By Hal Richard
Many different types of strange English can be found in Japan, starting with simple instances of misspelled words. These range from the usual problems with "l" and "r," where "flea" market becomes "free" market, even though the objects there are for sale, not given away. There are also words that are spelt correctly but used wrongly, such as nearly every shop sign in Japan that reads "Close," meaning "near," rather than "Closed" meaning "not open."
However, as these become conventions in themselves, everyone understands what they are intended to mean, even us foreigners.
It is not only small companies that propagate these mistakes, even big companies who could easily pay for a native checker are guilty, for example, Hitachi with its "Inspire the Next" slogan. Inspire the next what, exactly? Clearly nobody at Hitachi had heard that adjectives always need a noun!
So, am I annoyed by this corruption of my native language? Not really. All languages by necessity develop and interact with other languages and on many occasions the results can be quite wonderful, such as an advertisment geared toward young girls that uses the word "cuteen." It's a word that may sound, to its target audience, appealing in itself, even without noticing it is made up of the words "cute" and "teen."
Anyway, I have long given up thinking of these words as English: after all, they are not aimed at me and my foreign friends — they are for the benefit of Japanese people. With this in mind, observing some of the ways English functions within the Japanese language becomes a fascinating exercise.
English seems to be used, much like katakana, for its visual impact, standing out in a sea of Japanese characters like a huge exclamation mark. It also seems to give an "exotic" air of Westernness, perhaps even modernity or sophistication to the Japanese eye. This perhaps explains the "Elegance Sand" I picked up in a convenience store, (sorry, "conbini") — it's elegance derived from being cut into thin fingers of sandwich easy to eat with a proper sense of decorum.
Still, the logic behind the use of English in Japan sometimes remains impenetrable to me.
I ordered an espresso in a cafe a few weeks ago. On the menu, an "s" clearly signified a single, but a double was written as "w." I started to run through in my head the words for "double" in European languages, hoping to find one beginning with "w." It is strange as a native speaker of English to be told by a Japanese waitress that the "double" I wanted to drink is signified not by a logical "d" but by the double in "double-u."
Shukan ST: Aug. 1, 2008
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