Japan's government politely lobbies to return English words

Dennis Baron debaron at UIUC.EDU
Mon Sep 24 05:11:37 UTC 2007

Although today is National Punctuation Day, there's a new post on the  
Web of Language, and it has nothing to do with punctuation:

Japan's government politely lobbies to return English words

The governments of France, Germany, Russia and Iran have all tried to  
eradicate the English borrowings so common in their languages, but  
they haven’t had much success banning popular English words and  
expressions and replacing them with awkward native alternatives.   
That’s because most citizens ignore their government’s language  
prescriptions even more than they ignore its speed limits.

Now, according to the Japan Times, nativists in Japan want to purify  
their language of gairaigo – that’s Japanese for borrowed words –  
especially the English ones which proliferate on signs, product  
labels, and t-shirts, and which pop up more and more in Japanese  
speech and writing too. They haven’t had much luck so far.

Japanese has always been a borrowing language.  It began importing  
kanji, the Japanese word for ‘Chinese characters,’ over a thousand  
years ago, and since World War II speakers of Japanese have been  
stockpiling English words like they’re going out of style.  But Japan  
has also had a love-hate relationship with the West, and sometimes  
with the East as well.  In the 19th century, and again in the lead-up  
to the war, nationalist movements sought to cleanse Japanese of its  
foreign words, along with other foreign influences.

But the inoculations against English didn’t take, and once again the  
Japanese government is worried that a juggernaut of Americanisms  
threatens Japanese culture.  Critics of global English aren’t  
reassured by the fact that English still suffers from a negative  
balance of trade, borrowing even more words than it exports –  
juggernaut, for example, actually comes from Hindi.....

Read the rest of this post, and revisit last year's post (not) 
celebrating National Punctuation Day, on

the Web of Language


Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321


read the Web of Language:

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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