Sunday, December 15, 2013

Too Many Foreign Loan Words?

There are many “foreign loan words” in Japanese. They are like the original word, but pronounced with Japanese syllables and written in katakana. When I hear a Japanese person say these words, I often don’t recognize them because they sound, well, they sound Japanese.  When I see the word and can read it to myself, I hear American English in my head and can figure it out.

I was standing at a busy intersection, waiting in the cold for the signal to change, allowing me to cross the street. It was taking a long time and I was looking around.  I saw this across the street.

I don’t know what the first and last kanji symbols are, but the three things in the middle are katakana and they spell out bo ta n (button!)  I look at my side of the street and sure enough there is the same sign and the signal changing button! (I think this says wait please.)
I saw signal changing buttons often in the US, but don’t see them much here, so I don’t think to look for them. Usually the light just changes. Lucky I saw the sign or I could have been waiting all day!

I can see how some things need to be in katakana, like this tea package that says a ru gu re i  (Earl Gray) because Earl Gray isn’t Japanese.

 This postcard came in the mail from Kanariya, the fabric and craft store.  On the left in English it says Last Bargain.  If you look at the top, near the little bird, in katakana, it says ka na ri ya (the name of the store) followed by ra su to ba gu n  (last bargain).  It seems like there are probably some Japanese words that mean the same thing without borrowing words from English.

A while back I read a story about an elderly man in Gifu prefecture who was suing the national television broadcasting company because they were using too many foreign loan words. He couldn’t understand what was being said and it causes him emotional distress. I can see his point.


1 comment:

  1. Sometimes I am very grateful for the loan words written in katakana; they help me guess what things are for, like the signal changing button. On the other hand, someone said that one reason the Japanese are poor at English is that they use katakana for ANY English word (e.g. in their notebooks, or for reading speeches in English). In that way they never get used to reading, writing or pronouncing a foreign language. There is something in that idea, I think.