Sunday, December 03, 2006

So everyone can read simple English, right?

Hmm, no, me thinks not. Note this calendar, issued by one of the major Japanese banks that is prominently displayed in the personnel section of my university's administration. The English on it is very simple: Jan, Feb, Mar, etc. words that most Japanese kids are probably taught in the first year of junior high school. This notwithstanding, one employee deemed it necessary to annotate the calendar with the Japanese months of the year.

Now, it could be just a simple case of the English abbreviations being too small or due to the color combination, not sufficiently salient. I should really ask the person who put it up why the Japanese was necessary. If I do have the chance, I'll report back.

Does anyone else have any similar examples to share?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Punny Japlish

It took me a while to figure this out. The kanji in the upper left mean "station" and "festival". This is followed by katakana that is pronounced "tin-gu" and then the year, "2006". The pronuciation of the two kanji are "eki" and "sai" respectively.

Adding these all together, we get "eki-sai-tin-gu 2006" -- Exciting 2006, the name of an event sponsored by the Keihan Railway (Osaka) at one of the main stations, feature live performances, etc.

We can assume that the intended audience is expected to know enough English to decode this pun, although I suppose "Station Festival (gibberish) 2006" would still carry the main meaning. Certainly my mother-in-law would never have understood, but then, she isn't quite the type that the train line is intending to attract!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

English-into-Japanese topics

Here are some of the topics we will consider in future postings on this blog. Which pique your interest?

  • The standard theory says that Japanese has three writing systems -- katakana, hiragana and kanji. I'd like to argue that there are FOUR, with the English alphabet having become an integral part of written Japanese.
  • Students in junior and senior high school are forced to memorize long lists of English words. Yet, many of the words actually are used in Japanese in some form or another, perhaps with a very narrow meaning, or a meaning which doesn't quite match the usage in English. How much easier would the study of English be if the similarities were stressed in school teaching?
  • This is a fun one. Japanese remember and advertise phone numbers and other numbers using a set of pnemonics based on the various pronunciations of each number -- for example, 4129 -- yo-i-ni-ku -->yoi niku, "good meat". The English pronunciation of these numbers is also frequently used in order to extend the possibilities.
  • Signage in Japanese. This is part of my argument about English being integrated into Japanese. How many signs can you notice where important words in the sign are in English, but with no Japanese equivalent? Is there a system to this? Can we really say that the English is only there for the decorative effect?
  • Younger Japanese have no trouble pronouncing the /t/ in "two" correctly, while older people will still say /tsu/. How can we accommodate this and other new sounds in the phonemic system of Japanese?
  • Are new words from English ("gairaigo") replacing Japanese synonyms, or is most "gairaigo" simply used to fill gaps in Japanese vocabulary brought about by new developments in culture and technology?
  • One often hears the term "Japlish" or "Japalish" for various phenomena associated with the use of English in or by Japanese. This term, however, has diferent meanings depending on who uses it. Does it mean *errors* in the use of English by Japanese, or merely the use of Japanese elements (vocabulary or even grammar) in the use of English?
  • Other topics will be added to this as they come to mind!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

What the heck is the "Incursion of English on Japanese"?

I intend to explore in this blog the many ways that English and crept into and changed the Japanese language. Yes, "changed." It will never be the same! Some of the entries will be pretty academic in nature, while others will be chatty or even "off the wall."

The Japanese language has been like a sponge. It has soaked up not only words from English (as well as other languages) but even other aspects that are more pervious to change. We will look at how English has had an impact on pronunciation and even on the phonemic system of the language. We will look at the impact English has had on the writing system itself and how English is well on its way to becoming a "second" rather than a "foreign" language in Japan.

Things didn't necessarily have to turn out the way they have. Other countries, such as Korea and China are also receiving a healthy dose of English. Does that mean that it is or will have an equal effect? Probably not. I hope that some readers of this blog, who are more knowledgable in Korean and Chinese than I am will be able to point out how these languages have diverged from Japanese in their acceptance of English elements into their language.