Archive | January, 2012

One: My Interest in English in Japanese

17 Jan

I have, for a very long time, been interested in the incorporation of English-based vocabulary into the Japanese language. I am fascinated about how Japanese has absorbed and adapted thousands of English-based words into its lexicon and how these words have become a fully-functioning part of Japanese communicative strategies.

I am referring specifically here to the English-based words which have been incorporporated into Japanese through the use of the katakana script. Although the katakana script is not exclusively used for words of foreign origin (other uses include onomatopoeia, stressed words, technical words such as the names of plants etc), the primary use of this script is to indeed represent words which are non-Japanese and non-Chinese, such as words from Dutch, Portuguese, German, French and English.

Foreign words written in katakana can be found in places such as: advertising posters, clothes, food packaging, newspapers, magazines, building names, shop signs, computer products and official documents. Indeed, because thousands of foreign words, especially English-based ones, have been incorporated into the full workings of the Japanese language, there is in effect no area of Japanese society where these words will not appear.

Everyday, as I live and work in Japan, I am surrounded by these words and I love them. I love the creative ways the Japanese language has absorbed these words for their own purposes and I love thinking about how the words have been adapted to suit the local needs of the Japanese population. In this way, I fervently oppose the ethnocentric views (found in newspaper opinion columns and academic journals alike) that these words taken from other languages, primarily English, are ‘devaluing‘ Japanese and will lead to a ruining of some abstract concept of what the Japanese language should be. I also intensely disagree with the opinions that these words are harmful to Japanese learners of English. Whilst there are obstacles involved in incorporating them into English language learning pedagogies,  there is a huge potential for these words to be a powerful linguistic resource for these learners.