for the most adept and abundant adoption of English words goes to the Japanese language. This is a distinct linguistic feature of the Japanese, and, as students of the language know from experience, learning Japanized English words can be unusually challenging. The American occupation of Japan after World War II may have something to do with this peculiar tendency; the American domination of the world in the second half of the last century may be a partial explanation. But it is culturally more deeply rooted and has a longer tradition as the following examination of English words in the Japanese lexicon demonstrates.

Open any Japanese magazine or newspaper, you will find plenty of gairaigo(words of foreign derivation), or loan words. They stand out on the printed page because by convention they are written in katakana.

Some of them are derived from German -- noiro'oze(Neurose,neurosis), te'ema(Thema,theme), enerugisshu (energisch,energetic); from French -- anke'eto(inqute,questionnaire), dessan(dessin,sketch), aramo'odo( la mode,in fashion); from Dutch -- chokki(jak,vest), sukoppu(schop,shovel); from Portuguese -- botan(boto,button), biro'odo(veludo,velvet); and there are other derivations.

But foreign words in Japanese are overwhelmingly English. You may see a smattering of them in articles on any subject, words like nyuusu, marason, horumon, konkuriito, derike'eto, sense'eshon, chaamingu, shimpuru,and shanpuu, which are easily recognized, and those which are a bit more challenging: ton'neru(tunnel), sarada(salad), sutoraiki(strike), erebe'etah(elevator), shatsu(shirt), raburetaa(love letter), barubu(bulb or valve), and sekushii(sexy). In writings on fashion, cooking, sports, arts, and more recently, of course, the computer, English words sometimes overtake the text.

More may be found at:


Great post, Mehyar. I've edited it slightly, adding HTML links, blockquoting the pull quote, and splitting the article into two sections (body+extended) so that it takes up less space on the front page. This flexibility is one of the nice features I like about MovableType.

Amazing discovery, I would have never noticed this completely new phenomenon myself. Noberu Puraizu is in the post, professor!

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This page contains a single entry by published on May 9, 2005 9:33 AM.

Link: How the other 'hafu' lives (being half-Japanese) was the previous entry in this blog.

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