2002年07月18日 木曜日

Janglish Panglish

by Kaori Kitao

Features, Language


A whimzikaru rooku atua Japanese adaptation of English words.

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 (à 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, konkuriito, 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, 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 chiisana 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 oriibuguri'in no shiruku burausu" that is to say, "soft olivegreen silk blouse."  They remind us of Miss Piggy who likes to pounts 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, 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, 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). Butthis 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, is 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. 


This site showcases creative adaptation of English in Japan through consumer products; photos of "Porky Pork" snacks, the "Violence Jack Off" clothing store and the tag from a "Hi-Sensible Taste! Down Jacket." Foreign travellers to Japan have contributed their Japanese English discoveries - as illuminating for language adaptation as they are illuminating of perceptions of cultural difference. Their ripe links section reveals "Engrish" tracking to be a popular pasttime.

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 or 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)

masukumi 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 adapated to the shôji-screened naturally ventilated Japanese house? 

T. Kaori Kitao T. Kaori Kitao, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor Emerita of Art History, was born in Tokyo in 1933. There she learned to speak French and English. She came to America at age 19 to study at the University of California, Berkeley, followed by studies at Harvard. There she earned her PhD in Art History. After three years teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design, she came to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in 1966. She calls herself "a specialist on the Renaissance theory of perspective, Bernini's architecture, and Philadelphia." Since her retirement in 2001 she splits her time between her house in Swarthmore and an apartment in Manhattan in pursuit of her passions: "I love opera and ballet, and theater of all kinds, and New York streets." But she loves kabuki, Yeats, James Joyce, contemporary classic music, Italy, Matisse, Duchamps, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Japanese literature, languages, movies and architecture of any kind, and history of fashion -- "but not necessarily in this order." She served as the Vice-president of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations between 1980-83.

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Posted by Kaori Kitao at 2002年07月18日 07:04


It sounds like this "Janglish Panglish" you describe here is now an official government problem! Koizumi's administration has decided to convene a panel to encourage movement away from English and Katakana. Towards what I wonder? Will they make up new kanji, or new hiragana Japanese for air-conditioner and skirt?

<blockquote> With his permed mane, snappy dress and plain speech, Mr. Koizumi himself has been a distinct trend setter. But the politician, who studied at the London School of Economics in his youth, has drawn a line when it comes to the purity of the Japanese language. He was moved to action not by the puzzling speech of teenagers, but by the English-infused and equally difficult-to-track bureaucrat-speak that surrounds him &#8212; involving clunky Japanese derivations of things like outsourcing, back office, redundancy and accountability.

"How can ordinary people understand if I don't understand?" the prime minister complained during a recent strategy session on how to revive Japan's technology sector.

Among the offending words was incubator, rendered "inkyubeetaa" when pronounced according to the katakana spelling. "You have got to use expressions that are more easily understood," Mr. Koizumi said.

No firm regulations have yet been introduced, but the Council on the Japanese Language, a body somewhat akin to the Acad&#233;mie Fran&#231;aise, is already honing its powers of persuasion. It says it will analyze newly arrived vocabulary each year and advise the government and the media to avoid terms it regards as unwanted or as confusing intruders.</blockquote>

This from the recent NYTimes.com piece "<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/23/international/asia/23TOKY.html">To Grandparents, English Word Trend Isn't 'Naisu'</a>"

sorry. this is copyright infringement, i think. but you would have to register at the los angeles times website to get this article. and i chopped off the last paragraph to be a little more legit. gomen nasai.

Hold the Mayora, Please
Critics in Japan say a flood of foreign words makes the language incomprehensible at times and is threatening the nation's identity.

By Mark Magnier, Times Staff Writer

TOKYO -- They slide under doors, through windows and past airport immigration unnoticed. The Internet is a veritable breeding ground, as are locker rooms and fashion runways. Seemingly harmless in small doses, their wholesale import now threatens Japan's very identity, say critics.

A new computer virus? An insidious North Korean spy plot or some new breed of walking catfish? For many Japanese, the biggest invasion fear is the flood of foreign words infecting their vocabulary, with English heading the charge.

"It's becoming incomprehensible," says Yoko Fujimura, a 60-year-old Tokyo restaurant worker. "Sometimes I feel like I need a translator to understand my own language."

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi recently chided his ministers for overusing "loan words." A government-funded institute has a hotline to interpret and document bad usage. Echoing France, there's even a committee to find replacement words for the foreign gate-crashers.

Countries around the globe are wringing their hands over the rapid spread of American English, with Coca-Cola among the most recognized terms on Earth. However, Japan's unique writing system arguably makes the problem here worse.

In most countries, foreign words are assimilated relatively quickly -- making it difficult, for example, to remember that "smorgasbord," "maitre d' " and "hamburger" came to America from abroad. Japan, however, writes all imported utterances other than those from Chinese in a different script called katakana, the only country to maintain such a distinction.

Thus, terms such as "word processor," "managed health care" and "baby-sitter" remain "foreign," presumably for centuries, creating a linguistic moat between intruders and more blue blood Japanese terms.

Katakana also takes far more space to write than kanji, the core pictograph characters that the Japanese borrowed from China 1,500 years ago. And it stands out, given its other function as a way to emphasize meaning, akin to using italics or exclamation points. Readers complain that sentences packed with foreign words start to resemble extended strings of strobe lights.

As if that weren't enough, katakana terms tend to morph at border crossings, like complex names at Ellis Island. "Digital camera" debuted as degitaru kamera, then became the more ear-pleasing digi kamey. But kamey is also the Japanese word for "turtle."

"It's very frustrating not knowing what young people are talking about," says Minoru Shiratori, a 53-year-old municipal employee. "Sometimes I can't tell if they're discussing cameras or turtles."

Similarly, the loan word for "dot-com" also means "suddenly crowded," which inspired the winning entry in a recent haiku-like poetry contest:

'Dotsuto comu'

What's so crowded?

My boss asks.

Japan's fast-paced word blender, more often than not deftly operated by teenagers, also can leave foreigners reeling. Many Japanese believe they're speaking English when they describe mayonnaise as mayora; lovers of the Chanel brand as shannera; a convenience store as a combeeni and the high-five gesture of a sports hero as a gattsu posu, or gutsy pose.

"I support efforts to limit katakana words because too many of them damage the beauty and dignity of our language," says retired financier Yukio Komatsuzaki, 60. "If you want to learn English, that's great. Or speak proper Japanese. But keep them separate."

Even more daunting are foreign words left in the Western alphabet, or romanji. Toshiko Uno, a 63-year-old housewife, found herself in desperate straits recently looking for a toilet in a Tokyo train station before noticing a door marked "powder room."

"Powder room?" she says. "Why put on such airs?"

Foreign-based katakana terms account for 10% of some dictionaries. "The spread has been just phenomenal," says Yasuko Hio, a social linguist with Shikoku Gakuin University.

A survey by national broadcaster NHK found half of all respondents unhappy with the foreign flood, with people in their 60s most concerned and those in their 20s largely unfazed.

In a bid to temper the torrent of katakana -- a system developed by 9th century Buddhist monks to remember Chinese pronunciation, then the only foreign language invading Japan -- the government has tapped a Foreign Words Committee to find suitable Japanese replacements.

The committee is quick to distance itself from French-style language police, given that Japanese history makes the hint of force, even against words, potentially controversial. A largely ineffective law in France bars advertising in English.

Rather, committee members and traditionalists here hope a sustained campaign of persuasion, gentle reproach and leadership by example can turn the tide. Intelligibility, not purity, is their goal, they say.

"There's less feeling the government should control it," says Minoru Shibata, who monitors linguistic change at NHK's research institute.

The National Institute for Japanese Language hopes to craft 100 Japanese replacement terms every six months. The group admits it's understaffed but is seeking a $1.7-million budget increase for more wordsmiths. "We want to tackle this aggressively," says Mitsuro Kai, the institute's president.

The nation took similar steps during its late 19th century modernization drive as scholars and bureaucrats created Japanese words for "democracy," "chemistry" and other new concepts. But life was a bit slower then, and the channels for imports better controlled. Society could afford to wait a decade or more while elites found a proper Japanese word that might stand in for a foreign term.

Adding to the committee's many challenges is the fact that katakana terms tend to evoke novelty and excitement, a reflection of the writing system's centuries-old role as a beachhead for cutting-edge concepts.

The committee is also up against some pretty aggressive opponents in the vocabulary wars, including high-tech industries, the fashion world, advertising, sports and the media.

Advertisers have embraced katakana with all the subtlety of an anaconda, even tossing in Japanese words to make their soapsuds and soy sauce sound dynamic.

"Sometimes we get calls because people can't recognize Japanese words in katakana," says Sadao Yamada, chief researcher at the language institute, who is in charge of the group's hotline.

Politicians and bureaucrats who hope to sound more sophisticated and worldly aren't far behind. Economics Minister Heizo Takenaka is accused of using so many English financial terms that his sentences are almost incomprehensible.

"Politicians should be banned from using it," says Kentaro Miyazaki, a 54-year-old janitor. "When I hear them speaking gibberish, I just tune them out."

Language purists argue that perfectly good Japanese words are available if people just tried a little harder -- for instance, using jyugyoin to describe a company worker rather than staffu.

Fair enough, counter younger Japanese, but there are nuances. Companies advertising for staffu are seen as progressive, flexible and more equitable toward women, they say. A competitor's search for jyugyoin evokes respectability, security and -- to some -- mind-numbing boredom.

"I'd much rather have a staffu job than be a jyugyoin," says Minako Yoshinaga, a 24-year-old cafe worker.

Real estate agents add that hanging your clothes in a walku-in-kurozeto sounds much more luxurious than the more musty-sounding oshiire.

Bureaucrats have another reason for using katakana. While Japanese terms have precise, well-understood meanings, fuzzier foreign terms provide more latitude to do what bureaucrats do everywhere: skirt responsibility.

Take BSE, short for bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The foreign scientific term for "mad cow" disease gained widespread use last year after a health scare in part because the Japanese term -- kyogyu-byo -- is graphically descriptive of the illness and tends to underscore how officials failed to safeguard the nation's food supply.

"Katakana terms make it more difficult to pin them down," says Seizaburo Ofuchi, in the terminology office of Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest newspaper. "These 60-year-old politicians moan about all the katakana, but they often make ample use of it for their own purposes."

As if all that weren't enough, katakana suffers a standardization problem as alternate spellings proliferate for the same word. "It's quite sloppy," says Toshio Kaminishi, an editor with Sanseido Publishers, which puts out a katakana dictionary that has doubled in size over the last 30 years. "Actually, it's out of control."

For many older Japanese who struggled to rebuild their country after World War II, only to watch it stumble in recent years, katakana's spread symbolizes the perils of globalization, eroding discipline and the loss of traditional values.

These fears are unfounded, counter others. Foreign words may enter Japan wholesale, but many fade.

"Once they lose their freshness, they're tossed," says Toyama University social linguist Shigehiro Kato.

Nor is the social and cultural torch that's been handed to the younger generation exactly flawless, some add. Japan can't afford to remain as protected as it has for much of its history, with language an important barometer of change.

"Older people get slower and slower at adapting, while the speed of life gets ever faster," says cafe worker Yoshinaga. "I think this whole anti-katakana movement is a control issue, a bid to cling to the old Japanese identity. They feel in crisis because everything's falling apart, and their instinct is to blame younger Japanese who are trying to bring new things into the country."

With words pouring in hourly, the effort to hold them back strikes some people as quixotic and a throwback to another age when bureaucrats and elites had far greater control over society.


Hisako Ueno in The Times' Tokyo Bureau contributed to this report.


`Loan words'

Some of the English phrases Japan has assimilated:

digi kamey...digital camera

dotsuto comu...dot-com


shannera...Chanel fans

combeeni...convenience store

walku-in-kurozeto...walk-in closet

3- Jon Richards

The question that popped into my head the first time I visited Japan: Why don't companies have an English speaking person check the wording on product packaging? It would usually take about a minute to change the wording into something that was originally intended. Do companies not realize this is a problem?

4- Junko Sumiya

I can't speak from experience (not being from one of those companies you mention) but it's pretty amazing. I feel, hope that it will change eventually, but up till now I don't think it was really important to most companies. Alot of those gibberish on t-shirts, or cards, they really just wanted for the design purpose. At least that is my take.

My guess is that the use of "Romaji" has added to the confusion, but finding spelling errors in Tokyo..
parm = perm (hair salon)
hart= heart
glay= grey (not the band, but the color)
etc etc etc.
I guess an english dictionary is not an everyday item...but then, with the use of PCs I would imagine it takes no scientist to do a spellcheck....

But then again, I must say, I have seen some silly things in the U.S. too. Chinese calligraphy that looks very ....off. for example.

When I first came to Japan, I was very annoyed with the way English was integrated into Japanese...It seemed so inconsistent and often absurd. However, I came to realize that if one can keep in mind that language is a living thing that is constantly evolving, it may put things back in perspective.

The most irritating example in this evolution of the Japanese language, to me, is the semi-recent usage of the letter "w" to convey the meaning of the word "double".

Confusing explanation:
The letter "w" in Japanese is pronounced "daburu" (double), instead of, say, "daburu yu". And Japanese pronounce the English word "double" the same way - "daburu." Somehow this is bridged and the letter "w" by itself is commonly used (espescially in space-limited advertisements) to convey the meaning of the word "double."

Recently seen ad for hotel:
Single: 9,800 yen
Twin: 16,800 yen
W: 17,800 yen
(The above words "Single," "Twin," and "yen," were all written in kanji or kana, so the lone "W" really stood out.)

I "especially" need to use a spell-checker.

Sorry, I'm in an "einaru" mood.

Some of the "Loan Words" example that Dean made a few posts above this one are not spot on... but his point is clear.

Somebody asked why Japanese companies do not hire people to check their copy... Some of them do, and you can tell. I did work like this for several years.

Of course, sometimes complete idiots are employed because the people that hire them assume that "native speaker" means they have good English skills. But that's another story.

Don't forget that a foreigner was on the programming team that named their proprietary Internet browsing software, "Woody the Internet Pecker."

Peace out.

I "especially" need to use a spell-checker.

Sorry, I'm in an "einaru" mood.

Some of the "Loan Words" example that Dean made a few posts above this one are not spot on... but his point is clear.

Somebody asked why Japanese companies do not hire people to check their copy... Some of them do, and you can tell. I did work like this for several years.

Of course, sometimes complete idiots are employed because the people that hire them assume that "native speaker" means they have good English skills. But that's another story.

Don't forget that a foreigner was on the programming team that named their proprietary Internet browsing software, "Woody the Internet Pecker."

Peace out.

8- max foster

I know no one can understand my way of speaking, but shall write anyway i am from america i see no problem with english in japan. haveing a muticulteral society is very imortant. even i am bilingual, ican speak spanish. i apologize if my spelling is not up to speck. i need spellcheck

9- tom

The "problem" is that native English speakers who visit or live in Japan mistakenly believe that what they see on clothing, bags and other comercial or media artefacts is English. It is not. It is Japanese that has been translated/transformed from English into Japanese.

So the people who love and use English should just enjoy the creativity of the advertisers. That is the most charitable perspective.

If the advertisers actually did care about using "correct English" they would hire someone - there are thousands within easy access. That is not their intention or their concern.

So, have a good laugh and enjoy the entertainment.

10- Emilio Wuerges

Here in brazil we also suffer from Americas invasion
but it is not a big problem couse portuguese also came from latin
english is 50% latin, portuguese is 70%.

11- Ann-san

Any varieties of English have their own beauty. Japanese English is one of them. As long as we enjoy using the language as our tool for good things in our life, e.g. as a tool to get knowledge, as a tool to have a wider perception, as a tool for communication with non-native Japanese speakers, as a tool to get a better job, and so on.

Let's enjoy our won variety and who knows in the future, we will share the same variety.

Love & Peace

12- Ann-san

Any varieties of English have their own beauty. Japanese English is one of them. As long as we enjoy using the language as our tool for good things in our life, e.g. as a tool to get knowledge, as a tool to have a wider perception, as a tool for communication with non-native Japanese speakers, as a tool to get a better job, and so on.

Let's enjoy our own variety and who knows in the future, we will share the same variety.

Love & Peace

13- E. Divver

All of this is pretty interesting and I wondered if someone could clear something up for me. Japanese Panglish actually makes a certain sort of sense considering the culture and I get a real kick out of "Engrish" sites but what gives with the tee-shirts?

Some of the ones I've seen look suspiciously like the printer knew very well that he was insulting the wearer and was relying on a generally poor command of English to get away with it. A baby's tee that read "Pothead Boy" comes to mind. I don't think the very modest young parents that I saw him with had any idea as the shirt was otherwise very attractivly designed.

It's true I ran across the family at the Science museum here in Boston but I doubt that they had found the shirt in the U.S. Is somebody out there with a twisted sense of humour printing these things up?

After spending a year in Japan in 1998, and studying literature in the language for three years or so afterwards, it was only when a gaijin friend of mine who loves classical Japanese and Chinese visited that I learned the Japanese word for spoon (saji.)

For what it's worth, I don't think the proliferation of English gairaigo in conversation is so bad, but it definitely makes reading Japanese a lot more work. Katakana words can be as long as whole Japanese sentences! On top of that, it's often possible for Japanese (and to some extent, learners of Japanese) to guess the meaning of a kanji compound based on its constitutive parts, which happens less often in English. (Personally, I finally worked out what 'transitive' and 'intransitive' verbs were when I learned the Japanese 'jidoushi' and 'tadoushi'.)

The real question is how to introduce words and their associated ideas into Japanese from a primarily English discourse. Often the words have their own emotional baggage and background, built up by academic discourse, which is why translation or new word formation can be unsatisfying - hence the habits of economists to speak mostly in English, while maintaining Japanese grammar! (Eg. Impacted translated into kanji would mean 'hit by something', not 'fired' - likewise translating 'restructured' wouldn't mean 'fired' either.)

> Is there someone out there with a twisted
> sense of humour printing these things up?
(Said in reference to T-shirts etc with funny English.)

In New Zealand it has been interesting to see katakana and kanji creeping into clothes made by monolingual (English speaking) designers. My personal favourite was a truck driver with the words 'Mental hospital patient' (Seishinbyouin kanja) emblazoned across his T-shirt! Another fun one was when the flagship store of a popular clothing outlet put signs in Japanese in their display window - upside down!

For many years I have had ideas about creating a set of T-shirts with lingual in-jokes - 'Baka' in particular would be good as it's innocuous to a Chinese reader, but not to a Japanese.

Of course Chinese in particular doesn't tend to be butchered as badly as English, because kanji are such dense graphic elements in their own right - they tend to lose their graphic appeal when more than about four characters are present, which is really only two words in modern Chinese. Hence we have silly tattoos (onna - chikara (?JoRyoku?) in the case of a Spice Girl and so on) - but not incoherent sentences.

Instead of wincing about 'Engrish', wouldn't it be a lot of fun to go out and create our own butchered Chinese in-jokes instead? (The fun, of course, would be in knowing what the T-shirt says, and enjoying the irony of it in comparison to the possible meaning.)

15- Sushi

Dude, let's invade Japan and make 'em all speak English! Manifest Destiny extended! ;)

Nahh, then we wouldn't have anything to make fun of. The movie 'Lost In Translation' would be worse than it already is. And my favorite exchange in 'Lethal Weapon 4' -- "Fried rice, you plick!" -- would be nonexistent.

The T-shirt ideas all sound like winners. (I know some good American parents who'd really buy a "Pothead Boy" shirt for their kid -- that's hilarious!) I guess "Baka" doesn't have the same ring over here as it does in Japan. They'd be like, "Who'd wanna be called dumba$$?", just like we're all, "Who'd wanna smell panda crap?" (BTW, there seems to be an Anime fansubber whose name is Bakasan.)

One Engrish thing that stands out for me is the band Dreams Come True, that is apparently abbreviated "Dori Ka". Man, one of these days, I swear I'm gonna make a real "Deji Kame" -- a digital camera/turtle.

Kaori, thanks for a stimulating and intellectual observation of the Engrish phenomenon. (Though I know it's not your term, I've actually used "Engrish" for as long as I can remember.)

- Forever American (except by genetics and name)

16- João Guedes

Just a litle question...
I'm portuguese and I came across this page while looking for what is beeing called "Engrish".
I have only one question:
Since I'm not a linguist of any kind, I'm not shure of this, but the word "sarada" in japanese seems to more likely to me that to come from the portuguese word "salada" than the english word "salad"... It seems more direct, since the word came to portugal from the muslim wars from their word (I think it spells "sallhad") and then later on to the english.

Just a note...
If you would be so kind to answer to my e-mail, because probably I won't be returning to this web-site.

João Guedes

17- João Guedes

I would like to correct this setence from the previous post...:

"Since I'm not a linguist of any kind, I'm not shure of this, but the word "sarada" in japanese seems more likely to come from the portuguese word "salada" than the english word "salad"..."

18- Austra

I very much enjoyed the article and posts above! I am a German living in the US and have a ball reading/listening to literal translations from German into English. There is a book "English for runaways" (Englisch fuer Fortgeschrittene - Advanced English) which just beautifully captured just this phenomena. Having a ball with languages,


Your Chanpon website has been featured in "Guidebook to Japan: What the other guidebooks won't tell you" (everything from how to get to a naked festival to how to avoid Japanese gangsters), second edition

The book is available on my site at One Dollar Books on Japan at
You’ll find your Chanpon link on page 188.

The print version will be out sometime before Christmas.

“Guidebook to Japan” does not just list urls, but rather highlights two urls per topic in the book. Yours was chosen over hundreds of others for its uniqueness and relevancy to topics covered in the book.

I hope the inclusion of your url in my book will help spread the word about you and your website.

Thanks again,

Amy Chavez
Dollar Books on Japan

20- Jane

This site is great, and it reminded me that all an English speaking gaijin needs is the ability to laugh at the crazy English everywhere. Still, what I have trouble with is the way that Japanese people think katakana words are English. For example, the katakana word for women (used for the women's liberation movement in the states) is pronounced ooo- mawn. As an American, I pronounce women "whim- en" so I get a little confused when I hear oomawn. This happens with all kinds of words. Especially since there are many sounds that can't even be expressed in katakana.
I don't really know what can be done about this. I try to learn as much as I can so I can understand the people around me. Maybe it's the English teachers' responsibility to teach students the original English pronunciation. Still, considering the way English is usually taught, I doubt the teachers are going to forget the entrance exams and just teach practical English.
Anyway, thanks for this website and your posts. It really made me laugh.

21- venicelection

i blame katakana. you could describe this syllabary used to express foreign words as "inclusive" or "innovative" and yet "arrogant" is a far closer approxmimation in my view.

it's partly to blame for stunting the pronunciation and cognition (i experience it everyday in the classroom) of sounds unnatural to the nihonjin.

lets reverse the tables here. how archaic would we seem to non-english speakers if words not pure and foreign were cast into a phonetic sylabary that made ALL non-english words pronounced in the same manner as english ones?

VENICE ELECTION just doesn't have the same ring to it outside of katakana....;)

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