Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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AUTHOR: Scherling, Johannes TITLE: Japanizing English SUBTITLE: Anglicisms and their impact on Japanese SERIES TITLE: Buchreihe zu den Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik 24 PUBLISHER: Narr Verlag YEAR: 2012
Martina Ebi, Tuebingen University, Germany
The Japanese language is known for its high proportion of western loanwords in the lexicon. In this book, Scherling examines the extent and the nature of English loanwords, how they are integrated, and to what extent they are understood and accepted. The book basically wants to show, by the Japanese example, that a large amount of loanwords does not result in “a breakdown in communication” (p. 17), but should be regarded as new resource for linguistic creativity.
Part 1 takes a historical look at loanwords in Japanese. Chapter 1 provides a diachronic overview of the language contact situation; Japanese has a long tradition of borrowing that started in the 5th century, when Chinese words were borrowed along with the Chinese writing system. The initial, short contact with western languages began with Portuguese and Spanish missionaries and merchants coming to Japan in the 16th century and ended with their expulsion 80 years later. The opening of the country in 1868 led to a westernization of Japan in all aspects of life, one of which was English slowly becoming the prevalent donor language. Although the Japanese government tried to restrict the use of the English language during war time, its influence did not diminish and actually increased after 1945.
In Chapter 2, Scherling outlines the different attitudes toward loanwords, ranging from voices like that of Mori Arinori, who argued to give up Japanese in favor of English, to the proponents of the so-called Nihonjinron-theory, who claim the uniqueness of the Japanese language (and culture) and therefore disapprove of the intrusion of foreign words. Scherling concludes that despite a regularly upcoming criticism against loanwords, there is no serious opposition against them and he sees the reason for this aptness as the general liberal and creative attitude towards language use and the “adulation of all things American” (p. 47) after World War II.
Part 2 gives statistical and empirical evidence for the abundance of English loanwords in Japanese. As there was not a Japanese language corpus at the time the research was carried out, Scherling relies on the figures provided, among others, by the National Institute for Japanese Language. Chapter 3 illustrates the proportion of loanwords in the Japanese lexicon, the relation of token and types in different media, and thematic fields. Scherling presents the studies conducted by the National Language Institute and the Bunkachō (1998) on the vocabulary used in weekly and monthly magazines from the years 1956 and 1994, in newspapers and official documents, in television programs, and in scientific discourse. The comparison of loanwords used in magazines reveals that the number of token raised from 2,9% in 1956 to 12,2% in 1994. More strikingly, however, is the increase of the number of types from 9,8% to 34,9%. Chapter 4 takes a closer look at the most frequently used loanwords in magazines, public information bulletins, white papers, television programs and the nation-wide newspaper, ‘Mainichi Shinbun.’ A comparison of the data yields a consistent finding of about 20% loanwords in each of the forms of media. A comparison of frequency lists from 1994, 1998, and 2004 shows that the fluctuation of loanwords is, from a diachronic point of view, rather low, and that the most frequently used loanwords that people are familiar with remain stable.
Part 3 focuses on the qualitative aspects of loanwords. In Chapter 5, Scherling gives an overview of the different adaptation processes a loanword passes through on its way into the Japanese language: the phonological and morphological integration processes; the semantic integration; and the syntactic impact. As can be seen from the example ‘kurisumasu’ (‘Christmas’), English consonant clusters are subject to vowel epenthesis. Phonological integration results in relatively long words that are often shortened, as can be seen in ‘irasuto’ (‘illustration’).
Chapter 6 then tries to give an answer to the question of why loanwords are used so extensively. Besides the fact that they denote new ideas and concepts (as loanwords do in any other language as well), the author discusses status upgrading, westernization and euphemistic (cf. ‘toire’; ‘toilet’), obscuring, and stylistic use as core functions of loanwords.
Chapter 7 addresses the problematic side of loanwords, namely, comprehension issues. According to the data collected by the National Language Institute, the majority of respondents have experienced comprehension difficulties with loanwords. The ratio differs by age and gender, with younger people and male respondents feeling more familiar with loans.
Chapter 8 discusses the influence of loanwords on Japanese, namely, the question of whether the large amount of loanwords and their phonetic, morphological and semantic changes due to the process of integration are favoring or impeding the acquisition of English as a foreign language. Special attention is paid to pseudo-anglicisms such as ‘furaido poteto’ (‘fried potato’) for ‘chips’ or ‘manā mōdo’ (‘manner mode’) for ‘silent mode on a portable phone’, as they are potential false cognates.
Chapter 9 then summarizes recent discussions on how to deal with loanwords, especially with unknown or new ones; there are some rare, purist voices that recommend foreign words be written in the Latin alphabet. More influential was the “Loanword Paraphrasing Project” of the National Language Institute that worked out alternatives for less known loanwords. However, as these alternatives were mostly Sino-Japanese compounds, their comprehensibility was questioned too. Scherling, therefore, favors the three-staged approach of integration proposed by Jinnouchi (2007). According to this approach, loanwords should be paraphrased with phrases and sentences until they are finally known. A study on the loanword use in written media showed that this soft way of integration is already realized in practice.
After these 200 pages of comprehensive overview of the loanword situation in Japan, Scherling addresses his own research. In Part 4, he addresses the question of how important context is for the comprehension of unknown loanwords. Chapter 10, therefore, introduces different linguistic theories, based on the importance of context, for determining the meaning of an unknown word.
Chapter 11 presents the results of the comprehension survey Scherling conducted among 142 Japanese students from three different universities. The comprehension of 50 loanwords – some of them have an equivalent meaning in English, while others have a divergent one - as well as pseudo-anglicisms was tested without and within context. With an average increase of 21%, the words showed a considerably higher comprehension rate when embedded in context. In general, students of the English language achieved better comprehension results than non-students, but there were striking differences between universities. Therefore, Scherling concludes that knowledge of the English language cannot be regarded as a necessary factor for loanword comprehension.
“Japanizing English” presents central, important issues on Japanese loanword research to the non-Japanese speaking linguistic community. It provides a detailed review of recent quantitative and qualitative studies carried out within and outside of Japan. The topics are presented in a clear, easily understandable style and are illustrated through many examples. Several graphs and tables facilitate the comprehension of the quantitative analysis. Interestingly, however, Scherling leaves out the orthographic aspect of the integration process. As loanwords are written in katakana, one of the syllabic alphabets of Japanese (after 1945), they can, at a glance, be identified as such and discerned from other linguistic strata. On the other hand, the transliteration of loan words from an alphabetic writing system into a non-alphabetic, syllabic one automatically leads to alienation and might impede the comprehension process. Thus, the orthographic aspect of the integration is an influential factor not to be neglected in the study of loanword comprehension.
The structure of the book is, generally speaking, very clear. In contrast to similar recent publications (e.g. Irwin 2011) Scherling does not stop after completing an overview of the topic, but rather goes on to present his own research questions and results, namely, the question of whether or not context or knowledge of the English language are helpful in comprehending loanwords. Though the results may seem trivial at first glance, the differences among the tested words show the complexity of the problem. More qualitative information concerning the particular results of the tested loanwords would have been even more interesting. To mention one minor point, one must point out that the transliteration of the Japanese reference titles shows an unfortunate lack of diligence; ‘Kokuritsu’ became ‘Kokutritsu’ (pp. 243, 253) and long vowels are sometimes transliterated in an uncommon way, e.g., i- instead of standardized ī, as in ‘shiri-zu’ (p. 243).
All in all, the book is worth reading for all those interested in linguistic borrowing and language change and represents a valuable contribution to the study of Japanese loanwords. It will be a useful resource for teaching in undergraduate and postgraduate courses on Japanese linguistics, World Englishes, or language change in general.
Jinnouchi, M. (2007): Gairaigo no shakai gengogaku - Nihongo no gurōkaru na kangaekata. Kyoto: Sekai Shisōsha.
Irwin, M. (2011): Loanwords in Japanese. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Martina Ebi is lecturer at the Institute for Japanese Studies of Tuebingen
University, Germany. She received her Ph.D. in Japanese Studies from
Tuebingen University in 2003. In her dissertation, she compared the textual
functions of German and Japanese demonstratives. Her research interests are
lexical semantics and intercultural communication. She is currently
investigating loanword neologisms in Japanese.