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Changing Japanese Language

If you're a student of the Japanese language and you have any contact with contemporary Japan, you will no doubt have noticed words and expressions that don't appear in your textbook, or even in that comprehensive dictionary you paid so much for. The fact is that new words are coined on an almost daily basis in much the same way as changing trends and new technology make demands on any language's vocabulary.

"Englishization" Of Japanese Continues
The adoption and Japanization of English words by the Japanese continues at a heady and often questionable rate, and is looking and sounding more and more like a dialect, or a new language, depending on your perspective. Tokyo-based author, translator and writer Mark Schreiber, who monitors and reports on social behavior in Japan, says that the penchant for the Japanese to borrow and adapt English words appears to be picking up pace. He notes that the latest edition of a dictionary of these words includes 43,000 entries, along with an additional 7,000 acronyms, and that it is already far behind the times. Schreiber adds that the tendency for the borrowed words to be ones that refer to negative or undesirable behavior continues unabated, and suggest that they are adopted to do what he calls Japan's "dirty work." Some of the newer terms he records:

Domesuchikku baiorensu: domestic violence
Doraggu: drugs
Reipu: rape
Gaaden sumoka: garden smoker
Jenda gappu: gender gap
Risutora kaiko: layoffs or dismissal due to corporate restructuring
Nyuu takkusu: new tax
Sutohkingu: stalking

There have been calls from the top levels of society, most notably by former prime minister Koizumi Junichiro, for a reduction in the number of loan words used in official documents. In 2002, a panel of experts convened to come up with "native" Japanese words to replace loan words, mostly from English. The National Institute for Japanese Language (known as Kokken) panel consisted of such people as dictionary editors, translators and journalists. They proposed native-tongue equivalents of more than 60 words and expressions, such as "second opinion," "agenda," "delivery," and "contents." The list also included some made-up words, such as "idling stop" and "scale merit." They decided not to include "normalization" on their list when they couldn't come up with a suitable Japanese translation.

While words like hamubaagaa and chiketto are probably here to stay, many people are stumped when it comes to the likes of gurobaru herusukea apurikeishon purojekutto (that's global healthcare application project). The latter was an example chosen in an education ministry White Paper on the issue.

Japanese Teens Creating Own Language
Japanese teenagers, like the young in the U.S. and other countries, go out of their way to create their own clothing fashions and forms of communication. The 1,423-page, 2003 edition, of Gendai Yogo no Kiso Chisiki (Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words) has five pages of new terms created by teens, many of which are contractions of common words. Some examples:

kimochi ga warui (unpleasant or disagreeable) becomes kimoi. Muzukashii (difficult) is shortened to muzui. Jikochushin (self-absorbed to an annoying degree) becomes jikochu.

Another popular means of communicating is to form verbs from the name of a business. If you invite a friend to sutabaru, it means to patronize Starbucks. Likewise, you can find teens who makuru over to McDonald's, dotoru at Doutour coffee shops, deniru at Denny's and misudo at Mister Donut.

By the same token, biniru means to go to a convenience store. The teens who squat on their haunches outside such establishments late into the night are referred to as ga (moths), i.e., are brainlessly attracted to the light within. A hamasuta is not a hamster, but means to watch a sporting event at Yokohama Stadium. Note, however, that to visit Tokyo Disneyland is referred to as nezumi shibaku (literally, to flog the mouse).

Finally, the English suffix "er" (pronounced ah) is frequently applied to people with certain quirky habits. Those who smear mayonnaise and ketchup on their food are referred to respectively as mayoraa and kechap-paa. A gehmaa (gamer) hangs around a game arcade. The latest teen lingo often relates to the Internet or IT. A meru tomo (mail friend) is a friend to whom one sends email messages, for which a meruado (mail address) is needed. Yamehru (from yamu meaning to stop, and email), means to break off a relationship via e-mail.

Of course, by the time you read this, these words and expressions will probably all be furukusai.

We have a selection of the best Japanese-English
electronic dictionaries in our Japan Store

See also these related pages:
Learning Japanese | Kana/alphabets | Kanji | Useful Expressions



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