Japanese English: Your stories …

Posted by on March 09, 2010

© DigitalStock / CorbisIn this post, we collect your thoughts and stories about English in Japan. Have you got similar stories to tell? Share it with us by posting a comment!

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Tony writes …

I don’t know whether or not you are aware of this, but there are hundreds –  probably thousands – of frequently used loanwords (gairaigo) from English in Japanese. Many of these entered the language during the US occupation of Japan after WWII. Almost all of them changed significantly in pronunciation when they were adopted, since Japanese has a smaller set of phonemes than English does. In addition, English adjectives and verbs generally enter Japanese as nouns; this alone causes many difficulties for Japanese people when they are trying to speak English. There are also many changes in meaning and usage, even for nouns.

Silvio writes …

Coming to Japan is a big shock of culture: the exotic food, the people and especially the language. The Japanese language – like other languages – is changing every day; the most interesting thing you can notice is the mix of Japanese and English and sometimes what they call wasei eigo, which refers to the English born in Japan. Let me show you some examples:

Plus alpha / x: The Japanese use plus alpha every time they want to add something that is not certain or can happen along the way. At first, this is difficult to understand but when you get used to it, it gets easier. In American English we have something similar: plus x.

Glass vs … well, glass: In Japan because of the absence of the L sound, they use the katakana alphabet to represent some foreign words and foreign names. In the same way, the English pronunciation is adapted to the katakana alphabet. For example the word glass is pronounced G=GU LA=RA SS=SU so glass turns into gurasu, but the problem doesn’t stop there: they refer to a wine glass as gurasu but to glass in windows as garasu. This was a little tricky for me at first.

Remote control: In Japan they tend to shorten Japanese as well as English words, so for example remote control turns into remo+con or remocon.

Japanese is a very funny language to learn; you just have to take care with the wasei eigo.

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