Stamping out the loan-word disease in Japanese

The “Foreign Loan-word Committee” has issued recommendations for replacing 33 common katakana-isms with “native” Japanese.

Thank God they backed off on some of their worst proposals, like replacing “online” with “kaisen-setsuzoku”.

Of their new proposals, I especially like “setsumei sekinin” for “accountability”. In other words, the Japanese view accountability as the question of who has to explain something.

A lot of the proposed replacements are to just use the obvious Japanese, such as “dougu” for “tool”. Ditto for replacing “stance” with “tachiba”, or “conference” with “kaigi”.

But that begs the question: why did people start using “tool” in the first place, when they already had “dougu”? That’s a critical question of linguistic philosophy which the grayhairs on the committee didn’t even try to answer. I know the answer. The centuries-old Chinese compounds have been rounded and smoothed like rocks in a river-bed by the forces of linguistic nature over time. The English words are young, agile, opinionated, angular, with a personality (make that PA-SONARITI). In that sense, they have a different semantic profile. Simply put, they mean something different. That’s why people started to use them and will continue to use them.

But what’s really weird is that what they’re proposing to replace the 30-year-old borrowings with are themselves borrowings into Japanese, just much older ones!

One Response to “Stamping out the loan-word disease in Japanese”

  1. Brian Richmond Says:

    Is “setsumei sekinin” conceptually equivalent to Ricky Ricardo’s: “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do!” ?

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