In order to gain an overall picture of loan words in Japanese, it is important to consider their historical background. Long before European languages were introduced, China was the single most prominent influence on Japanese culture and language (Miller, 1967, 1986; Loveday, 1996). China‟s political system, culture, and language were introduced to Japan, often by way of Korea, and were incorporated by the early Japanese powers during the fifth and the sixth centuries, A.D. (Miller, 1967; Inaga & Takemori, 1997). One of the major consequences of this contact was the introduction of the written language and the mass importation of Chinese characters, as Japan had not developed its own orthography (Loveday, 1996; Inaga & Takemori, 1997).
By the eighth century, Chinese had gained „high second language‟ status and was used in various formal domains in Japanese society, such as law, academics, and religion (Loveday, 1996). However, as the Japanese developed their own scripts in addition to inventing a system for reading and writing Chinese characters based on the Japanese grammar and vocabulary, Chinese was no longer a subject of second language learning but was dissected and imported into Japanese itself as Sino-Japanese (Loveday, 1996; Irwin, 2005). For instance, words that did not exist in native Japanese, such as political terminologies, Buddhist concepts, and objects from the continent, were acquired through Chinese orthography with the pronunciation relatively faithful to the original language. For example, the native Japanese word for „mountain‟ is Yama, which is 山 in written Chinese. Since the word had already existed in spoken Japanese, only the written form of the word was incorporated, but not the Chinese sound for 山. However, for words that did exist in Japanese, either the Chinese translation was added as an alternative word choice, or only the Chinese character for the word was employed to express the original Japanese word. Thus, there are two possible choices for the word „mountain range‟ in Japanese: one is native Japanese word yamanami, which comes from yama („mountain’) and nami („range‟) and the other is sanmyaku, which is a direct loan word from Chinese („山脈‟) (Yan, 1994). The two words, however, slightly differ in their subtle nuances and appear in different contexts. While the Japanese word yamanami typically refers to a smaller range of mountains and connotes a softer impression than the Sino-Japanese sanmyaku, which is always used as the official name of the mountain range (i.e. Hidaka sanmyaku (日高山脈), „the Hidaka Mountains‟).
Chinese influences, whether orthographical or lexical, are so deeply embedded in today’s Japanese that they are considered inseparable elements of the language (Miller, 1967). The Chinese character remains one of the three scripts of Japanese orthography, and words that originate from Chinese comprise 49 % of the Japanese vocabulary (Kindaichi, 2002). Thus, by the time the importation of ELWs began, the Japanese had already experienced a major language contact, which helped establish a unique method of incorporating foreign vocabulary. Japan’s first major contact with the West dates back to the 16th century when Portuguese and Spanish missionaries and trade merchants arrived in Japan. However, the impact of the contact was limited at that time, as there was little or no centralized promotion of the outside world due to long lasting provincial wars and isolationist policies during the Edo period (1600–1868) (Miller, 1967; Inagaki & Takemori, 1997; Loveday, 1996). With the Meiji Reform in the late 19th century, however, westernization of the country was promoted at a rapid rate. The government played a leading role by sending delegates to European countries and rigorously importing Western literature, politics, technology, science, and culture. European culture and language were considered to be the symbol of modernization and sophistication (Loveday, 2008). During this period, there were several major European languages from which words were imported: English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and Russian. In addition to direct loan words, creation of new Japanese-based words for the newly introduced concepts and vocabulary was undertaken. For example, the importation of the concept democracy resulted in two new words entering the Japanese vocabulary: minshushugi (民主主義), which is a calque using the Chinese orthography, and a phonologically modified English loan word demokurashii (デモクラシー) (Loveday, 1996). The next major wave of contact with the West came after World War II. In this period, importation of Western values and culture, most directly from the U. S., was conditioned both by the Allied occupation between 1945 and 1952, and the public’s social motivation to embrace and become part of the Western world and its economic success (Loveday, 1996).
With the economy booming in the 1980’s and 1990’s, overseas traveling and English learning gained greater popularity, resulting in more English-Japanese language contacts among ordinary people. There was a common pattern for the importations of Chinese and European languages; when the government regarded the language and the culture of the donor language to be valuable and important for the country‟s future, a great deal of investment was made for a small group of elites to acquire the language (Loveday, 1996). These elites acquired the new language as a whole and used it bilingually, separating one language from the other. However, when the language eventually reached the public for its own use, it was reduced to smaller segments, usually at the lexical level, which were eventually digested to become part of the Japanese vocabulary. The importation of Chinese, after a few revivals during the Edo period, seems to have come to an end at the moment, as we have not seen new Chinese loan words entering Japanese since. On the contrary, English seems to continue to be an active donor language, adding a significant number of loan words each year. Presently, ELWs make up eight percent of the total Japanese vocabulary and 94 % of all Western loan words, which also include Dutch, Portuguese, and German (Japanese National Language Research Institute, as cited in Stanlaw, 2004). Furthermore, Sanseidou, one of Japan‟s leading dictionary publishers, recently released a new edition of the Concise Katakana-Word Dictionary (Sanseido, 2010), a compilation of 48,100 foreign origin words, most of which are of English origin.
1. Miller, 1967, 1986;
2. Loveday, 1996
3. Inaga & Takemori, 1997
4. Y Kindaichi, 2002, 1994
5. Stanlaw, 2004
6. Sanseido, 2010