Mar 17, 2004

You say linguistic diversity, I say gairaigo

Japanese have a love-hate relationship with gairaigo, or foreign loan words. In a sense, the Japanese language wouldn't exist without them. All three "native" writing systems - kanji, hiragana, and katakana - are derived from Chinese characters imported around the 6th century A.D. From this perspective, the Japanese now speak an almost entirely borrowed language. Historically speaking.

But Japan is famous for its ability to adopt and adapt, if nothing else... and language is far from an exception. The kanji taken from Chinese evolved, the hiragana and katakana syllabaries were introduced (enter The Tale of Genji), and literacy spread to a much broader population. The People had their Language. And any subsequent intrusions on the language would be clearly labelled as such.

Which brings us to today's article: Who's Who in Japanese, from the International Herald Tribune.

A somewhat related story from, about a boy with tainted blood in Fukuoka.

And here's an interesting blog entry that illustrates the official schizo stance toward gairaigo. (I like the author's emphasis on the Latinate "per se.")


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