August 01, 2006

Loan words as "evasive language"

Russell Lee-Goldman at Noncompositional has some interesting things to say about the Japanese approach to regulating foreign loans:

Back when I was in Japan in 2003-4, the National Institute for Japanese Langauge (国立国語研究所, or 国研 Kokken) released its second list of suggested rewordings of gairai-go (外来語言い換え提案), or loan words mostly from western languages. However, unlike the efforts of some other national bodies, Kokken (or rather, the Gairaigo committee) does not wish to purge the Japanese language of evil foreign influences (yet! mwa ha ha), but instead encourage understanding and discourage evasive language. They point out that often the use of gairaigo is more about increasing ease for the writer or speaker (who can just import a foreign concept without explaining it), as opposed to increasing understanding for the reader or listener. Their suggestions are also, well, suggestions, rather than written-in-stone law.

In the case of English, I think of foreign borrowings -- say, karate -- as increasing precision of expression rather than fostering communicative evasion. Consider the case of anime, which the Japanese borrowed from English "animation", and we then borrowed back from them. (Or the stranger case of hentai, where a Japanese borrowing is used in the west for a genre of anime which the Japanese don't call "hentai", instead using foreign terms such as "H anime" or "eroanime".) In these cases, it looks to me like each stage of the process increases precision rather than evading it. One of the commenters here is explicit about this:

I like the word "hentai" because I can use that keyword in google to find English sites. If I want Japanese hentai from Japan I use the word "eroi", a word which doesn't exist in English. So it's very convenient.

But maybe other English loans in Japanese are used evasively?

Posted by Mark Liberman at August 1, 2006 06:29 AM