[japanese] ... flying knee! ... [japanese] ... why not say "flying knee" in japanese?
November 16, 2006 4:32 PM   Subscribe

Why the random English words used in asian language programming?

I've noticed a really strange phenomenon that confuses me, and I've seen it in many kinds of programming. It seems that in many asian-language programs (I was watching a Pride Fighting event last night, for example), there will be random english strewn about the 98% Japanese commentary.

The random English I'm hearing is not for things like brand names, or things there might just not be a Japanese word for.

For example: during the fight, a guy throws a flying knee, and the announcer says: [Japanese] ... flying knee! ... [Japanese....]

How and why does this happen, exactly? Clearly a country that invented or at least co-opted several of the most well known martial arts has its own names for a move that we in the US call a "flying knee."

I've seen this in other places as well, of course, but this is the most recent example I can think of.
posted by twiggy to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1. Phrases learned in english context. "Flying knee" is a rather unusual idea to express in any language, so maybe it became the popular thing to do in some english-language fighting style and that's where everyone heard of it.

2. Phrases used so commonly in english that they become more familiar than whatever other language the speaker is using. I've heard that done among people whose primary language isn't english, but they're speaking english much of the time for whatever reason. Random stuff like "traffic light", "grocery", "magazine", etc. in the middle of a conversation in cantonese.

3. Maybe "flying knee!" just sounds more stylish than whatever the japanese equivalent would be.
posted by sfenders at 4:50 PM on November 16, 2006

I know nothing about Pride fighting (other than what I've read on MeFi), but in general, English words will be used in Japan for their cachet.…uh, much as we use French words in English. Sometimes English will also be used to avoid some kind of ambiguity in Japanese, or simply because the English term has become conventional in a specialist context.

In this case, it's probably some mix of the first and third cause.

Fairly often you'll encounter the phenomenon of wasei eigo, literally, English made in Japan. English-sounding phrases invented in Japan and unknown outside Japan (except when popularized via Japanese media). I wouldn't be surprised if some of the stuff you hear is that.
posted by adamrice at 5:07 PM on November 16, 2006

A lot of the time when Japanese use loan words when there is a local equivalent, it's because the thing is a recent import. In ordinary sentence things which were invented or imported ages ago -"bicycle" "movie" "light" "phone" - they use Japanese, but newer things they use English-derived words - "internet" "television" "computer". Not sure when the changeover occured, but definitely stronger after WW2.
posted by dydecker at 5:11 PM on November 16, 2006

Oh shit, that doesn't make sense! I mean recently they didn't bother to make local equivalents and just imported the English word too.,
posted by dydecker at 5:14 PM on November 16, 2006

It sounds très chic and adds a certain je ne sai quois.
posted by mono blanco at 5:26 PM on November 16, 2006 [2 favorites]

In this era where popular wisdom has it that everyone in the universe hates America and Americans, it has to be understood that this is not the case for the Japanese. As Adam Rice says, English words have a cachet in Japanese and are more common than you might think.

Here are just a few that are in common usage.

But that's by no means a complete list. I've always liked danpu torakku, for instance. And wado purosessa.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:31 PM on November 16, 2006

What everyone else said, and ..

Japanese uses a lot of english words, they have a whole "alphabet" (katakana) just to pronounce and write english words.

Second, random english is usually thrown in to place emphasis
posted by mphuie at 6:32 PM on November 16, 2006

having lived in Tokyo for 7+ years, I can say that about 30% of the 'urban' language is/can be loan-words (95% of them from English), 30% are the kanji compounds (which generally function like our Latin-derived words for more fancy ideas), and 30%+ 'native' Japanese (grammar, the elementary vocabulary).
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:01 PM on November 16, 2006

MPhuie, katakana is used the way we use italics. It happens to be the case that katakana is used for foreign words, but it's also used for native words in order to emphasize them. Katakana was not created solely for the purpose of writing foreign words, and especially not solely for English words.

I've always thought this was a classic:
The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary. --James D. Nicoll
It turns out that modern Japanese is nearly as voracious for foreign words as modern English.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:33 PM on November 16, 2006

Katakana may have originally been for italics, but notice that all of the answers here so far are about Japanese in response to a question about "asian programming". You'll see a lot less foreign loan words on Chinese TV or newspapers than you'll see on the Japanese equivalent. Chinese doesn't have an analogue to katakana, and that may have something to do with it. I wonder about Korean, given that they use a phonetic alphabet...
posted by msittig at 9:56 PM on November 16, 2006

It's common in Japanese to use the foreign words for an entire foreign term, even though separate words exist in Japanese. Sure, the words "flying" and "knee" exist in Japanese, but the concept of "flying knee" is an import. That's why you hear it in English. See also curry rice, ice cream and about a zillion others.

Also Japanese has many loan words that aren't English that you're probably not hearing. French, Italian, German, and Portuguese most common. (Though with Japanese pronunciations and occasional shortenings.)

However it's not uncommon for a Japanese person to think that a loan words is English. Living in Japan people often use words with me that they mistakenly think are English.

Chinese is a bit different since they tend to bend existing words. My friends who are fluent in Mandarin or Cantonese and English prefer to read user manuals in English since the language is more precise.
posted by Ookseer at 6:58 AM on November 17, 2006

msittig: Katakana was not "originally" "for italics" -- that is how it is used now. A discursion on the history of Japanese orthography is beyond the scope of this post, and would bore most readers.

It just so happens that the most frequent use for katakana today is loan words. Loan words aren't only written in katakana (eg 煙草 or らーめん), and katakana isn't only used to express loanwords (eg, animal/plant names like シカ [a perfectly good yamato-kotoba] and emphasized words).
posted by adamrice at 7:07 AM on November 17, 2006

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