The foreign carrot regime problem

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English translation of the title of a Japanese book for sale on Amazon:

Japanese lost sight of "nation" – the essence of foreign carrot regime problem

From the Japanese version the book seems to be a collection of excerpts from mostly right-wing / ultra-nationalistc writers (but why is the Japanese Communist Party there?).

Explanation by Nathan Hopson:

It's pretty hilarious to see this on Amazon, but I've actually thought about it before and have a ready answer.

The trouble is with the subtitle (in white in the blue stripe at the top):

gaikokujin sanseiken mondai no honshitsu
"the essence of foreign carrot regime problem"

It should be "the essence of the issue of the enfranchisement of foreigners," which was raised several election cycles ago in Japan.

Without spaces, though, the machine translation mis-parsed.

Should be:

外国人 参政権 問題 の 本質

but came out as:

外国 人参 政権 問題 の 本質

人参 can be either carrot or ginseng, but to avoid ambiguity the latter is almost always marked as 高麗人参 (kōrai ninjin), a reference to its peninsular roots (so to speak). And in fact, 人参 is quite often written as ニンジン, also for disambiguation. This follows the larger trend of writing the majority of flora and fauna in katakana in many contexts.

As a side note, the choice is mostly arbitrary and a matter of legibility. So in recipes, for example, you see all three used interchangeably, as in this search result from Cookpad, Japan's largest user-contributed recipe site.

Would it be helpful for Japanese (and Chinese) to put spaces between words?

[h.t. Hiroshi Kumamoto]


  1. Victor Mair said,

    June 18, 2016 @ 11:38 pm

    From Japanese Language Stack Exchange:

  2. Jim Breen said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 1:39 am

    I was greatly relieved to see that the text-glossing function of my online Japanese dictionary ( parsed it correctly : 外国人参政権 + 問題.

    Apropos of 人参 often being written in katakana, I don't think it's for disambiguation. It's a common practice for the names of plants and animals to be written thus, and frequently it's the most common form. In the case of 人参 according to the Google n-grams corpus the katakana version is not as common as the kanji and hiragana versions.

  3. Rubrick said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 4:49 am

    I believe the carrot regime was what the Orange Revolution was trying to achieve.

  4. David Marjanović said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 6:15 am

    the larger trend of writing the majority of flora and fauna in katakana in many contexts


  5. Nathan Hopson said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 6:45 am

    I realize now that in my initial response to Victor's query, I didn't address the question of why the Japanese Communist Party might be involved in a book like this. I admit that I have not read this book, but let me quickly address this. I can't answer the question, but here's a bit of background that might suggest some possibilities.

    The JCP is a very strong voice against US bases and other perceived threats to Japanese sovereignty, so it's tempting to assume that the party would be against enfranchising foreigners. It's not quite that simple, though. The JCP has endorsed the idea of regional (not national) voting rights for legal permanent residents (永住外国人の地方参政権 eijū gaikokujin no chihō sanseiken). This is the same position taken, for example, by the erstwhile Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

    To my knowledge, none of the major political parties has come out in support of a proposal to enfranchise (a) non-permanent residents, i.e. people like myself on working or spousal visas, or (b) any foreigners at all at the national level (only local).

  6. shubert said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 7:36 am

    "to put spaces between words?"
    Very good idea.

  7. Usually Dainichi said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 8:21 am

    Ehm… How would putting spaces between words help show the internal structure of 外国人参政権? Unless you're talking about putting spaces WITHIN words (like English).

  8. PeterL said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 12:46 pm

    A more prosaic example is
    西日本 ("nishi Nihon" – 西 west 日本 Japan)
    西日 ("nishibi") setting sun
    本 ("-hon") suffix (counter for long cylindrical things)
    本 ("hon", "moto") base, origin, source

    Without more semantic information, the longest left-most "word" is probably the best choice; but not always when the left-most part is a kind of prefix – but in this case, 本 is more likely to be a "suffix" than 西 is likely to be a "prefix".

    BTW, 東日本 (east Japan) doesn't have such ambiguities.

    If I recall correctly, even a short sentence like "日本語は難しくない" ("Japanese isn't difficult") can get something like 60 possible segmentations when only the dictionary and grammar are used; most of these are obviously wrong to a human but not to a machine.)

    Segmentation is hard. And even if Japanese adopts "spaces" between words (the way Korean has), it's unlikely that a "word" like this would get spaces in it, for the same reason that German would l wouldn't have spaces in a similar situation.

    If memory serves me correctly, segmentation for German was about 3x slower than English (because of compound words in German and because there was no attempt to combine English noun phrases) and Japanese was 10-20x slower than English. (And in case you think that English segmentation is trivial, consider "He drank 12 oz. of 5% ABV beer on Sunset Blvd. But that was before the sun set.")

  9. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 10:46 am

    The common Japanese term for foreigner gaijin (外人) is claimed by some to have a derogatory tone not present in the longer synonym gaikokujin (外国人). But I'm not sure whether it is surprising that the book in question (which sounds like it represents an anti-gaijin substantive point of view) uses the longer and arguably "more polite" term, because it may just be an issue of register, with gaikokujin striking the right level of formality that would be expected in a non-fiction book title regardless of its substantive point of view.

    As I understand it, the defense of "gaijin" as non-derogatory is that it is merely more informal and thus not inherently disrespectful other than perhaps in specific contexts where a formal register would be expected and a deliberate deviation into informality thus intended to convey some specific sort of message. Certainly we L1-Anglophone kids attending the American School in Japan back in the '70's standardly used "gaijin" as a self-identifier w/o any sense of it having pejorative baggage.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 7:57 pm

    @Usually Dainichi

    Your query is answered clearly in the OP and in the Japanese Language Stack Exchange post and comments thereto cited in the first comment above.

  11. Usually Dainichi said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 7:04 am

    @Victor Mair, thank you, I had no problem understanding the pun.

    My point was that 外国人参政権問題 is, AFAIK, one word, so putting spaces between words won't help.

    My admittedly quite sarcastic comment was intended to show that what is presented as if it were a universal concept is in fact one specific to English.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 8:02 am

    If you will read the OP and the Japanese Language Stack Exchange post and comments thereto cited in the first comment above, you will see that nobody is taking 外国人参政権問題 as a single lexical item. That is to say, 外国人参政権問題 is not "one word".

  13. PeterL said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 10:45 pm

    The problem is that people disagree on what is a 文節 ("bunsetsu" – phrase or clause); one person would say that 外国人参政権問題 is a single item; others will say that it is 外国人 参政権 問題; others would say 外国人参政権 問題, etc. It's a bit like corner cases in "productive" vs "non-productive" compounds, and the writing system doesn't help. (English has similar problems: is "first aid" one "word" or two?)

    I've only found one paper about this — it was about disagreement amongst Chinese speakers as to what constituted a "word" or "phrase" but it didn't prove much beyond that there's wide variation. (Sorry, I don't have the reference handy.)

  14. PeterL said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 10:49 pm

    Grrr… "word-splitting" messed up. My choices should have been
    外国人 参政権問題
    外国人参政権 問題
    外国人 参政権 問題

    And I think you could leave the の out and make an even longer phrase (if not with this specific example, certainly with others):
    and split it up in various ways …

  15. Matt said,

    June 22, 2016 @ 11:10 pm

    To venture back to the topic of writing system choice (which exercises me considerably), strictly speaking "ninjin" is written in kana rather than kanji not for disambiguation but because the reading "jin" for the kanji 参 is not on the Joyo Kanji list and so it falls on the wrong side of the "things that everyone in theory has a chance to know" line.

    The question of hiragana vs katakana is even more interesting. There is a tendency, reinforced in vague language by most Japanese style authorities, to use katakana for fauna and flora as such but hiragana for the same treated as food. So you might expect ニンジン to be carrots growing in a field or discussed in biology class, and にんじん to appear in a recipe's list of ingredients or a blog post about a picky eater. But because these are rules imposed from above, of course there are exceptions (for example, even if you're a character amnesiac wouldn't have remembered or bothered to write the kanji for "ninjin" yourself, if you're on a computer or phone they will helpfully be offered to you and you might just take 'em).

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