Sunday, December 2, 2007

'Englishization' of Japanese

As some of you may recall from an earlier post, I am informally studying Japanese again. Every time I have a lesson, I'm reminded that some of the most difficult words to say or recognize in Japanese are often English words. This link will give you a little taste and explanation of why that is.

Would you recognize 'chiketto' as 'ticket' or 'gurobaru herusukea' as 'global healthcare'? Though I've been told many times that the Japanese government is aware that the katakana writing system encourages Japanese pronunciation of English, there still seems to be little effort to teach English in the classroom without the support of this writing system.

A further invasion of English into Japanese is explained in the above link. That is, Japanese teenagers, especially, are inventing words that are half-English and half Japanese, such as 'sutabaru' meaning "to patronize Starbucks."

When I was a kid growing up in L.A., my Nisei parents and relatives used to use blendings of Japanese words in almost exactly the same way that the Japanese are using English - only the Japanese part came first. For example, my mother would say that the neighbor was 'monku'-ing again ('monku' in Japanese means 'complain') about our cat going in her backyard.

I'm sure someone somewhere has done a study of these phenomena, but I don't know of one. If anyone reading this does, I'd be interested in hearing about it. There must be lots of stories like this for other languages too. Please do send them my way. :-)


mhiraiwa said...

Thank you so much for introducing your blog to me. I've been reading it and the one about katakana English in Japanese was so interesting.
It reminded me that my new Japanese friend here told me that she has been frustrated with the katakana English words. She said she just cannot pronounce them in an English way. Being tired of repeating the katakana word again and again,
sometimes she ends up spelling out the word to make herself understood.
Her English actually is pretty good. The fact that SHE is struggling the words we should be familiar with since we use them in
our Japanese as well makes me think that katakana English could have some disadvantage to our English learning.

evelyn said...

Thank you very much for your comment. I can well imagine the difficulty of your friend pronouncing English words as she learned them in katakana. When you say a word slowly in 'English' (katakana-pronunciation), it sounds Japanese.

I have the opposite problem in Japan. If I say the English word (in Japanese) quickly or if I stress one of the syllables of an English word used in Japanese, no one understands me. We are all speaking English in these examples, but we don't understand each other well. This is why I call my blog 'many Englishes.'