Mirai

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That's another Japanese word that you'll be learning. Here's why:



That video was taken from this article by Stephanie Mlot in PCMag: "Toyota Fuel-Cell Car Expected Next Fall" (11/18/14).

One thing I like about this video, in addition to the eye-popping car, is the fact that a Japanese man speaking with a noticeable accent stars in it. (It has an effect similar to when German engineers with conspicuous accents talk about BMWs, Mercedes Benzs, Volkwagens, and Audis. Rather than being offputting, the German accent coming from automobile engineers makes you want to trust them and buy their cars.) I think it's part of a plan to emphasize the Japaneseness of this new hydrogen powered car, and that is certainly true of the name. Up to now, how many Japanese cars being sold in America have model names that are Japanese?

From the video, we already know that "Mirai" means "future". All well and good, but let's talk about it a bit more. In Chinese characters, that would be written 未来 (simpl.) / 未來 (trad.). In Mandarin this word is pronounced wèilái, in Cantonese it is pronounced mei6 loi4/lei4. Character by character, the word means "has not yet | come". That evinces a very different idea of futurity than the English word, which comes from Latin futūrus and signifies "going / about to be; that is to be".

The Latin word derives from PIE *bheuə-, also *bheu-, via its suffixed form *bhu-tu‑. Thus our English word "future" is firmly rooted in an Indo-European belief that it will come to pass / be / exist. The Sinitic term, in contrast, is more skeptical, and indicates an uncertainty about the very possibility of that which has not yet arrived. It seems to me that, if we accept the philosophical implications of the term, mirai / wèilái will keep receding and never quite arrive.

I suspect that, if we look into words for "future" in various languages of the world, we will find a wide variety of different attitudes toward its nature.

[Thanks to Thomas Lee Mair]



63 Comments

  1. flow said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 8:08 am

    well that certainly sounds like the concept of 'future' is closer to 将来 しょうらい, lit. 'going to come'. not sure about any difference in connotations and usage compared to 未来. perhaps Toyota chose the latter to avoid any crossover contamination with 'Shogun' and instead get associated with 'miracle'?

    also of interest here is what i ever marveled about in German usage is that 'das liegt noch vor uns', 'das habe ich vor' refer to the future, but 'das war vor Jahren' and 'Vorzeit' refer to the past. Lakoff's "Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things" tries to explain things like this with cognitive, mostly spatial models we make up in our minds.

    BTW the engineer's performance struck me with its high degree of credibility. this certainly is not an actor, and i wish my Japanese was as good as his command of English! he puts a lot of effort into correct pronunciation, which does make him sound a tad artificial, but then he really says [-z] instead of [-dzɯ], and his version of 'future' is much less of the 'fyootshah' variety that is prevalent in Japanese 'school' English. i think it also helps they didn't edit out the less flashy parts; the imagery is certainly slick, but the narration is almost boring—but authentic.

  2. JQ said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 8:16 am

    Future in Cantonese would be pronounced mei6 loi4. Mei6 lei6 would mean [pronoun] "hasn't arrived", and written 未嚟.

    @flow in Chinese 将来 would give the impression of something being impending or upcoming whereas 未来 to me refers to something that could be soon or a long way away, but not so definite

  3. Keith said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 8:29 am

    French has two words for the idea: "futur" is an adjective, clearly derived from the same Latin as the modern English word "future", and also the abstract nous "avenir" which is transparently "à venir", meaning "[yet] to come".

    Compare this with the German "zukunft" and Dutch "toekomst", which both literally mean "coming [towards]".

  4. Ginger Yellow said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 8:32 am

    perhaps Toyota chose the latter to avoid any crossover contamination with 'Shogun'

    Speaking of, is the Mitsubishi Shogun sold as such in America?

    BTW the engineer's performance struck me with its high degree of credibility.

    Contrast that with a bizarre TV ad Sharp ran a few years ago, featuring George Takei playing a company engineer, but as himself – "Oh my!" included. It was nuts. The viewer knows it's George Takei, actor, not an engineer, but here he is pretending to have designed the TV.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 8:32 am

    @Keith

    Those Germanic words make it sound as though the future is in your life (coming your way).

  6. David Arthur said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 8:50 am

    'Camry' is derived from the Japanese word for 'crown', isn't it? (Paying tribute to the original Toyota Crown, as does the Corolla.)

    But that's the only other Japanese-based model name that's ever caught my attention.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 8:55 am

    @flow

    "Mirai" — mysterious and sleek — sounds nicer for a car name than "shōrai", which strikes me as wishy-washy. Moreover, although shōrai is also considered as a noun, I think that it more often conveys an adverbial sense, whereas mirai is more squarely nominal, which you need for a car name.

    Your analysis of the Japanese engineer's speech is right on the mark and much appreciated.

    Incidentally, all this talk of mirai 未来 (what hasn't yet come) reminds me of the famous Wèimíng hú 未名湖 on the campus of Peking University. There's a certain (probably intentional) awkwardness to the name of the lake: the lake that hasn't yet been named. Thus, in English, we get ungainly renderings such as "Unnamed Lake", "Nameless Lake", "Weiming Lake", and even "Weiminghu Lake"!

  8. Peter Evans said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 9:07 am

    VM: "if we accept the philosophical implications of the term, mirai / wèilái will keep receding and never quite arrive."

    But Toyoda says "The future has arrived, and it's called 'mirai'."

    I'm no semiotician, but (so?) I'm less impressed by the ad copy than puzzled by the significance of the white armchair.

  9. Peter Evans said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 9:45 am

    VM: "mirai is more squarely nominal, which you need for a car name"

    There have also been the Honda Civic, Nissan Junior, Mitsubishi Debonair, Daihatsu Naked, Daihatsu Rocky, Suzuki Every, Mitsuoka Like, and Mazda Bongo Brawny.

  10. Brett said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 9:59 am

    @Ginger Yellow: That Mitsubishi is known in Japan as the Pajero, in the Americas as the Montero, and in Britain as the Shogun. Even I, who know essentially no Spanish, know that "pajero" is vulgar in Spanish, which explains the name change here, but it doesn't explain "shogun." In any case, I have seen versions of it on American streets with all three names, although it is apparently has not been sold here for several years.

    And I also remember that commercial with George Takei. It was a real WTF, but since I remember it to this day, it was obviously successful by that measure.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 10:04 am

    From a Japanese friend:

    Thank you for this posting.

    Mirai, at this point, to me is a very good, hopeful name. But there is sort a problem as you have pointed out:

    " The Sinitic term, in contrast, is more skeptical, and indicates an uncertainty about the very possibility of that which has not yet arrived. It seems to me that, if we accept the philosophical implications of the term, mirai / wèilái will keep receding and never quite arrive."

    That is very true.

    To a lot of Japanese, the name "Mirai" gives a very hopeful, promising, optimistic impression at this point. But after the car appears and people buy this car and hold on to it for 10, 20 years,
    the name "Mirai" would be very problematical. An old dilapidated car called Mirai???

  12. Bobbie said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 10:30 am

    If I remember it correctly, the Czech auto named Škoda created amusement in Poland where the homophone szkoda means damage or harm.

  13. David J. Littleboy said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 10:53 am

    "To a lot of Japanese, the name "Mirai" gives a very hopeful, promising, optimistic impression at this point."

    Not "a lot of" Japanese: all Japanese. That's how the Japanese use the Japanese word "mirai" in Japanese to communicate with other Japanese, the concept of a hopeful, promising, optimistic future.

    It's a Japanese word, not a Chinese one. The Japanese are rather cavalier (i.e. sensible) about their use of foreign words, using them to mean whatever they _need_ them to mean, no more, no less (the point of language being actual communication) and largely regardless of their original subtleties and connotations. Chinese native speakers getting on a bus in Japan, find that while adults are charged 140 yen, scoundrels are only charged 70 yen.

    "But after the car appears and people buy this car and hold on to it for 10, 20 years,
    the name "Mirai" would be very problematical. An old dilapidated car called Mirai???"

    Not a problem. People don't drive old, dilapidated cars in Japan. They just don't. Like my father said: "I've never seen a clean cab in Boston, and I've never seen a dirty cab in Tokyo."

  14. KevinM said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

    Chrysler now has a Trojan horse ad in which their 2015 car is driven past a koi pond, cherry trees, etc. Japanese (looking) writing then morphs into English, and Chrysler essentially brags that its cars equal or surpass those made in Japan. http://en.rocketnews24.com/2014/11/11/wait-what-thats-not-japanese-clever-american-car-commercial-tricks-viewers-%E3%80%90video%E3%80%91/

  15. Frank L Chance said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 12:42 pm

    Just BTW I have a Japanese friend whose personal name is also "Mirai." It has always struck me as a little odd, but I have never asked her about it. It is entirely possible that she writes it with different characters, e.g. 美来 "beauty arriving," which is very appropriate for a female name,

  16. Belial Issimo said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 12:42 pm

    if we accept the philosophical implications of the term, mirai / wèilái will keep receding and never quite arrive.

    A miraige?

  17. Johan said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

    Just the other day when I parked at the local supermarket (in Sweden), the car next to mine was a Renault Megane (or actually Mégane, right?). I distinctly remember thinking — not knowing any French and not interested in car names in general, but watching quiet some Japanese anime — "why would they name a car 'glasses' (眼鏡, [megane])?"

    I looked it up on Wikipedia just now, and Mégane seems to be "a modern French female name of unknown origin," which the car is named after… But to me, it will probably always sound like 'glasses.'

  18. Gregory Kusnick said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 1:08 pm

    BTW the engineer's performance struck me with its high degree of credibility. this certainly is not an actor

    It's Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda.

  19. LC said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 1:50 pm

    So does English have a split like this? Or did it ever have one? Do we have a way to distinguish something that is yet to come from something that is to be?

  20. Roger Lustig said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 2:24 pm

    @LC: "Forthcoming" vs. "Future"? Is that what you're looking for?

  21. LC said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 2:40 pm

    I would say "forthcoming" is even more certain than "future". (Which is interesting, since the distinction we were drawing with "mirai" is that it is at root less certain than "future" is.)

    But you're right, "forthcoming" really does imply something definite.

  22. Victor Mair said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 2:43 pm

    @LC

    Don't forget that the "mi" of "mirai" is a negative.

  23. Richard W said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 3:12 pm

    @David J. Littleboy: "Not "a lot of" Japanese: all Japanese … use the Japanese word "mirai" in Japanese to communicate with other Japanese, the concept of a hopeful, promising, optimistic future"

    "mirai" can be used to refer to the future in a neutral way (投稿日時を未来の日付に設定し[OK]をクリックします。"Set the date of submission to future date and click 'OK'").

    It's also used in a negative way. There are lots of examples on the Web such as なんとなく自分の未来に不安を感じる時は。("When I somehow feel anxious about my future") and 未来に不安しかない ("there is nothing but uncertainty in the future").

  24. Sjiveru said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

    On the topic of 未来 (mirai) vs 将来 (shourai), 将来 sounds much more 'practical' as it were than 未来 – 未来 is (as has been mentioned) hopeful and a bit more outside of direct human control, while 将来 is more like 'prospects' or something – elementary school kids are often asked about their 将来の夢 (shourai no yume, 'dreams about the future'), just like in English they're asked what they want to be when they grow up. Both are relatively positive, but 未来 has a distinct positive connotation that 将来 lacks – 未来 is kind of one of those 'generically positive words' that you can use to make something seem happier while totally disregarding its actual denotative meaning.

    And I have had exactly the same experience with Megane/眼鏡.

  25. Jamie said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 3:56 pm

    @Brett, I suspect "Shogun" in the UK as it is a familiar (and masculine) word because of the book and TV series. There are not so many of those to choose from for the UK market. There has never been as large a Japanese population in the UK and so the language and culture has, until recently perhaps, not been as familiar to people as in the US.

  26. Richard W said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 4:36 pm

    @David J. Littleboy: "The Japanese are rather cavalier (i.e. sensible) about their use of foreign words"

    Is that any more true of the Japanese than others? In English, "garage", for example, can mean "petrol filling station", "a type of guitar rock music", and "a type of electronic dance music" (Wiktionary), and "a cabinet with a vertical rolling door that is used for storing a small kitchen appliance" (Merriam-Webster). "garage" came into English from French around 1902 according to Webster, well before the advent of electronic dance music.

    Wiktionary says Borrowing from French garage ("keeping under cover, protection, shelter"), … from Old Norse varask ("to defend oneself"), …

    As far as I can tell, the Japanese word ガレージ (gare–ji) just refers to the garage at a residence, where one shelters one's car.

    Re: Chinese native speakers getting on a bus in Japan, find that while adults are charged 140 yen, scoundrels are only charged 70 yen.
    Are you referring to 未成年者? That doesn't mean "scoundrel" in Chinese, does it?

    Re: People don't drive old, dilapidated cars in Japan.
    Yes, it would be odd to suggest that people in Japan might drive a 20-year-old Mirai, but the person who made that comment was perhaps referring to overseas purchasers, the one targeted by the video above. I'm still driving a 1989 Camry here in Australia. (My mechanic tells me, perhaps exaggerating a bit, that it will outlast my wife's 2007 Corolla.)

  27. Richard W said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 4:49 pm

    @David Arthur 'Camry' is derived from the Japanese word for 'crown', isn't it? (Paying tribute to the original Toyota Crown, as does the Corolla.)

    Hmm. You're probably right. I drive a Camry myself, and it never occurred to me that the name might be derived from 冠 kanmuri (crown). I used to drive a Toyota Corona — that's another model whose name means "crown".

  28. Richard W said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 5:06 pm

    BTW the engineer's performance struck me with its high degree of credibility.

    As noted by Gregory Kusnick, it's Toyota CEO, Akio Toyoda.

    Toyoda has an MBA from Babson College.

  29. Richard W said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 5:09 pm

    The name "Camry" is an Anglicized phonetic transcription of the Japanese word kanmuri (冠, かんむり), meaning "crown". This follows Toyota's naming tradition of using the crown name for primary models starting with the Toyota Crown (1955), continuing with the Toyota Corona (1957) and Corolla (1966); the Latin words for "crown" and "small crown", respectively. Maintaining this theme was the Toyota Tiara (1960) named after the "tiara" form of crown. The rebadged Camry variant for Japan, the Toyota Scepter (1991)—took its name from "scepter", a royal accessory to a crown.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Camry#Etymology

  30. John said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 5:30 pm

    @Bobby, and in Russian the word means "scamp" or "rascal", which is less funny than the Polish, but still pretty amusing

  31. Jongseong Park said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 5:33 pm

    To me, of the two main Korean terms for the future, the Sino-Korean 미래 未來 mirae (obviously cognate to Japanese mirai) evokes "futuristic" connotations that are missing in the pure Korean 앞날 amnal (from 앞 ap "ahead/in front" and 날 nal "day", so something like "days ahead"), which is rather neutral. Mirae conjures up futuristic technology, while amnal brings to mind mundane discussions about one's career prospects or where the country is headed. These differences in connotation are probably due to Sino-Korean terms being preferred in contexts involving science and technology.

    Bonus fact: There's also the term 뒷날 dwinnal from 뒤 dwi "behind" and 날 nal "day", so the "days behind", which you would expect to mean the opposite of amnal (앞 ap and 뒤 dwi being antonyms). But it actually means "the days to follow", so it is another expression for the (relative) future. It must be a calque of Sino-Korean 후일 後日 huil. Interesting that the Sinitic term sees future days as being "behind" while the pure Korean term sees them as "ahead". No wonder Koreans are so ambivalent about the future…

  32. Jason said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 6:14 pm

    The Latin word derives from PIE *bheuə-, also *bheu-, via its suffixed form *bhu-tu‑. Thus our English word "future" is firmly rooted in an Indo-European belief that it will come to pass / be / exist. The Sinitic term, in contrast, is more skeptical, and indicates an uncertainty about the very possibility of that which has not yet arrived. It seems to me that, if we accept the philosophical implications of the term, mirai / wèilái will keep receding and never quite arrive.

    I can imagine Whorf making an argument like this, but let's just say I reserve the right to be extremely skeptical of this genre of argument. Ekkehart Malotki's near-lethal smackdown of Whorf's own starring example, Hopi, in "Hopi Time" comes to mind.

  33. Will said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 6:22 pm

    I can see the headlines already:
    "Victor Mair says Japanese has no real word for future!"

  34. Victor Mair said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 6:24 pm

    Wiktionary translations can provide a quick multilinguistic check

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/future#Translations

  35. Victor Mair said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 6:31 pm

    @Jason

    So you think that the denotations / connotations / implications / nuances of the words for "future" in all the languages of the world are identical?

    @Will

    Heaven forbid! That's the last thing I had in my mind. Japanese has at least two real words for future.

  36. Jeff W said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 6:41 pm

    I caught that ad the other day and, without regard to the meaning of the word in Japanese, the name "Mirai" struck me as mildly pleasing, with notes of "mirage" and the French name "Mireille" in it. (The wind "Maria" and its namesake Mariah Carey did not occur to me.) Toyota must test-market its car names in non-Japanese-speaking countries with regard to sound quality as well as (or, perhaps, more than) meaning. (It never occurred to me, until I read the comments, that "Camry" meant anything.)

    The other thing that struck me was the question as to just who the speaker was. I thought he might be the CEO but he says "As a test driver, I…" and so I thought, not surprisingly, well, maybe he's a test driver—so it wasn't exactly clear. (The caption under the YouTube video makes it clear that it is Akio Toyoda but I was watching it embedded on another site, as here, without any caption. Incidentally, if you're wondering why the name of the car company is Toyota named after someone called Toyoda, some answers can be found here, here and, not least, here. )

  37. ben w said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 7:09 pm

    "Thus our English word "future" is firmly rooted in an Indo-European belief that it will come to pass / be / exist. The Sinitic term, in contrast, is more skeptical, and indicates an uncertainty about the very possibility of that which has not yet arrived."

    This is the kind of blather about etymology that I expect to be mocked, not produced, at languagelog.

  38. Zeppelin said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 7:39 pm

    @flow but you can find both usages of "before" in English as well, really! —
    if you have something before you, it's in front, and a great challenge can "lie before you", i.e. be in the future (I guess using "before" to mean "in front" is pretty obsolete, but the temporal metaphor is derived from the spatial one just like german "vor").
    But "the day before" means the day in the past, i.e. behind you, metaphorically.
    I guess the problem is the ambiguity of the metaphor – "before, on an imaginary timeline going into the future" = in the past, as seen from the present vs. "before, i.e. in front of my face" = in the future, as seen from the present.

  39. Scott said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 8:20 pm

    Ancient Greek could refer to the future with λοιπόν (loipon) which doesn't have anything to do with coming or being; it just means "the rest" or "what's left," which seems like an awfully prosaic way of thinking about it to me.

  40. Richard W said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 8:49 pm

    Re: "Mirai" gives a very hopeful, promising, optimistic impression

    将来 has some positive connotations, too. 将来性 shouraisei means "potential; promise; a (promising) future" (Source: Kenkyusha). Interestingly, there is no entry in Kenkyusha for 未来性.

    Googling "将来性" site:.jp, I get 1.3 million hits.
    For "未来性" site:.jp, I get just 27,000.

  41. Gregory Kusnick said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 10:21 pm

    Jeff W:
    If Akio Toyoda wants to call himself a test driver and take a prototype vehicle out for a spin, I don't suppose anybody's going to stop him.

  42. Wentao said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 11:05 pm

    @Richard W

    I think David J. Littleboy was referring to 小人.

  43. Richard W said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 11:31 pm

    Yes, it must be 小人. Then it makes sense.

  44. Victor Mair said,

    November 20, 2014 @ 12:46 am

    @Peter Evans

    I think that the CEO of Toyota is entitled to sit in a white armchair — and it's not even very ostentatious or ornate.

    @ben w

    Those are harsh words for a Language Log comment, smeared with a broad brush, especially in light of many of the other comments that are sensitive to various aspects of the problem of the difference between "future" and "mirai". I would suggest that you go back and read some of the earlier comments, starting with this one by a learned Japanese friend:

    =====

    Thank you for this posting.

    Mirai, at this point, to me is a very good, hopeful name. But there is sort a problem as you have pointed out:

    " The Sinitic term, in contrast, is more skeptical, and indicates an uncertainty about the very possibility of that which has not yet arrived. It seems to me that, if we accept the philosophical implications of the term, mirai / wèilái will keep receding and never quite arrive."

    That is very true.

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=15848#comment-1483576

    VHM: Are you absolutely certain that you understand Japanese better than she?
    =====

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=15848#comment-1483566 (2nd ¶)

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=15848#comment-1483568 (2nd ¶)

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=15848#comment-1483597

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=15848#comment-1483599

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=15848#comment-1483609

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=15848#comment-1483616

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=15848#comment-1483618

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=15848#comment-1483629

    to cite just a few.

    Please try to be a bit more sophisticated and civilized, and a tad less haughty, categorical, and dismissive when you disagree with someone.

  45. DMT said,

    November 20, 2014 @ 1:34 am

    Glancing through zdic's citations for 未來, it looks like Buddhism may have been important for crystallizing this word as a term referring to a clearly conceived notion of "the future." But this is well outside my expertise – perhaps VHM would like to comment?

  46. ben w said,

    November 20, 2014 @ 1:46 am

    Not one of those comments leads me to think the Latin origin of the English "future" reveals anything about the attitude towards futurity of English speakers in general, or an "Indo-European belief that it will come to pass". (Nor anything about putative skepticism evinced by "mirai", and if I were being very testy, I would claim that "has not yet come" also optimistically suggests that the relevant whatever will come: between that which hasn't yet come and that which merely hasn't come is a great gulf fixed.)

    I'm quite willing to believe that different terms for the future in the same languages and across languages have different "connotations / implications / nuances", per your comment of 6:41; I'm not willing to believe that you can unearth those connotations/implications/nuances by looking at the meanings of their etymological ancestors, interesting as those can be. (We often hear that "education is a drawing out, not a putting in" (and I actually believe this, but not on etymological grounds); wags might rewrite this as "education is not an imposition", and it's waggish partly because, even though my dictionary's first definition of "impōnere" is "put in", that doesn't really live in the English. Nor would "but 'education' derives from the Latin for …, thus our very attitude towards education/what education is is …" make an effective counterargument if someone were advocating rote memorization. Nor would I think it very productive to describe, say, the difference between a supposition and an assumption with reference to distinctions between suppōnere and adsūmere, even though one could probably make the relationship out (and even though they're quasi-technical vocabulary). Nor, to take a notorious example, would I think that the Ancient Greek conception of truth would be compellingly disclosed even if the parsing of "aletheia" as the privative "a-" and "letheia" were basically correct.)

    Scott's comment of 8:20 is actually instructive: "Ancient Greek could refer to the future with λοιπόν (loipon) which doesn't have anything to do with coming or being; it just means "the rest" or "what's left," which seems like an awfully prosaic way of thinking about it to me." The fact that speakers of Ancient Greek could refer to the future that way doesn't actually mean that they were thinking of it that way, though I'm sure they could (and Scott has the advantage over you in that he seems to be describing a way of referring to the future with a phrase that already means something else in Ancient Greek, the way I could refer to future events in English with the phrase "all that's to yet come, in the by and by" [skeptically? or certain of its eventual arrival?], and not describing a Greek word for the future (however one wishes to construe this) whose PIE roots happen to mean "the rest".) So the person citing "Zukunft" strikes me as on firmer ground in attempting to discern some kind of German attitude regarding futurity, though not on very firm ground, since, again, "Zukunft" is a pretty ordinary word. I don't think Germans needs must conceive of the past as that which has gone away, for instance, or that that conception is somehow encoded into "Vergangenheit" just because of that form of "gehen" stuck in there. (Nor that there's a particular attitude encoded in English toward the past as, you know, passed!)

    I mean several of the comments you yourself point to don't exactly seem to support your own position:

    "Mirai, at this point, to me is a very good, hopeful name."
    ""mirai" can be used to refer to the future in a neutral way"

    I thought it was skeptical???

  47. ben w said,

    November 20, 2014 @ 2:01 am

    All that said I do think it's true that "if we look into words for "future" in various languages of the world, we will find a wide variety of different attitudes toward its nature." But we will find them, in the first instance, in ourselves, prompted to muse by the forms of the words we encounter. If they're found also in the speakers of the languages in question, that won't be determined by looking at the forms of the words alone, and certainly not by looking at the forms or meanings of their etymological ancestors. (Again, the "to-come"-ness of the German word "Zukunft" is surely much more accessible to the average not even especially reflective German speaker thinking about the German word "Zukunft" than the "about to be"-ness of the Latin word "futurus" is to the average English speaker thinking about the English word "future".)

  48. David J. Littleboy said,

    November 20, 2014 @ 2:08 am

    Re: Chinese native speakers getting on a bus in Japan, find that while adults are charged 140 yen, scoundrels are only charged 70 yen.
    Are you referring to 未成年者? That doesn't mean "scoundrel" in Chinese, does it?

    No. 小人 is what you see on the bus. 未成年者 is rather technical term, and as such, my first thought would be that it would be less likely to diverge from the Chinese meaning. But, come to think of it, as a technical term, it's actual meaning will be determined by Japanese law; hmm, Yappari, Chinese isn't much use in understanding Japanese after all.). And since the writing on the bus needs to be understood by as young 小人 as possible, using 未成年者 wouldn't be a good idea.

    @ Richard W:
    "@David J. Littleboy: "The Japanese are rather cavalier (i.e. sensible) about their use of foreign words"

    Is that any more true of the Japanese than others?"

    Probably not, but it certainly seems that way living here. (Good examples, by the way.)

  49. hanson said,

    November 20, 2014 @ 2:39 am

    weilai, in early Chinese usage, not as a compound,also means "failed to arrive". not very auspicious.

  50. un malpaso said,

    November 20, 2014 @ 10:32 am

    What about English "outlook" or its New Latin English cognate, "prospect"? They both strike me as being both more optimistic and more open-minded than "future". (Although they both have been tainted by their associations with business-speak and Microsoft products…)

    (Also, in restrospect, a more likely cognate for prospect would be "foresight". And speaking of retrospect.. why don't we also use the Anglo-Saxon "backsight"?)

  51. ben w said,

    November 20, 2014 @ 10:54 am

    As I fell asleep the following further examples came to me! Is there an attitude that what is merely likely but not certain can be tested—an outgrowth or cause of good old British Empiricism, perhaps—in "probable" as the provable or testable? To be contrasted with the German wahrscheinlich, having the appearance of truth (but appearances can be deceptive, so…)? The German taking the likely to be that which seems true, the English taking it to be that which, I don't know, argument supports or that which will shortly be in fact demonstrated? That all seems rather, well, improbable to me. (Notwithstanding the fact that the OED gives a frightening list of meanings for Latin "probābilis" which includes "having an appearance of truth" which one wouldn't have guessed from its origin in "probāre".) Etwas kann scheinen, wahr zu sein, ohne wahrscheinlich zu sein, after all.

    Are we to imagine that the German "wahrnehmen" makes familiar optical illusions, such as the bend a straight stick seems to exhibit when partially submerged in water, cannot really be perceived? Because of course you do not take it as true that the stick is bent, even though you do take it in through the senses—is there something less committal, or less truth-involving, about "perceive" merely because it comes from per + capere? (Perhaps also related to British Empiricism! All of English philosophy has its roots in the Norman conquest, apparently.)

  52. J. W. Brewer said,

    November 20, 2014 @ 11:09 am

    Re: "As far as I can tell, the Japanese word ガレージ (gare–ji) just refers to the garage at a residence, where one shelters one's car," Japanese wikipedia has a whole article on the musical subgenre known as ガレージロック= gareji rokku = garage rock. That sense of gareji may only be current in a specialized subculture, of course.

    Almost three decades ago, when I was an undisciplined and dilletantish undergraduate linguistics major, I wrote a really not very good senior essay on the various different ways the Germanic language had evolved a periphrastic construction for the future tense. I probably started the project with a semi-Whorfian notion that e.g. German's "decision" to use "werden" (= "to become") rather than its modal verbs cognate with English "shall" or "will" must somehow Mean Something, but I couldn't get very far in explicating what that Something might actually be, much less how one would prove it.

  53. Victor Mair said,

    November 20, 2014 @ 12:16 pm

    @DMT

    Your suggestion of Buddhist impact on the crystallization of 未来 as the Sinitic word for "future" is right on the mark. I have to go to a lecture, teach a class, hold office hours, etc., so I probably won't be able to turn to this until the evening, but I will be thinking about it all day long and will definitely have something more precise to say about it then.

    @ben w

    Your latest observations are worthy and helpful. Will reply to them in the evening.

  54. Jongseong Park said,

    November 20, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

    I do think we should be very careful to avoid reading too much into the etymology of terms to make grand pronouncements about world-views of different cultures.

    If I wanted to make one point with my earlier comment about the connotations of the two Korean terms for the future, it would be that they have nothing to do with the transparent etymologies. Sino-Korean 미래 未來 mirae "not yet come" has futuristic connotations lacking in pure Korean 앞날 amnal "days ahead". The nuances of these terms are determined by their belonging to Sino-Korean and pure Korean registers of the language rather than by their etymologies. Korean speakers don't stop to analyze the original meanings of compound words any more than English speakers stop to think about the etymologies of "under-stand" or "re-call".

    It is one thing to look at the various attitudes about the future by comparing the terms in different languages, and quite another to assume that the etymology has any bearing on the connotations of how those terms are used by the speakers, if they are even aware of it in the first place. I'm sure that Victor Mair and most of the commenters here know this perfectly well, and most people wouldn't make such erroneous assumptions about their own languages (e.g. how many English speakers think of Latin futūrus when they say "future"?), but Chinese for some reason tends to attract a lot of attempts to read deep philosophical meanings behind those exotic characters (e.g. crisis = danger + opportunity), reaching bizarre conclusions about the Chinese worldview.

    @un malpaso: And speaking of retrospect.. why don't we also use the Anglo-Saxon "backsight"?)
    We do speak of "hindsight".

  55. Richard W said,

    November 20, 2014 @ 4:24 pm

    Jongseong Park mentioned the "futuristic connotations" of "Sino-Korean 미래 未來 mirae". Japanese mirai has such connotations, too.

    Indeed, I think that perhaps it hits the mark better to say that 未来 mirai is a suitable name for the car because of the word's futuristic connotations, rather than to say it's because of its "hopeful" or "optimistic" connotations. As I mentioned before, it seems that, in Japanese, mirai can be referred to neutrally or even negatively, and 将来 shourai, again, as I mentioned in a previous comment, has some connotations of "a promising future".

    But when one looks at definitions of "futuristic" in Japanese dictionaries, it's mirai rather than shourai that is the word of choice. Kenkyusha's New English-Japanese Dictionary, for example, defines "futuristic" as 未来の[に関する]; 未来派的な, 未来派の.

  56. KWillets said,

    November 20, 2014 @ 4:59 pm

    Hopefully 未来 doesn't refer to the car's roadworthiness.

  57. Eric P Smith said,

    November 20, 2014 @ 5:36 pm

    @Zeppelin said:

    if you have something before you, it's in front, and a great challenge can "lie before you", i.e. be in the future (I guess using "before" to mean "in front" is pretty obsolete, but the temporal metaphor is derived from the spatial one just like german "vor").
    But "the day before" means the day in the past, i.e. behind you, metaphorically.

    As a driving instructor I used to run into difficulties here with students with English as a second language. I would say, "Pull in on the left before the red car", meaning before you reach it. ESL students usually took me to mean in front of it, ie beyond it.

  58. Victor Mair said,

    November 20, 2014 @ 10:51 pm

    Earlier today, I said that I would write more fully about the Buddhist antecedents of mirai 未来 ("future") this evening. It turns out that the question is so fascinating and is related to so many other interesting topics that I'll write a separate post about it next week or soon thereafter.

    As to my additional comments for ben w, I wanted to say that I am pleased that he agrees there are different nuances among words for "future" in various languages. That was one of the main points I wanted to make in my post and in my additional comments. While we should not simplistically invoke etymological explanations to get at those nuances, sometimes etymology can provide a fruitful hint for how to begin to appreciate those disparate connotations.

    In the course of my future (next week!) deliberations about mirai 未来, we will probe more deeply into the past and present of the term. I promise you that it will be fun.

  59. James Wimberley said,

    November 21, 2014 @ 6:48 pm

    David J. Littleboy: Japan can sell old ICEV cars to poorer countries. There's a story that Sri Lanka changed its rule of the road to left-hand driving because they were buying so many old Japanese cars. But fuel-cell cars need hydrogen filling stations, which aren't coming to Trincomalee or Nairobi any decade soon. So I suspect there will be old Mirais on the streets of Osaka.

  60. Tomoko said,

    November 23, 2014 @ 11:13 pm

    The Japanese man speaking with a noticeable accent stars in the video is Akio Toyoda, President of Toyota. I found it intersting, that although he has an accent which shows his Japaneseness, his body language, especially, hand move, is more American than Japanese. I guess this is strategically done so that he can be accepted globally (remember how he was condemned during Toyota recall crisis? ) .

  61. Bathrobe said,

    November 25, 2014 @ 8:26 am

    Just my ten cents:

    My impression of the difference is that:

    将来 is a project of the present into the future. That's why we can talk about the future of a person or a company as it follows a trajectory into the future. It's a future you can plan for.

    未来 is a future that has not yet arrived and is unknown. It may not even be fully imaginable.

    未来 is used in the Japanese word 未来都市 'futuristic city', possibly conjuring up the image of a 'space city' that is completely different from what we have now. 将来の都市 means 'the city in the future' — a city that we can plan for down the track based on what we have now.

  62. Bathrobe said,

    November 25, 2014 @ 8:27 am

    That was supposed to be "projection of the present into the future".

  63. Richard W said,

    November 25, 2014 @ 1:45 pm

    @Bathrobe: Well said.

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