Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Janglish Panglish

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 (inquête, questionnaire), dessan (dessin, sketch), aramo'odo (a la mode); from Dutch -- chokki (jak, vest), sukoppu (schop, shovel); from Portuguese -- botan (botão, 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, konkuri’ito, 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, the arts, and more recently, of course, the computer, English words sometimes overtake the text. Look at something like this, for example, describing a knit top (English words in italics):

Ha'inekku ra'in to chiisana botan ga kyuuto na se'etaa wa romanchikku na rabendaa-iro de bodi zentai wo messhu-nitto de matometa pure'in deza'in ga furesshu sonomono, gazen nao na rukku desu.

Loosely translated, it reads:

The sweater with a high neckline and cute little buttons has the bodice in Romantic lavender color, wholly unified by the mesh knit into a plain design; here is freshness itself, absolutely now in look.

Discounting particles, that is, prepositions and conjunctions, the text contains 19 words, mostly nouns and adjectives, and fourteen of these are English-derived words. 
This is an extreme example, of course, but the invasion is nevertheless real if also farcical. Purists decry, as do critics of franglais, espanglès, and Denglisch, that it is corrupting the language. We must take note, however, that the anglicization is entirely lexical. The syntax remains unmistakably Japanese. That's why the text does not quite make sense to a reader without some knowledge of the Japanese grammar even if she or he could identify the loan words. Consider the reverse situation where the English translation above is infused with Japanese words:

The sweater with a takai eriguri and kawairashii little buttons has the do'obu in Romantic fuji-iro, sukkari unified by the amime-ami into a kazarikenonai design, here is sugasugashisa itself, gazen now in look.

Alarming as it may seem, such an influx of foreign words is not unprecedented. Chinese words flooded the Japanese language in Nara Period, as the Norman invasion of England similarly swamped English with Latin-derived French vocabulary.
Now, a closer examination of this sample text demonstrates that the loan words are basically of two kinds, which I identify as Japanglish and Janglish.
On the one hand, there are words used for effect, words that are meant to give an air of Western stylishness. “Furesshu”sounds more trendy than “sawayaka” and “rabendaa” somehow more fashionable than “fujiiro.”  It is felt that ”kyuuto” is cuter than “kawairashii.” So, fashion writers also speak of “sofuto na ori’ibuguri’in no shiruku burausu” that is to say, “soft olivegreen silk blouse.” They remind us of Miss Piggy who likes to point to herself and coquettishly say “Moi?” Affectation is the name of the game, and the Meiji Japan popularized a word, still in currency, that is affected in the same way in itself and at the same time precisely described this kind of Westernizing modishness. The word is ha'ikara and its etymology was “high collar” of the Western gentleman. 
These are English words, then, that have been deposited in the Japanese text like foreign tourists, fashionable, often faddish, at times freakish. I choose to call these words Japanglish.  English is not quite together with Japanese.
Then, apart from these there are English and other foreign words that have settled in and become assimilated in the language because they had to. These are words for which there exist no Japanese equivalents. They arrived with Western science (ami'ibaa, neon, me'etoru), medicine (korera, insurin, porio), technology (enjin, mo'otaa, pisuton, ke'eburukaa), sports (tenisu, badominton, suki'i), fashion, cuisine, the arts, and other components of the Western cultural baggage (miruku, kisu, sutandaado, shisutemu), unless a substitute Japanese neologism was created such as yakyu for baseball, haino'o for rücksack (though there is also “rikkusakku”), nyuuryoku for input, museifushugi for anarchy, and the older word katsudo'o for moving pictures, and sekken for shabon (from Portuguese sabão, used today only for blown soap bubbles).
So, these were once exotic visitors but in time settled in for good, and I designate them Janglish to distinguish them from Japanglish.  In the sample text, se'etaa, romanchikku, and deza'in are assimilated English words. Even without Japanglish words, fashion writing still needs plenty of Janglish words: kaadigan, pi'itahpan karaa (Peter Pan collar), puriitsu (pleats), suutsu (suits), ribon, berubottomu, sasshu and beruto (belt), etc., and in cooking we cannot avoid fra'ipan (frying pan), renji (gas range), katsuretsu (cutlet, actually Wienerschnitzel), tomatoso'osu, sandoicchi, kyabetsu (cabbage), bataa (butter, not batter), etc.
There was, as in any language, importation through the ages whenever there was an intercultural encounter. So, certain imports, some from pre-Meiji era and others more recent, have become “naturalized” to the extent they sound Japanese.  The undershirt worn with kimono is jiban, and it is from Portuguese gibão; and zubon (trousers) is said to have been derived from the French jupon (underskirt). But this is suspicious because the word, related to jupe (skirt), meant a tunic in the 15th century, from the Arabic jubbah, which in turn generated gibão. Tabako (tobacco) is from Portuguese (tabaco) but the old-fashioned long-stemmed pipe, kiseru, said to be from Cambodian khsier, sounds indigenous in opposition to paipu (pipe). There is the candy made of crystallized sugar in the shape of the Roman gladiator's spiked ball reduced to pea size; it's called conpeito'o, written in kanji (gold-rice-candy). Its etymology is confetto, a cognate of confectionary; and sugar-coated almonds distributed at weddings in Italy are still known as confetti whereas in America today they refer to paper flakes such as thrown about during carnival in Italy (in place of candies).  Flour for making noodles (udon) is udonko, but the more refined kind for baking is called merikenko, that is, American flour, as the wharf where foreign ships arrived was called meriken-hatoba.  Old workers call pulleys go'ohei after dock workers who christened them thus watching American sailors operating them shout “go ahead.” This is no joke; and it's not folk etymology, either. These words, as Japanese readers will recognize, sound almost native. 
There are certain Japanized import words with slightly or even considerably altered meaning from the original English words. Puuru (pool), for example, is specifically the swimming pool, taoru (towel) is only for terry cloth towels (which is Western) as opposed to plain cotton tenugui.  If you ask for a towel you might be told: “Sorry we don't have a towel but will tenugui do?” We hit a sutoraiku in baseball but walk with a placard in sutoraiki.” Madamu is a madam but only of a bar or saloon. Manshon (mansion) is a multistory housing project. Taitoru is not any title but movie subtitle. Comical examples of these words with modified meanings occur among Japanese tourists in America who ask for a mo'oningu saabisu (breakfast special) at the hotel and are directed to a chapel (morning service) -- “Do they serve breakfast in a chapel at this hotel?” They shop for a tore'enaa (training wear), and are directed to the trainer at the gym -- “Sorry, fellas, trainers are not for sale.” I'd like to think of these twisted words as Panglish. “Oh, the pangs!”
There are Panglish words that are characterized by truncation, retaining only a part of the original word.  Here are my favorites amputees:
paama from paamanento (permanent wave)
ohbah from o'obaako'oto (overcoat)
apaato for apartment house
depaato for department store
suupaa for supermarket (not superintendent)
infure and defure for inflation and deflation
interi for intelligentsia
sutando from standard lamp for floor lamp and also desk lamp
suto for sutoraiki (but not for sutoraiku)
Then, there are coinages that combine English words in new combinations Japanese style; they read like rebus.
sarariiman (salaried man; wage earner, office worker)
o'orudomisu (old miss; old maid, spinster)
bakkumiraa (back mirror; rear view mirror)
o'orubakku (all back; hair combed back straight)
But most befuddling of all is the art of telescoping for abbreviation that may seem arbitrary but is quite in accordance with the Japanese phonetic rules. The most recent is dejikame (digital camera).  But in Taisho Japan there were moga (modangaaru, modern girl, the flapper) and her counterpart mobo (modern boy). Well established by now and prevalent are these examples:
zenesuto from zeneraru sutoraiku (general strike)
masukomi from masu komyunike'eshon (mass communication)
minisuka from miniskaato (miniskirt)
sekohan from sekondo hando (second-hand)
e'akon from e'akondeshonaa (air conditioner)
basukon from ba'asu kontoro'oru (birth control)
waapuro from waado purosessaa (word processor)
pasokon from paasonaru kompyuutaa
These, I claim, are veritable Chanponese. The prize winner among these is sekuhara from sexual harrassment. Though totally inappropriate, it cannot stop making me laugh. Seku is to fret; hara is belly. Chanponese, indeed.
I don't believe anyone can deny that the versatility and virtuosity of the Japanese to absorb and internalize foreign words through the nation's history is short of miraculous. . . well, staggering at any rate. Chanponese only demonstrates what is known as syncretism in Japan's cultural evolution. The new never outstrips the old; it is always another layer on top of earlier layers, all smoothly Japanized, Just consider. How is e'akon adapted to the shōji-screened naturally ventilated Japanese house? 

Transcribed from Champon 07.18.02 with restored typography

Friday, February 6, 2015

Skits are not Plays

There was a debate today on WNYC News on the length of Broadway plays; one argued that the audience invest both money and time and long plays cost more while the other responded that investing more time is rewarded by a fuller experience.  I wrote a comment.

The classical three-act format allowed the play to unfold by developing the characters in Act I, formulating a conflict in Act II, and achieving a resolution in Act III.  An hour long performance is a skit, like a TV sitcom episode, not a theatrical play. The producers who present a play no longer than an hour and with no intermission, deploying only three, two, or even one character as they are doing more often of late are swindlers at $100 a ticket. Skits can be good, even a monologue can be good as an act of story telling or story reading.  Short stories, however good, are not novels. Audience members who get itchy to get up after an hour and are unwilling to invest more time should stay home and watch television.

Of course, small is not necessarily bad as big is not always good, and vice versa. But Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, the Goodman Theatre’s production at BAM Harvey, went from 7:00 to 12:00 midnight with three intermissions, and in this instance the work certainly deserved the length it required.  Hickey's extended speeches, delivered movingly by Nathan Lane in this performance, which contributed to the stretch, were worth every minute.  As the NY subway after 11:00, the schedule is irregular and truncated, I had to work out a complex itinerary with three changes and arrived home at 2:00 -- a long journey, truly A Long Night's Journey into Day.

By contrast, David Ive's Lives of the Saints, a Primary Stages production, was notable for short plays; six skits made up the program, each complete in itself and, so, without any integrating theme binding them, except for the recurrence of the same actors in repertory.  Ives is a master of punning and other word plays, and every single skit was enchanting and entertaining.  But the evening was essentially a dinner composed of appetizers and desserts without entrée. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Sightreading plays

As best as I can, that is, so long as the published text is available to me, I read it before going to the performance in preparation for it.  Now, the curious thing is, if the play as performed is two hours long, it should take me as long to read it if not well within that time.  But it always takes me longer.  I am fully aware that I am not a fastest reader but I seem to read faster when I read stories, essays, and even scholarly articles.  It makes sense that, reading a play, especially in the early portion of it, like Act I, I have to sort out as I read who is who and who is saying what in what manner of behavior.  Performed on stage, these matters are visually presented and therefore effortlessly grasped.  In fact, on certain occasions, as when I am no possession of the printed play in advance, I read it after attending the play.  Then, I read quite faster.  It still irks me that I cannot read a play in one sitting the way I can watch a play in one sitting. 

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

On 7 November last year (2014), I attended the dress rehearsal of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, the opera by Dmitrii Shostakovich, at Metropolitan Opera.  Eva-Maria Westbroek, a Dutch soprano, who performed Anthony Turnage’s Anna Nicole earlier, sang the title Katerina role dramatically.  At the end of the first scene, following her lament on her neglectful husband Zinovy, he leaves to attend the repairs at the dam site he was overseeing.  In this production by Graham Vick, a car is parked in the garage, stage right, and he gets in the driving seat but it didn’t start.  So, helped by his father Boris, he pushed it off stage.  I thought the car out of commission was a perfect metaphor for the ineffectual husband, though I was not sure if it was a detail in the direction or a snag in the staging.  When I returned to the Met on 17 December for the real performance, alas, the car started right away and he slowly drove out off stage.  Sometimes, a slip can trigger a creative decision as in Balanchine’s Serenade a ballerina who arrived late for rehearsal and another who fell on exit with the corps were incorporated in his finished choreography. 

In Act III (shown above), a large sign in Cyrillic alphabet — adorns the scene overhead.  It reads поздравляем; I was curious about it and figured it out that it said “We congratulate,” rather than Поздравление/Поздравления (Congratulation/Congratulations).   

The opera, composed in 1934, was based on the 1864 story of the same title by Nikolai Leskov (1831-1895), a contemporary of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Tchaikovsky, much celebrated there but less known here until recently.  I read the story in two translations, one by David McDuff and a newer one by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volonkhonsky.  The latter was particularly impressive for the fluid and expressive narrative, notable in the way the rhythm of the prose replicated that of the action portrayed in the manner of ekphrasis — leisurely and relaxed in the scene of romance and terse and brisk in depicting quickly executed murders.  It was instructive to compare the story with the opera’s libretto, which obviously selected and highlighted certain more sensational events. I was confirmed anew that the opera, in contrast to the prose which flows like a river, is a loosely joined sequence of firework as it should be to succeed.  Shostakovich and Alexander Preis, who wrote the libretto understood this well. 

A month later, at BAM, I saw the opera The Enchanted Wanderer, another adaptation of a Leskov story, composed by Rodion Shchedrin; he also was the librettist.  Here, curiously, Leskov’s story was drained of the adventures that would have served the opera well, and was developed as a staged oratorio — so strikingly unoperatic though exciting enough musically.  

Monday, February 2, 2015


Moral action or behavior is often expressed in terms of respectability such as decent and decorous.  An action deemed less than moral in a given society is said to be reprehensible, contemptible, or despicable, that is to say, socially unacceptable, or simply rude.  If ethics manifests itself as social respectability, it also interfaces with esthetics.  Vulgarity is crude.  Violence is ugly.  Dishonesty is dirty. Obscenity is unsightly.  Deception is repulsive.  Killing is hideous.  Philosophical arguments aside, it seems obvious that morality seeks goodness, and goodness perceived is beauty. 

Jakuchu via teamLab チームラボの若冲

Early in January I stood in front of a mural-size interactive digital work at Japan Society in New York and had me photographed.  The work, entitled United, Fragmented, Repeated, and Impermanent World, was created by teamLab, an interdisciplinary collective of technologists including computer programmers, mathematicians, architects, designers, engineers, animators, and artists, among others.  It depicts a kingdom of animals and plants and is executed in a playful palette like the illustrations in children’s books but with sound effect; and when approached to a certain distance, the image dissolves into pixels and change in configuration.  

The mural, consisting of eight panels, is adapted from the pair of six-panel screens, entitled Birds and Animals in the Flower Garden by Jakuchu Ito (1716-1800). Successful and much favored in his days, Jakuchu remained long neglected until modern times except among connoisseurs.  California collectors, Etsuko and Joe Price started to purchase his works in 1970s, and his works are widely known and is enjoying reevaluation as well as popularity, though the attribution of this particular set of screens is apparently questioned by some art historians. 

Jakuchu developed and used an innovative technique of masume-gaki or grid painting (sometimes called mosaic painting) and this no doubt caught the attention and imagination of contemporary artists in computer graphics. 

The teamLab artists observed that the advanced computer graphics can most effectively demonstrate the characteristically Japanese method of representing three-dimensional space on a flat surface without resorting to linear perspective.  The idea is actually fully demonstrated in the video version of the representation called Nirvana which can be seen on a YouTube: Nirvana-

1月上旬のこと、ニューヨークの日本協会で、インタラクティブの壁画大デジタル絵画の前に立って、同伴のお友達に写真を撮ってもらいました。「世界は、統合されつつ、分割もされ、繰り返しつつ、いつも違う 」という題で、これはチームラボと称する斬新テクノロジストの集団の作品で、コンピュータープログラッマー、数学家、建築家、エンジニア、デザイナー、アニメーター、画家などで構成されているグループです。詳しいことは 参照。動物と植物の世界を、明るい朗らかな、子供の絵本にあるような色彩でえがいてあって、そして音響効果を伴い、ある距離に近づくと画面はピクセルに砕けて物の形も変化します。

この壁画は、八枚の画面に分かれていますけど、これは古典の改作で、原画は二對の六扉屏風「鳥獣花木図」で、江戸中期の絵師、伊藤若冲(聖徳6年ー寛政12年、1716-1800)の作品です。生存中から死後も注目を受けた絵師でしたけど、明治以降, 専門家を除いて、一般には軽視され、1970年代に至って、カリフォルニアの美術収集家の、エツコとジョー プライスが、熱心に買い上げ始めて以来、若冲の名前も作品も(私はアメリカ在住で知らなかったことですけど)突然日本で有名になったとの事。でも、この屏風の作者の真偽は、美術史家の中では疑う人もいるそうです。若冲の特殊な画法は、桝目描きと言って、画面を桝に区切って彩色する、その頃まったく斬新なやり方で、これが疑いなく、コンピュターに携わる現代の画家の注目を得る原因だったのでしょう。

西洋の遠近法を使わずに三次元の空間を平面に表す日本伝統の画法は、最新のコンピューターグラフィックによって殊に効果的に実現できるというのが、チームラボの考察です。この説明を理解するのには、同じ若冲の絵を基にしたど「Nirvana」と題した素晴らしい動画があります。Nirvana@ 伊藤若冲感性インスパイア作品展  。

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Pet to pet and to care かわいいペット

Those of us who own a pet know that we have it because we love it.  Pets are, in short, for petting.  But, having had a pet almost all my life, sometimes a dog but mostly a cat or two, I fully realize that the reason we love our pet is the troubles it gives us, or, stating in another way, we derive our gratification from the pet not only for providing us with an object to care for but to care -- to take care of -- and thus fulfilling our instinctive desire for nurturing.