Loanwords in Japanese (II)

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Besides the influence of trade, foreign loanwords in Japanese have other implications too. By using loanwords, the speaker demonstrates being a cut above the rest in terms of education, social status and exposure. English as a universal language invokes the thought and feeling of one being polished and superior since many Japanese perceive Western culture to be more interesting and prestigiEous. Research findings show that ordinary folks usually adopt foreign words, such as English, in order to indicate a higher social status. Another contributing factor that supports the endorsement of foreign loanwords in Japanese may be the desire for novelty. As foreign loanwords tend to represent fresh and modern ideas and products, using such loanwords will enable one to appear well-informed and ahead of times.

It is not surprising to note that the prevalent foreign loanwords in Japanese can be found in the music industry. The fascination with English in the music scene is conspicuous – the titles of Japanese pop songs are very often in English. Let us take a look at just this particular list of loanwords!

Loanwords Katakana
genre (French) ジャンル janru
ballad (French) バラード barado
Black music ブラックミュジック burakkumyujikku
hip hop ヒップホップ hippuhoppu
jazz ジャズ jazu
pop ポップ poppu
rap ラップ rappu
backup dancer バックダンサー bakkudansa
band バンド bando
director ディレクター direkuta
group グループ gurupu
main vocal メインボーカル meinbokaru
member メンバー menba
songwriter ソングライター songuraita
lyric リリック ririkku
melody メロ mero
rhythm リズム rizumu
title タイトル taitoru
tempo (Italian) テンポ tenpo
collaboration コラボ korabo
maxi single マキシシングル makishishinguru
new single ニューシングル nyushinguru
live ライブ raibu
festival フェス fesu
one man live ワンマンライブ wanmanraibu

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Loanwords in Japanese (I)

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As native speakers mingle with foreigners and in turn, gain exposure to foreign ideas, objects and expressions, it is not surprising that such neologisms begin their foray into the native speakers’ world. Very often, these neologisms undergo very minimal change and in the case of the Japanese language, they are usually represented by katakana. Let’s take a look at some of the loanwords in Japanese:

Loanword Katakana
piano ピアノ piano
computer コンピュータ konpyuta
album アルバム arubamu
very delicious バリうま bariuma (bari is the intensifier – “very”)
arbeit (German – “work”) アルバイト arubaito (“part-time job”)

As we can observe from the above table, apart from a phonological change, loanwords in Japanese may also diverge from their original meaning. Taking arbeit into account, the meaning has undergone a shift – referring to a part-time job instead. With trade relations reviving between Japan and the foreigners especially after the 19th century, Japan’s contact with the outside world grew and so did its vocabulary. Before the 19th century – probably between the 16th to 17th century, Japan limited trading opportunities to the West due to the infiltration of Catholicism and the persistence of converting the locals into Catholics.

During the 5th century, Chinese loanwords were initially written in kanji (Chinese characters). However, as Japan opened herself up to other foreign traders, other loanwords soon began their foray into Japanese. For example, loanwords would come from Dutch and German (medicine) as well as French and Italian (music and food). Generally, loanwords that do not come from the West are written in katakana. Loanwords are Japanized in Japanese as they end up taking on a Japanese pronunciation feature. Two interesting examples of Japanized loanwords occur when Japanese speakers abbreviate new borrowings or create new expressions (coinage) from foreign loanwords.

Loanword Abbreviated
supermarket スーパー supa
departmental store デパート depato
Loanwords Coinage
salary, man サラリーマン salaryman “employee”

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