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.