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Unlocking the encoded English vocabulary in the Japanese language: Accessing the full wealth of English-based vocabulary in Japanese society

  • Keith Barrs

The Japanese linguistic landscape is a dynamically vibrant area with words and phrases appearing in a vast array of locations written in a wide range of scripts, fonts, sizes and colours, and all serving a complex and interconnected array of functions. This visual landscape of shop signs, street signs, advertising posters, information boards and vending machines is complemented by a similar vibrancy and dynamism in more private domains such as restaurant menus, product packaging, clothing, newspaper articles, magazine stories and TV advertising. Immediately striking an observer of these contexts is the fact that, although the Japanese language has a highly complex writing system incorporating an admixture of logographic, syllabic and alphabetic characters, a great many of the words and phrases in Japanese social contexts are transcribed in Latin alphabet characters. Because the vast majority of these lexical items are either direct imports of words from the English language (often termed ‘loanwords' or ‘borrowings') or domestic creations based on English vocabulary (often termed ‘wasei eigo'/‘Japan-created English'), those who are familiar with the English language are assisted in their orientation around Japan by this pervasive use of English-based vocabulary.

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English Today
  • ISSN: 0266-0784
  • EISSN: 1474-0567
  • URL: /core/journals/english-today
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