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