In "Chinese loans in English" and in "Too many English loanwords in Japanese?" we examined the propositions that Chinese borrowings into English in recent times have been very few, while English borrowings into Chinese and Japanese have been relatively numerous. Some commenters even made the assertion that the age of borrowing is past.
In this post, I would like to suggest that — unlike Chinese, and contrary to those who believe that the age of borrowing is largely over — there has been a substantial amount of borrowing from Japanese into English going on in recent decades. As to why this is happening in the Japanese case, but not in the Chinese case, and why there are numerous borrowings from English into Chinese and Japanese, and into many other languages as well, these are questions that might be good to take up in the comments to this post.
For our present purposes, I will consider only those terms that are fairly recent, say within the last 30 years or so. I have not checked exact dates of borrowing, so some of these terms may have entered English more than 30 years ago, but my impression is that — for the most part — they do not go back half a century or more. A few of the words may initially have come into English as much as a century or more ago, then lain submerged for decades, but have been revivified in recent decades. Still, I avoid words like "yakuza", "judo", and "karate", which, though known to most Americans nowadays, I suspect of having been introduced more than half a century ago.
The Japanese terms are given in their usual American newspaper spelling, not in their proper romanization as pronounced in Japanese.
Here (below) are just a few common words that come to mind and that I personally know without having to look them up in any sort of reference work. I believe that most literate, cultured Americans also know these words, and that they are familiar to large segments of the American population in general. I could mention dozens of other Japanese words that are known mainly only to certain groups of Americans (e.g., chemists, biologists, physicists, etc.), but will refrain from doing so to avoid needless bloating of the list.
Note that I do not include in this list the very large numbers of new English words coined by Japanese that have worldwide circulation, words such as "walkman", "discman", "camcorder", "Betamax", "VHS", "Betacam", "Triniton Picture Tube", "Sony", "HDTV" (dating to the mid-1960s in Japan)", "Mini Disc" (abbrev. "MD"), "Pac-Man" (wildly popular when my son was in his teens), Hello Kitty (I have one hanging from the window of my office, and a colleague at Academia Sinica in Taiwan has hundreds in his office), and so forth.
I do include Japanese brand and product names, since they have become household words that are known to Americans of all classes and walks of life.
Here goes, in no particular order, though many of the words do fall into rough groups or categories (forgive me for unintentional duplicates):
- tsunami (probably older, but very much in the news in recent years)
- sudoku (almost as prevalent on trains and planes at crossword puzzles, perhaps more so nowadays)
- shiba inu
- a(d)zuki bean
- mikan (orange)
- nashi (type of pear)
- natto (slimy, sticky, stinky, fermented soybeans)
- wasabi (could be older, but it's so popular in restaurants and at sushi / sashimi stands that I couldn't resist entering it here)
- Yamaha (again)
- Bandai (maker of monster toys like Diakron, marketed in the USA by Hasbro as "Transformer")
- MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry)
- Minamata disease
- Yukawa particle
- Kikuchi lines
Of course, everybody knows Nintendo, and they may think that "Atari" (Japanese for "a hit") is also a Japanese name, but it was actually coined by an American, Nolan Bushnell.
Naturally, there are numerous military and martial arts terms that are current in English, but I think that most of them go back to WWII, if not earlier, so I do not list them here.
Readers may also find this article by Margaret Pine OTAKE to be of interest: "English Loanwords from Japanese: A Survey of the Perceptions of American English Speakers" (PDF, esp. Table 1).
On the other side, i.e., E > J loanwords, this has always intrigued me greatly: a list of recent loanwords deemed important but not well understood by the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics may be found here. Click on a word to get its proposed Japanese translation, explanation, and degree of popular comprehension. For example, clicking ākaibu アーカイブ ("archive") reveals hozon kiroku 保存記録 ("conserved / saved records").
The quantity of English borrowings in Japanese is almost endless. Sometimes I feel that virtually ANY English word can, upon occasion, be called upon for use in Japanese. For example, here are just a few of the English words that Cecilia Segawa Seigle noticed in her reading of this morning's newspaper:
gurōbaru (global); kūru bejitaburu (cool vegetable); randamu dejitto daiyaringu (random digit dialing); reshipi shirīzu (recipe series); hōmu pēji (home page); manyuaru (manual); webbusaito (website); anaunsā (announcer); pasokon (personal computer); sutōkā (stalker); shinku tanku (think-tank); kīpāson (key person); pawāappu (power up); pātonāshippu (partnership); sumūzu (smooth); kappuru (couple; married couple, etc); haiburiddo (hybrid); daietto (diet — for food); terebi (television)
To show the extent to which such borrowings of English may go in Japanese, I once saw the following sign on the side of a truck in Kyoto:
Matsumoto hausu kurīningu sābisu
マツモト ハウス クリーニング サービス
I figured out immediately what it meant: "Matsumoto House Cleaning Service". But I was perplexed that the entire sign was written in katakana and that, aside from the surname of the proprietor (the surname might have been written in kanji as 松本 [I can't remember clearly, though I have often seen Japanese surnames written in kana]), the other words were all katakanized English! Surely, I thought, they must be able to say "house", "cleaning", and "service" using Japanese words.
For "cleaning service", I suppose one could say something like seisō-gyō 清掃業, but that would make it sound "traditional", not "modern" like hausu kurīningu sābisu ハウス クリーニング サービス. The latter is THE standard way to say "house cleaning service", and even Google Translate yields that.
In Japan, dry cleaners are customarily called kurīningu-ya クリーニング屋
As Nathan Hopson puts it:
I have told my Japanese students a million times: goods/services = katakana
That's why shirts in catalogs are burū ブルー ("blue") and reddo レッド ("red"), not ao 青 ("blue") and aka 赤 ("red"). How gauche! What a faux pas! The latter two terms sound so old, stuffy, and uncool!
In "Too many English loanwords in Japanese", I had suggested that "Japanese students learning English have a foot up at the start, since they already know thousands of English borrowings in their own language". Jim Breen agrees that this is generally true, but with a few caveats:
- the pronunciations are often mangled by the katakanaization, and if the learner can't adapt, the results are unintelligible;
- quite often a loanword takes on a nuance which is quite missing from the original. For example, a feminisuto フェミニスト (from "feminist") is usually a male who does things like being polite to women;
- there are masses of Wasei eigo 和製英語 ("Japanese-made English"), often concocted from fragments of loanwords. All too often a learner will trot them out under the illusion that they are real English words;
- then there are the loanwords that are not from English. Saying "randoseru" in English won't get you far (it's from the Dutch "ransel".) Most Japanese (just like most English speakers) are happily unaware of etymology.
In response to the question "Too many English loanwords in Japanese?", another reader asked: "How many are too many? I mean, numerically." To which I would reply that I don't think there can ever be any such thing as "too many loanwords." The speakers of a language borrow as many words from other languages as they think are necessary and useful. Loanwords enrich and empower a language, even though they may amount to 60% or more of the vocabulary of that language.
[Thanks to Bill Hannas, Linda Chance, Jim Unger, Frank Chance, Nathan Hopson, and Miki Morita]