How Japanese vocabulary is being destroyed by English

David   Friday, April 22, 2005, 14:45 GMT
(I'm bilingual, Japanese/English)
A sad story:

Many Japanese words are dying nowadays... (disappearing from everyday usage) They are replaced by English words written in Katakana (one of the Japanese writing systems). This happens every week, every day...
Many people don't know about this, but those who have studied Japanese and experienced how the language is used in Japan probably know what I mean.

A crash course in Japanese:
knife, table, spoon, fork, size, cup, bottle, free, choice, pattern, curtain, juice, shop, card, cocktail, glass, color, event, ball pen, coin, light, lamp, arcade, mall, world, sale, bargain, open, ticket, bed, generation, tea, violin, hall, love letter, soccer... and thousands more. These words were the ones I could quickly, spontaneously think of. It's perfectly normal to use them in everyday conversation.

The current percentage of English words in the Japanese language is about 10%. That's the highest percentage worldwide (by far!)
Especially in commercials, the percentage of English words may reach 20% or sometimes even 30% or more.

There are many signs (in public places) in Japan today, which are written in English ONLY. This is a current trend. English is seen as modern and "cool", whereas Japanese is "traditional" and "old".
Product names are often in English only, you'll see "Apple Juice" and "Chocolate Cookies", "Wellness Drinks", "Fruit Therapy Yogurts" in Japanese supermarkets.
All the convenience stores in Japan (which are of course called "convenience stores" or just "conbini") have English names: Seven-Eleven (well, that's obvious), but also: Family Mart, Lawson, Circle K...

On many products, there are short English texts, describing/praising the product, but no Japanese translations. Many product designs, book covers, magazines use English, not Japanese.

Especially older people have severe difficulties to cope with this strong trend of adopting English. The government has recognized this problem, but so far nothing has been done about it.

Even grammer and verbs are Anglicized: a new trend is to use "GET suru" in commercials, which means "to get". Not only does this construction violate Japanese grammar (usually noun + suru = verb), it also replaces the Japanese verb "morau" (to get, receive) with the English equivalent.

I've noticed (while talking to Japanese) that many English words creep into the Japanese language unconsciously. I've asked Japanese people for the Japanese translation of the English words the used, and I was quite shocked when they couldn't remember the Japanese equivalents. Recently, a Japanese friend of mine used "coin" and I asked him why he didn't use the Japanese word, but he simply couldn't remember it. I had to tell him and then he said: "Ah, yeah. Of course..."

There are pessimistic estimates about the Japanese language 100 years from now... since the current trend I described above is growing stronger and stronger every year (since 1945....)

I like English very much, but I think it is very sad that the Japanese language is destroyed though English influence... what do you think?
WW2   Friday, April 22, 2005, 14:59 GMT
I woulden't even care if they burned the Japs alive,let alone there language.
sho   Friday, April 22, 2005, 16:22 GMT
Well, at least we know that those words are from other languages by their looks (because they're written in katakana)... as for verbs like "getto suru", it's just one of those teenagers' words and sensible adults avoid using them, as far as I know.
Travis   Friday, April 22, 2005, 16:56 GMT
/me glares at "WW2" above.
KZY   Friday, April 22, 2005, 18:23 GMT
It's kind of funny to think that I don't know what the japanese words for spoon, fork... are. I guess there are two kinds of words that we have taken from the Engish language and use in everyday conversation. First, some of the words above like spoon, soccer, bed, violin... these things are originally from outside japan. So they have been called so since the first time someone has brought them to japan. I mean japanese people in the past took the names directly. So we don't have japanase words for them. Second, it`s a current trend as David says. I see lots of lots of adopted English words in magazines, on tv, in the streets and anywhere. But I don't find it modern and cool at all. Often I even find it weired when it`s too mixed.(I'm not saying English words are weired)
I think I have a very normal and average sense of things myself, so I guess there are some other people, at least people of my age(23), who found it strange.
Adam   Friday, April 22, 2005, 19:05 GMT
English has taken Japanese words, and words from other languages.
greg   Friday, April 22, 2005, 20:03 GMT
Could it be that English pervasion into Japanese lexicon is just a symptom of a society whose religion is consumption ? And perhaps a sort of cathartical 'acquisition' of most Japanese might view as 'modernity' ?
Kirk   Friday, April 22, 2005, 20:29 GMT
I've said it before, and I'll probably end up saying again that loanwords have nothing to do with the "death" or "decline" of a language! Even borrowing heavy amounts of words from another language does not have anything to do with a language's chances for survival. I'm surprised that the posted figure of 10% (or even 20 or 30%) of English-derived words is considered alarming, when Japanese has taken far more words percentage-wise from Chinese historically, and that has never meant death for Japanese.

Heavy Chinese borrowing into Japanese surely changed many lexical items (to the point where now many of the old Japanese words are not even a distant memory...they've completely disappeared), but the language is nowhere close to being's in fact one of the furthest languages I can think of from Chinese, which is an isolating tonal language, Japanese being an agglutinative language. Similarly, heavy Latin/Romance borrowing into English over the past millennium has certainly not meant the demise of English, even tho by some measures up to 60% of English's words are from Latin/Romance origin (the percentage is lower for daily conversation, however). Even with such heavy influence, English never came even close to turning into French or Latin.

I know vocabulary, and particularly loanwords, are usually the most salient form of language, so heavy borrowing can cause alarm. However, there is so much more to language, like morphology, syntax, phonology, etc that are rarely affected by simple word borrowings. I can write or speak a sentence in English with a 90% content of originally Latin/Romance words, yet no one would argue that my sentence is anything but English. Also, I highly doubt English is having much grammatical influence at all over Japanese...I don't speak Japanese but I'm familiar enough with its grammatical charactierstics to know it, like its relationship with Chinese, is highly different grammatically from English. The example of "getto suru" is likely a rare construction, compared with all others in Japanese, and almost surely doesn't represent any systematic chipping away at the syntax and morphology of Japanese.

In conclusion, I understand the concern over heavy contact between two languages, especially in the area of loanwords, but linguistically speaking there should be no reason to be pessimistic about Japanese's future--any pessimistic estimates about the language's future aren't linguistically sound. Heavy contact and word borrowing amongst languages has always occurred in human languages, and historically speaking heavy lexical borrowing has not spelled demise for languages.
Some French Guy   Friday, April 22, 2005, 20:34 GMT
I read somewhere that Japanese has an history of absorbing lots of vocabulary from dominant languages in order to protect their own language. Many people say that Japanese wouldn't be a very rich language if it weren't for Chinese.
English has 33% of French words and about the same amount of Latin words. In the future, Japanese will probably be a huge language patchwork as well but will keep the same grammar, prepositions and other traits that make the language what it is, similarly to English.
What do you think?
Some French Guy   Friday, April 22, 2005, 20:40 GMT
I agree with Kirk. I'm unable to tell the "English" words in Japanese when I hear them. Similarly, the way we pronounce "parking" or "email" in French is not even remotely English.
JJM   Friday, April 22, 2005, 21:13 GMT
You should never concern yourself about Japanese taking on English words. Languages do this all the time (look at English!).

Languages don't disappear because they take on vocabulary from other languages. They die out when their speakers choose to use another language instead.
Joel   Friday, April 22, 2005, 23:58 GMT
It like English with French... Dont worry Japanese wont die out ... Japanese is such a beauiful language..
Kirk   Saturday, April 23, 2005, 00:26 GMT
I agree...I think it's a beautiful language as well. One aside here...maybe one of the administrators can get rid of the shamefully inappropriate post by "WW2" on this thread.
Jon   Saturday, April 23, 2005, 03:53 GMT
As far as the Chinese vocabulary is concerned: it's true that the Japanese use a very large number of Chinese words, especially two-kanji combinations (jukugo). But compared to English, it's a different case: the words have totally different pronunciations. There are usually two readings (kun and on) and often even more than that. A Chinese cannot recognise Sino-Japanese words in spoken language (only in written language). On the other hand, English words are directly "translated" into "Katakana-English", using certain rules. Knowing these rules and practising a little bit, it's easy to understand "Katakana English".
It's essentially English, pronunced in a Japanese way.
WW2   Saturday, April 23, 2005, 07:24 GMT
=>Japanese is such a beauiful language<=

Wait till you hear it in a camp!Then you will think again!