Monday, July 1, 2013

Cranky old dude sues to make Japanese more Japanesey by using more Chinese

Japanese, like English, is a pretty flexible language without any overbearing academy (I'm looking at you, France) trying to tell people what to speak. Japanese pretty much sucks words in on a whim and has been doing so for hundreds of years, more or less. Well, some old Japanese dude doesn't seem to like that the language is currently sucking in those words from English such that he sometimes has problems understanding what's being said and he wants to take out his rage on NHK, Japan's national broadcaster.

He's got some kind of complaint about how Japanese is becoming "Americanized":

“With Japanese society increasingly Americanized, Takahashi believes that NHK… shouldn’t go with the trend, but remain determined to prioritize the use of Japanese, which he thinks would go a long way toward protecting Japanese culture,” Mutsuo Miyata, the plaintiff’s lead attorney, told The Japan Times…
The fact that the words he's railing against now are Japanese doesn't seem to phase the plaintiff or his lawyer, but the richest irony here is that the words he wants to use instead were pretty much all borrowed from Chinese. So, to protect Japanese culture, let's stop the Americanization and go back to the earlier Sinicization!

Just for fun, let's look at some of these words.

By way of background, you should know that Chinese characters used in Japan can have an on reading, which comes from Chinese, and a kun reading, which used with the truly native Japanese words. Generally speaking, the reading used is a good rule of thumb indicator of where the word came from: China for on readings and Japan for kun readings.

EnglishJapaneseProposed substitutes with on readingsProposed substitutes with kun readings
counter partnerカウンターパートナー対応相手
informed consentインフォームドコンセント納得診療、説明と同意
opinion leaderオピニオンリーダー世論形成者

Any one else notice how few of the words have a Japanese kun reading? I'll also point out as an aside that the words using Chinese characters don't always match up very well with the meaning of the English-origin words, which is probably why the English-origin words were adopted in the first place.

Now, since I haven't actually looked up the etymology of these words, some of the on reading words might be Japanese creations using Chinese words—similar to the way サラリーマン salari-man ("salaryman") is a Japanese creation from English words—which arguably would make them a bit more Japanese than pure loanwords. But I'd bet that grumpy gramps isn't too keen on such Japanese-English creations either, so it still seems a bit curious that he's all for making Japanese more Japanesey by using more stuff that comes from Chinese.

A language is as a language is used, and no lawsuit is going to change that. If there's something in a language (native or foreign) that you don't understand, here's a grand suggestion: instead of suing somebody about it, why not just look it up? Perhaps we could just get this guy a dictionary and wash our hands of this whole mess.


  1. Interestingly, I always found these wasei eigo to be the hardest words to understand in spoken Japanese. From what I have seen, Japanese people tend to dread difficult Kanji as much as we do, so the overall trend seems to be leaning toward English borrowings. Even if this man is implying Japanese should use more Chinese borrowings instead of English I think there is some logic to it because of the closer cultural affinity and shared history. However, the problem with loan words in any language is the fact that the terms often take all new meanings in the new language. Like in Japanese i.e.; パンツ for underwear and ドレス for a formal gown, or the words yoga or sushi in English.