「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら
「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら


False friends

By Samantha Loong


Perhaps you’ve met one before: someone who you think could become a friend, but then turns out not to be a keeper. Or someone who pretends to be your friend, but actually makes life worse for you. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a list telling you who would make a good friend and who wouldn’t?

Fortunately, there are such lists. Unfortunately, these lists are only useful for language learning, as “false friends” can be found across many languages. False friends are pairs of words that look or sound similar in two languages, but have different meanings. Take for example my local rubbish and recycling station. Which bin do I put my bin in? And why do my dangerous items need a seal on the bag? I thought that seals only appear on official letters like company or university letters ― not rubbish bags.

This confusion often rises because words borrowed from other languages have evolved to have their own meaning in Japanese. A lot of my students make the mistake of thinking that just because a word is in the katakana script, it qualifies as an appropriate English word. It’s a similar problem when English speakers learning Japanese think that pronouncing English words in katakana will always translate into something meaningful for the Japanese listener. That’s like expecting to be understood in France by speaking your language with a French accent.

So it’s not a bin that you put out for recycling but rather, a glass bottle or jar. And a sticker is what you need to stick onto your dangerous items, not a seal. It’s also likely that you live in an apartment block, not a mansion. And if your apartment has recently been repaired or improved, it’s undergone a renovation, not a reform.

Is all of this making you feel a little moody? And is that a good or a bad thing for you? A workmate in Osaka once suggested that we go to a restaurant because it was famous for being moody. I was a little puzzled, as the last thing I wanted was to have irritable, unfriendly staff serving me. But after a few questions, I discovered that in Japanese, moody can mean that a place has a unique, usually good atmosphere.

With new friends, figuring out if they’re worth your time and energy can take a while. However, when learning English, weeding out false friends is a much more efficient process. Don’t be afraid of your katakana friends. Use them in the company of an English speaker and you’ll soon find out if these particular friends are worth keeping. And then update the information in your notebook ― not your note.



The Japan Times ST: October 17, 2014

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート




2018年6月29日号    試読・購読   デジタル版