Friday, September 23, 2011

Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki April 12, 1996 (About カタカナ (katakana))

As an English teacher I often get asked questions about English. However, I also often get asked questions about Japanese! For example, the baseball term デッドボール (dead ball) or the term for marriage, ゴールイン (goal-in), although they sound like English, are actually Japanese-made-up-terms. Also, popular songs such as ハート・ ツー・ハート (haato tu haato) and  ハーティー・パーティー (haati paati) are good examples. If you ask any American about these terms no one will understand them. Why? Because all of these are actually not English but Japanese.

I have been studying Japanese for approximately 14 years. I like Hiragana and Kanji because they are logical and easy to remember. However, I hate Katakana. If you write my name in Japanese in Hiragana as
らっせる, you still won't think I'm a Japanese person. (Note: Katakana is the "alphabet" used exclusively for foreign words Japanaese have adopted into their language. Hiragana and Kanji are used almost exclusively for "native" Japanese and Chinese terms.) However, if you write  ゴールイン ("goal in") in Katakana I think most people will just naturally assume that this is an English term for getting married, when in fact it isn't!

Also, I hate terms such as ハート・ツー・ハート (haato tu haato). If you spell it "Heart to Heart" it makes sense in English and we have this term. However, this song is actually spells it as "Hurt to Heart," meaning a heartache of some kind...and of course, this is not a correct English term. In Japanese these two words "hurt" and "heart" are close but different; in Japanese using Katakana they turn into the same word! This is a mistake. Young people I know think this sort of thing sounds "cool." However, if you really want to be cool, I'd suggest bypassing the Katakana mistake and go directly to the English. We live in an international age, and it won't be any easier if we don't communicate in foreign languages correctly.

By the way, last week's Aya Shu-Ho had a spelling error of our own. The word should have been "Information." We'll all try to be more careful in the future. See you next time!

I wrote this article in April 1996 and I still hate Katakana. I think it is a terrible crutch for the Japanese to learn English badly. Don't get me started on all the problems with the Ministry of Education...! :-)
Eventually I hope to have Japanese language capabilities on this comptuer and then I'll be able to write in Japanese. Until then, I will have to make do with cutting and pasting.
Mata ne!

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