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Sunday, August 04, 2013

Japan: English Isn't Always The Same

English pronunciation by Japanese speakers is often ridiculed by native speakers. There is even a name for it: Engrish. The most common mispronunciation is the L and R sound, which don't have separate sounds in Japanese. There are about 40 separate sounds in English, while Japanese has around 20. In short, there are simply sounds in English that do not exist in Japanese. This leads to words like "stoker" and stalker" sounding the same to Japanese people.

But there are tons of articles on the topic, so I'm going to focus on something a little different. English is used every day in Japanese, often in a simplistic manner, mostly in advertising, music, and stores. This "Japanese English" is interesting because, while the words may be spelled correctly, the meaning has been slightly changed. An example I learned working in school was that students sometimes say their teacher is a skinhead. Can you guess the meaning? Nope, they aren't saying their teacher is violent or a racist. It means he is bald. The skin is showing on the top of his head. Skin+head. Makes sense, right? As soon as I learned this, I taught my students never to say skinhead in America. I told them what it means in America and taught them to use the term bald.

There are many more examples. If a Japanese person offers you ice in the summer, they aren't talking about frozen water. Ice means ice cream. I was at Baskin Robbins (called 31 in Japan) and saw a sign selling ice sand. My first image was of a dirty ice cube. It was an advertisement for ice cream sandwich. Sandwich often gets shortened to sand.

Shortening of words and names is common in Japan. Kimura Takuya, the most popular member of the group SMAP, is referred to as KimuTaku. This shortening is often applied to English, which often doesn't work. Beauty salons often advertise Hair and Make, as in hair and make-up. Here are more examples of English that has taken on slightly different meanings.

Top light = sky light
Long T = long sleeve T-shirt
Don't mind. = Don't worry, never mind. Said when you make a mistake, like missing a hit in volleyball. 
Baske = Basketball. I play baske.
Catch ball = the game of catch. I sometimes play catch ball with my dad.
Happy Christmas = often used as a greeting. Popular due to the John Lennon song.
Code = coordinate. Often used on fashion sites to talk about a coordinated set of clothes.

I hope you have enjoyed this little piece about differences in languages. Just because it is English, don't assume it means the same thing everywhere in the world. And if you travel abroad, don't get offended or ridicule because the English is wrong. As always, leave comments and thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure we come off sounding silly wen we try to speak Japanese. My husband is trying to learn Brazilian Portuguese, and when he tries it out on our son(who is living in Brazil), the boy and his native-born girlfriend just giggle. I myself speak Manglese--I tend to fall over my own tongue in English as well as any other.