LINGUIST List 23.3778

Mon Sep 10 2012

Review: History of Linguistics; Semantics; Sociolinguistics; English; Japanese: Scherling (2012)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 10-Sep-2012
From: Martina Ebi <>
Subject: Japanizing English
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Announced at
AUTHOR: Scherling, JohannesTITLE: Japanizing EnglishSUBTITLE: Anglicisms and their impact on JapaneseSERIES TITLE: Buchreihe zu den Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik 24PUBLISHER: Narr VerlagYEAR: 2012

Martina Ebi, Tuebingen University, Germany


The Japanese language is known for its high proportion of western loanwords inthe lexicon. In this book, Scherling examines the extent and the nature ofEnglish loanwords, how they are integrated, and to what extent they areunderstood and accepted. The book basically wants to show, by the Japaneseexample, that a large amount of loanwords does not result in “a breakdown incommunication” (p. 17), but should be regarded as new resource for linguisticcreativity.

Part 1 takes a historical look at loanwords in Japanese. Chapter 1 provides adiachronic overview of the language contact situation; Japanese has a longtradition of borrowing that started in the 5th century, when Chinese words wereborrowed along with the Chinese writing system. The initial, short contact withwestern languages began with Portuguese and Spanish missionaries and merchantscoming to Japan in the 16th century and ended with their expulsion 80 yearslater. The opening of the country in 1868 led to a westernization of Japan inall aspects of life, one of which was English slowly becoming the prevalentdonor language. Although the Japanese government tried to restrict the use ofthe English language during war time, its influence did not diminish andactually 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 infavor of English, to the proponents of the so-called Nihonjinron-theory, whoclaim the uniqueness of the Japanese language (and culture) and thereforedisapprove of the intrusion of foreign words. Scherling concludes that despite aregularly upcoming criticism against loanwords, there is no serious oppositionagainst them and he sees the reason for this aptness as the general liberal andcreative attitude towards language use and the “adulation of all thingsAmerican” (p. 47) after World War II.

Part 2 gives statistical and empirical evidence for the abundance of Englishloanwords in Japanese. As there was not a Japanese language corpus at the timethe research was carried out, Scherling relies on the figures provided, amongothers, by the National Institute for Japanese Language. Chapter 3 illustratesthe proportion of loanwords in the Japanese lexicon, the relation of token andtypes in different media, and thematic fields. Scherling presents the studiesconducted by the National Language Institute and the Bunkachō (1998) on thevocabulary used in weekly and monthly magazines from the years 1956 and 1994, innewspapers and official documents, in television programs, and in scientificdiscourse. The comparison of loanwords used in magazines reveals that the numberof token raised from 2,9% in 1956 to 12,2% in 1994. More strikingly, however, isthe increase of the number of types from 9,8% to 34,9%. Chapter 4 takes a closerlook at the most frequently used loanwords in magazines, public informationbulletins, white papers, television programs and the nation-wide newspaper,‘Mainichi Shinbun.’ A comparison of the data yields a consistent finding ofabout 20% loanwords in each of the forms of media. A comparison of frequencylists from 1994, 1998, and 2004 shows that the fluctuation of loanwords is, froma diachronic point of view, rather low, and that the most frequently usedloanwords that people are familiar with remain stable.

Part 3 focuses on the qualitative aspects of loanwords. In Chapter 5, Scherlinggives an overview of the different adaptation processes a loanword passesthrough on its way into the Japanese language: the phonological andmorphological integration processes; the semantic integration; and the syntacticimpact. As can be seen from the example ‘kurisumasu’ (‘Christmas’), Englishconsonant clusters are subject to vowel epenthesis. Phonological integrationresults 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 usedso extensively. Besides the fact that they denote new ideas and concepts (asloanwords do in any other language as well), the author discusses statusupgrading, westernization and euphemistic (cf. ‘toire’; ‘toilet’), obscuring,and stylistic use as core functions of loanwords.

Chapter 7 addresses the problematic side of loanwords, namely, comprehensionissues. According to the data collected by the National Language Institute, themajority of respondents have experienced comprehension difficulties withloanwords. The ratio differs by age and gender, with younger people and malerespondents feeling more familiar with loans.

Chapter 8 discusses the influence of loanwords on Japanese, namely, the questionof whether the large amount of loanwords and their phonetic, morphological andsemantic changes due to the process of integration are favoring or impeding theacquisition of English as a foreign language. Special attention is paid topseudo-anglicisms such as ‘furaido poteto’ (‘fried potato’) for ‘chips’ or ‘manāmōdo’ (‘manner mode’) for ‘silent mode on a portable phone’, as they arepotential 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 thatrecommend foreign words be written in the Latin alphabet. More influential wasthe “Loanword Paraphrasing Project” of the National Language Institute thatworked out alternatives for less known loanwords. However, as these alternativeswere mostly Sino-Japanese compounds, their comprehensibility was questioned too.Scherling, therefore, favors the three-staged approach of integration proposedby Jinnouchi (2007). According to this approach, loanwords should be paraphrasedwith phrases and sentences until they are finally known. A study on the loanworduse in written media showed that this soft way of integration is alreadyrealized in practice.

After these 200 pages of comprehensive overview of the loanword situation inJapan, Scherling addresses his own research. In Part 4, he addresses thequestion of how important context is for the comprehension of unknown loanwords.Chapter 10, therefore, introduces different linguistic theories, based on theimportance of context, for determining the meaning of an unknown word.

Chapter 11 presents the results of the comprehension survey Scherling conductedamong 142 Japanese students from three different universities. The comprehensionof 50 loanwords – some of them have an equivalent meaning in English, whileothers have a divergent one - as well as pseudo-anglicisms was tested withoutand within context. With an average increase of 21%, the words showed aconsiderably higher comprehension rate when embedded in context. In general,students of the English language achieved better comprehension results thannon-students, but there were striking differences between universities.Therefore, Scherling concludes that knowledge of the English language cannot beregarded as a necessary factor for loanword comprehension.


“Japanizing English” presents central, important issues on Japanese loanwordresearch to the non-Japanese speaking linguistic community. It provides adetailed review of recent quantitative and qualitative studies carried outwithin and outside of Japan. The topics are presented in a clear, easilyunderstandable style and are illustrated through many examples. Several graphsand tables facilitate the comprehension of the quantitative analysis.Interestingly, however, Scherling leaves out the orthographic aspect of theintegration process. As loanwords are written in katakana, one of the syllabicalphabets of Japanese (after 1945), they can, at a glance, be identified as suchand discerned from other linguistic strata. On the other hand, thetransliteration of loan words from an alphabetic writing system into anon-alphabetic, syllabic one automatically leads to alienation and might impedethe comprehension process. Thus, the orthographic aspect of the integration isan influential factor not to be neglected in the study of loanword comprehension.

The structure of the book is, generally speaking, very clear. In contrast tosimilar recent publications (e.g. Irwin 2011) Scherling does not stop aftercompleting an overview of the topic, but rather goes on to present his ownresearch questions and results, namely, the question of whether or not contextor knowledge of the English language are helpful in comprehending loanwords.Though the results may seem trivial at first glance, the differences among thetested words show the complexity of the problem. More qualitative informationconcerning the particular results of the tested loanwords would have been evenmore interesting. To mention one minor point, one must point out that thetransliteration of the Japanese reference titles shows an unfortunate lack ofdiligence; ‘Kokuritsu’ became ‘Kokutritsu’ (pp. 243, 253) and long vowels aresometimes transliterated in an uncommon way, e.g., i- instead of standardizedī, as in ‘shiri-zu’ (p. 243).

All in all, the book is worth reading for all those interested in linguisticborrowing and language change and represents a valuable contribution to thestudy of Japanese loanwords. It will be a useful resource for teaching inundergraduate and postgraduate courses on Japanese linguistics, World Englishes,or language change in general.


Bunkachō (1998): Kotoba ni kansuru mondōshū- gairaigohen. Shin “kotoba” shirīzu8. Tokyo: Okurashō insatsukyoku.

Jinnouchi, M. (2007): Gairaigo no shakai gengogaku - Nihongo no gurōkaru nakangaekata. Kyoto: Sekai Shisōsha.

Irwin, M. (2011): Loanwords in Japanese. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


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.

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