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Review of  Japanizing English

Reviewer: Martina Ebi
Book Title: Japanizing English
Book Author: Johannes Scherling
Publisher: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. KG
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
History of Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 23.3778

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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

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.


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

Jinnouchi, M. (2007): Gairaigo no shakai gengogaku - Nihongo no gurōkaru na
kangaekata. 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.