A pensioner is suing Japan’s national broadcaster for emotional distress, claiming the overuse of foreign loanwords has rendered many of its programs unintelligible, his lawyer said yesterday.
Hoji Takahashi, 71, is demanding ￥1.41 million (US$14,000) in damages for the broadcaster’s reliance on words borrowed from English, instead of their traditional Japanese counterparts.
“The basis of his concern is that Japan is being too Americanized,” lawyer Mutsuo Miyata said. “There is a sense of crisis that this country is becoming just a province of America.”
Japanese has a rich native vocabulary, but has a tradition of borrowing words from other languages, often quite inventively and sometimes changing their meaning in the process.
Most Japanese speakers do not think twice about using words including “trouble,” “risk,” “drive” or “parking,” among many others.
Though English provides the bulk of loanwords — an inheritance of the post-World War II US occupation and subsequent fascination with US culture — words borrowed from many other languages are also in use.
Thus, the word for part-time work is a Japanized version of the German arbeit, concierge comes from the French and the Spanish pan is understood as bread.
However, Japan’s phonic structure, in which sounds are usually made of a consonant and a vowel, renders many of these borrowed words unintelligible to speakers of the language from which they came.
The English “trouble” becomes toraburu, for example, while the French concierge is pronounced konsheruju.
Takahashi, a member of Nihongo Wo Taisetsu Ni Suru Kai (the Treat Japanese as Important Association), brought his suit because all his entreaties to NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) had been ignored, his lawyer said.
“He decided to file the suit because the broadcaster did not bother to reply to him,” said Miyata, a former high-school classmate of the plaintiff.
“This is a matter of Japanese culture, the country itself, including its politics and its economy,” he said.
NHK said it would refrain from commenting on the matter as it has not yet received any legal documents from the court.
Traditionalists in France and French-speaking Canada also worry about the erosion of their native tongue as the influence of Hollywood spreads.
In 1994, French parliamentarians passed the Toubon Law, which stipulates that the language of education in France must be French, bar some exceptions.
Quebec has a government agency to enforce rules that demand a certain amount of written material must be in French.