Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Retsu Ingurishu! (Let's English!)

This is the reason there's no anime post tonight. I had to write this paper for my Language and Society class. I feel, though, that this is actually a good paper to post. I hope it's enjoyable.

Look around in the Japanese culture and you’ll see (if you’re English) very familiar words, English words, especially in Japanese advertising. Andrea Simon-Maeda, an English as a foreign language professor at Ichimura Gakuen Junior College, states “advertising agencies write most of the English slogans because they know what will appeal to the Japanese consumer.” She gives examples of some products bearing English names: Volume Up Water (hairspray); Pocari Sweat ( soda pop); Meltykiss (chocolate candy); and, Clean Life, Please (a line of cleaning gloves.) The president of agency using English words to advertise says they use them “as a creative device rather than for their pure communication value.” This is evident to English speakers who may view “Pocari Sweat” and “Volume Up Water” as strange brand names for soda pop and hairspray. It is not only in product names that English appears in Japanese society. A J-pop song recently written by pop singer May’n for the space adventure anime Macross Frontier features many English words. The following is an excerpt from this song, “What ‘bout My Star?”:
POINT, I don't care
DOLLARS, how much fake?
POINT, futatsu ni hitotsu
But, ai nara shite
The words don’t make much sense to a native English speaker. Maeda believes that the misusage of English loanwords is causing problems both for English speakers trying to learn Japanese and for Japanese studying English.
In A Guide to Modern Japanese Loanwords, Webb states that “many words have acquired colloquial meanings which are quite different from the meanings given in dictionaries.” This further explains what the aforementioned company president meant when he said, “What they [the Japanese advertisers] do is put English words in a Japanese syntax. They’re thinking in Japanese but speaking in English.” In the guide, Webb categorizes loanwords by the problems native English people may have when encountering them in the Japanese culture; among some of the categories are: shortened words such as “hoomu” (platform) and “waa-puro” (word processor); words whose pronunciation differs from the English pronunciation such as “biniiru” (vinyl), “shinnaa” (thinner), and “kaabu” (curb); words derived from uncommon English words like “kurakushon” (klaxon) and “maikurobasu” (microbus); and words taken from British English such as “seroteepu” (sellotape) and “bonnetto” (the “bonnet” of a car.)
Maeda states that using English merely as a “creative device” instead of as a means to communicate may give the “desired outcome” for advertisers but creates a “nightmare for the language teacher.” She says her students recognize a loanword only by its colloquial meaning and foreigners must learn the usage of loanwords “as part of the target language (Japanese) to be able to communicate successfully. She views these as road blocks to education. Frank E. Daulton, a professor at Niigata Women’s College, disagrees, saying that English loanwords “greatly enhance the acquisition of the English base-words,” giving learners a “built-in lexicon.” He refers to a study by M. Yoshida in which a kindergarten Japanese boy living in the USA, Mikihide, learned English base-words quickly from knowing the loanword counterpart. In a picture vocabulary test of 22 English base-words, Mikihide “comprehended 19 words such as table (teeburu) and orange (orenji.)” However, his pronunciation was not always understood by English speakers; table came out /teybl/ but orange stayed orenji. Maeda would point out that because the English base-words go through so many transformations (rephonalization, shortening, speech part modification, and semantic modification) “the level of resemblance of those high-frequency base-words and to their loanword cousins is questioned.” In response to this, Daulton says “radical semantic shifting is the exception and not the rule;” that 23 out 24 of the loanwords starting with “A” in “A Dictionary of Loanwords” by Motwani “matched to within the third listed native meaning in the Random House Dictionary.”
Maeda uses Gass and Madden’s conversation model and a common phrase for Japanese girls that uses English loanwords: chaamu-pointo, or, charm point, to illustrate her solution to the problems happening in her classroom. A charm point is a feature of a person that is attractive. In Input in Second Language Acquisition, Gass and Madden’s model of a conversation between a non-native and native speaker “consists of four primes:” a trigger, which causes the hearer to misunderstand what the other means; an indicator, in which the hearer shows that he or she misunderstood; a response, the speaker’s attempt to clear up the misunderstanding; and the reaction to the response, which shows that the hearer either understands or is still having difficulty with what’s said. She includes the following example of a discourse between a native and non-native Japanese speaker using “charm point”:
Junko: I think Mary’s charm point (T) is her beautiful hair.
Andy: Charm point? (I) If you’re referring to Mary’s most attractive feature, her hair, then I certainly agree.
Junko: Yes, right. (R) She also has a very charming personality.
Andy: Yes, she does. (RR)
Maeda suggests that if students were to mark the trigger, indicator, reaction and response to the reaction (as in the above example) in multiple instances in which English loanwords are misused and corrected, they could memorize the proper usage and improve their mastery of the English language.
To close, Daulton gives this statement, “Students should be made aware of the loanword resource[s] they possess… they should learn to have more confidence in their intuitions about new English vocabulary.” Culture has proven that not just linguists will craft language, it will have a little fun, too. As Japan and America (and England) have learned, words are more than just pretty sounds like “Meltykiss” or “What ‘bout my star?” No one could deny that it’s interesting how a word can have meaning created by two very different cultures. It is to be hoped, however, that the cultures that created those many meanings will be able to somehow merge them and communicate with each other without confusion.

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