Kanji Clinic #59 The Japan Times, September 2, 2004
"Incomprehensible foreign loanwords land on hit list"

A panel set up by the National Institute for Japanese Language (Kokugoken) has declared war on domesutikkubaiorensu (domestic violence)--not on the problem itself, but on the term describing it.

Domesutikkubaiorensu, an 11-syllable mouthful of a word often abbreviated to "DV," was coined in the late 1990s, when the Japanese government moved to enact laws protecting victims of this social problem for which there was a growing awareness but no name.

According to recent research conducted by Kokugoken, the meaning of domesutikkubaiorensu, a foreign loanword (gairaigo) written in katakana, is understood by only half of the Japanese public aged 15 and older. The institute's advisory panel, comprised of university professors, authors, and journalists, is recommending that its own linguistic creation, ”z‹ôŽÒŠÔ–\—Í (haiguushyakanbouryoku, violence-between-spouses) be adopted as a substitute by the media and government.

English-based loanwords hold an intellectual or exotic appeal for many Japanese people, but their ever-increasing numbers have rendered a sizable portion of the Japanese language incomprehensible to the average native speaker. Kokugoken has determined that the worst offenders should be replaced with more easily understandable kanji compound words. ”z‹ôŽÒŠÔ–\—Í is one of 142 kanji substitutes for gairaigo the panel has proposed since announcing its first hit list in April 2003. The final version of the third list (in a planned series of four) will be released later this month. The three lists can be viewed at www.kokken.go.jp/public/gairaigo/.

Many of the targeted gairaigo represent concepts related to recent trends in business, government, and health care. The panel, making use of the remarkable creative power of kanji, has invented compound-word substitutes for the likes of "dumping" (•s“–—õ”„, futourenbai, unfair-cheap-selling), "think tank" (­ôŒ¤‹†‹@ŠÖ, seisakukenyuukikan, policy- research-institute) and ginformed medical consenth (”[“¾f—à nattokushinryou, understood-diagnosis and treatment).

In its face-off against the legions of computer-related gairaigo that have poured into the Japanese language in the past decade, the panel endeavored to find substitutes for such loanwords as "online" and "database." It eventually surrendered to these two, already well-entrenched in the language, and struck them from the list. But the panel is still holding out hope for Ú‘±ŠJŽn (setsuzokukaishi, connection-commencement) to replace "log-in."

Many of the recommended replacements, including Ú‘±ŠJŽn, are not newly coined words. The panel advocates that gairaigo interlopers raiburarii (library), tsuuru (tool), and deribarii (delivery) not be allowed to replace good old-fashioned Japanese words }‘ŠÙ (toshokan, library), “¹‹ï(dougu, tool), and ”z’B (haitatsu, delivery). Politicians pepper their speeches with flashy gairaigo like gabanansu (governance) and konsensasu (consensus), but since three out of four of their listeners don't have a clue what those two mean, the panel suggests sticking with tried-and-true “Ž¡(touchi, governance) and “¯ˆÓ (doui, consensus).

It is unlikely that Kokugoken's quixotic efforts will result in a major victory over gairaigo. We kanji lovers, though, can enjoy observing the skirmishes as we wait to see which of the panel-recommended kanji compound words actually triumph over gairaigo and take root in the language.


Match each gairaigo below with the kanji compound word the Kokugoken panel recommends as its substitute:

1. ƒAƒJƒEƒ“ƒ^ƒrƒŠƒeƒB[@akauntabiritii (accountability)
2. ƒA[ƒJƒCƒu aakaibu (archive)
3. ƒGƒ“ƒpƒ[ƒƒ“ƒg enpawaamento (empowerment)
4. ƒLƒƒƒsƒ^ƒ‹ƒQƒCƒ“ kyapitarugein (capital gain)
5. ƒZƒJƒ“ƒhƒIƒsƒjƒIƒ“ sekandoopinion (second opinion)
6. ƒp[ƒgƒi[ƒVƒbƒv paatonaashippu (partnership)
7. ƒCƒ“ƒZƒ“ƒeƒBƒu insentibu (incentive)
8. ƒAƒZƒXƒƒ“ƒg asesumento (assessment)

a. ‰e‹¿•]‰¿ (effect-evaluation) b.Ž‘ŽY‰v (asset-profit) c. ‘æ“ñf’f (second-medical-diagnosis). d.‹L˜^•Û‘¶ŠÙ (records-preservation-building) e. ˆÓ—~ŽhŒƒ (volition-stimulation) f.”\—ÍŠJ‰» (ability-enlightenment) g.‹¦—ÍŠÖŒW (cooperation-relationship) h. à–¾Ó”C (explanation-responsibility)

1.h, setsumeisekinin 2.d, kirokuhozonkan, 3.f, nouryokukaika 4.b, shisaneki 5.c, dainishindan 6.g, kyouryokukankei 7.e, iyokushigeki 8.a, eikyouhyouka

How do the Chinese deal with foreign loanwords? Read this column to find out.
Have you read the latest Reader Response

Home Previous Columns Book Reviews Other Articles Reader Response Links