A survey conducted by Japan's largest newspaper, the Yomiuri, found 81 percent of people were confused by words borrowed from English. More than 50 percent said they had trouble understanding Japanese because new words entered into the language so quickly. A full 48 percent said the way young people spoke was impenetrable (cannot be understood!!).
Two new words in the Japanese language this year were mireniamu (millennium) and ribenji (revenge). Only half of the people responding to the survey knew what they meant. Many commented on the survey form that young people used so many new words that they might as well be speaking a different language.
Many new words (90% are derived from English) and expressions are only loosely inspired by English, a kind of "Janglish" whose true meaning often mystifies fluent English speakers and it has been shown that they can only guess at the true meanings.
A Japanese linguistic expert claims teenagers like to speak in a secret language adults cannot understand. In fact this is not too uncommon in most modern countries. His examples are "checki", meaning to check something out, and "panikuru", a corruption of "to panic" made to sound Japanese.
Fast food restaurant chains are also a rich source for new words. Besides the names such as McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken, the teenagers have created new words such as "Mackuru" which means when they eat at McDonald's. Another is "Haageru" which describes when they eat ice cream at Haagen Daas. Older Japanese are very much against American fast food chains infiltrating their country and ruining sacred customs and language.
The Japanese have always borrowed freely from other languages to keep abreast of developments. But the advent of global economy and Internet mean foreign words are entering their speech faster than ever.
To understand what is being said around them, many people resort to using one of two huge guides to new Japanese published every year. The Encyclopedia of Japanese Contemporary Words is in its 51st edition and sells 300,000 copies per year. It is 6 inches thick and the 1999 edition contains at least 6,000 new words.
Meanwhile, the government is anxious to improve Japan's English language skills, which it sees as vital if the country is to compete globally. From 2002, the nation's 24,000 primary schools will be encouraged to teach English to six-year-olds.
These days where the English language is commonly used around the world, Japan is left out. This is the feeling of most linguistic scholars in the country.
Along with the infiltration of English words, Japanese worry about the "American Attitude" toward them. They say we do not understand them or their culture.
Just recently when the US government held talks with Japan trying to get them to get their economy in line, Stuart Eizenstat (US Undersecretary) was careful to say it is urgent that Japan act quickly. He added he saw Japan as an equal and "We speak respectfully. We speak without condescension," he also said "We are speaking as your friends."
Japan's US Ambassador Kunihiko Saito, had another take on the meetings. He told the press the US was making demands only because they are concerned. Reacting with an emotional backlash, he said, would be a mistake.
The Japanese opposition leader Nobuto Hosaka said, " Japan is not making its own decisions, we've entered into a stage in which the USA/Japanese relations need to change."
A Japanese tabloid newspaper recently proclaimed, "America's reoccupation of Japan" as a headline. The article accused the US of trying to run Japan's financial institutions and of seeking "gold rush" profits by exploiting the nation's economic woes.
Just taking these recent examples illustrates well why such resentment can be channeled toward the Americans for destroying their language, customs and traditions.
This is actually happening in many countries other than Japan. Just recently the French government started to ban certain English derived words, in hopes of saving their true language. Just like the Canadian Province of Quebec now employs "Language Police" to ensure all signs are in French and English is in smaller lettering, this is too little too late. I have yet to learn how this narrow minded thinking can stop progress. Another topic next month.