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5 Comments

  • Interesting post, Jim. Of course one question faced by dictionary folk all over the world is how quickly and to what extent these “loanwords” should be absorbed into the core lexicon, i.e. properly listed and defined in dictionaries. Some languages are more open and acquisitive than others: French resides towards the conservative end of this spectrum, while British and (even moreso) American English lies somewhere towards the other, which may in part explain the power and pervasiveness of the language. I wonder where Japanese lies on that spectrum? Are Japanese dictionaries embracing these kinds of loanwords?

    I also wonder if there are cases where the loanword is sufficiently richer in meaning than its originator that it ends up being loaned back (with interest!) to the international lingua franca. I can’t think of any examples right now (I’m sure others will!), but given how voracious the English language can be, it seems inevitable.

  • Japanese adopts and uses loanwords like no other language I know. Estimates of the number of loan words in use range up to 100,000. There is little official effort to keep them out. Major dictionaries list many loanwords, and special dictionaries of loanwords are issued by most of the major publishers. The publishers, of course, try and make sure that the loanwords have a reasonably extended currency before listing them.

    I can’t think of a full loanword coming back into English from Japanese. The word “karaoke” is a semi-loanword; it means “empty orchestra” in Japanese, and the “oke” is a fragment of the full loanword “okesutora”.

  • There’s salaryman, which never really existed in English as one word until it came back from Japan, where it’s a rather derogatory term for a corporate office worker.