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The term Wasei-eigo (和製英語?, "Japanese-made English", "English words coined in Japan") refers to Japanese language expressions which superficially appear to come from English, but in fact do not. These words were originally borrowed loanwords deriving from English but have become so embedded into the Japanese lexicon that they are re-fashioned to create a novel meaning – diverging from its original intended meaning.[1]:124 An example of wasei-eigo is reberu appu (レベルアップ 'level up'?), which means "raise a level", the preposition being interpreted in line with Japanese word order as a verb qualifying its preceding object). Some wasei-eigo terms are not recognizable as English words in English-speaking countries, such as sukinshippu (スキンシップ 'skinship'?), which refers to physical contact and appears to have been coined from skin and kinship.[2]:156–157 In other cases, a word may simply have gained a slightly different meaning; kanningu (カンニング?) means not "cunning", but "cheating."

Wasei-eigo compared to other Japanese word classes

Wasei-eigo is distinct from Engrish, as it consists of words used in Japanese conversation, not an attempt at speaking English.[3] These include acronyms and initialisms particular to Japan (see list of Japanese Latin alphabetic abbreviations). Wasei-eigo can be compared to wasei kango (和製漢語?, Japanese-created kango (Chinese compounds)), which are Japanese pseudo-Sinicisms (Japanese words created from Chinese roots) and are also extremely common.

History and process

There was a large influx of English loanwords introduced to Japan during the Meiji period, which was an important factor in Japan’s modernization.[4] Because they were so quickly accepted into Japanese society there is not a thorough understanding of the actual meaning of the word, leading to misinterpretations and deviations from their original meaning.

Since English loanwords are adopted into Japan intentionally (as opposed to diffusing "naturally" through language contact, etc.), the meaning often deviates from the original. When these loanwords become so deeply embedded in the Japanese lexicon, it leads to experimentation and re-fashioning of the words' meaning, thus resulting in wasei-eigo.[1]:127 For example, manshon phonetically came from the English word "mansion" but instead has the meaning of "apartment", albeit with a more luxurious connotation.[5]

In the media

Many scholars also agree that the main proponent behind these wasei-eigo terms is mainly the media to create interest and novelty in their advertising and products.[1]:133 The use of English words is also an attempt by advertisers to portray a modern, cosmopolitan image – one that is often associated with Western culture.[6]:48

Social connotations and main users of wasei-eigo

Though there is disagreement about the assumption that the majority creators of wasei-eigo are the aforementioned advertisers, the audience that predominantly uses wasei-eigo is youth and women.[1]:123–139 Many Japanese consider English loanword usage to be more casual and as being used mainly among peers of the same status.[6]:49 Numerous wasei-eigo terms refer to sexual or risqué topics:[1]:123–139 some examples are sōpu rando ソープランド "soap land" (which refers to a Turkish bath-style brothel), biniiru bon ビニール本 "vinyl books" (bon being the Japanese word for "book" (hon) after having undergone phonological processing) to mean pornography that is wrapped and sold in plastic covers, and deeto kissa デート喫茶 "date coffee shop" (kissa being the truncated word for kissaten "coffee shop" in Japanese) meaning a place to set up meetings and services with prostitutes.[1]:123–139

English loanwords are usually written in katakana, making it apparent that they are words non-native to Japan.[7]:73 This constant reminder that these are loanwords, and not natively Japanese, links the meanings of the words with the idea of "foreignness". Because of this, wasei-eigo (and some English loanwords) is often used as a method for speaking about taboo and controversial topics in a safe and neutral way.[6]:52 Like the aforementioned examples above, because these words are not native Japanese words and are marked as foreign in their writing, it can be associated with concepts and subjects that are non-normal or unique to Japan.[6]:57

Confusion with gairaigo

Wasei-eigo is often confused with gairaigo, which is simply loanwords or “words from abroad”. The main contributor to this confusion is that many gairaigo words derived from English are mistaken for wasei-eigo due to the phonological and morphological transformation they undergo to suit Japanese phonology and syllabary. These transformations often result in truncated (or "backclipped") words and words with extra vowels inserted to accommodate to the Japanese mora syllabic structure.[7]:70 Wasei-eigo, on the other hand, is the re-working of and experimentation with these words that result in an entirely novel meaning as compared to the original intended meaning.[1]:123–139

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Miller, L. (1998). Wasei eigo: English “loanwords” coined in Japan. The life of language: Papers in linguistics in honor of William Bright.
  2. Miura, Akira (1998). English in Japanese: a selection of useful loanwords.
  3. Nagae, Akira (October 28, 2005). 恥ずかしい和製英語 [著]スティーブン・ウォルシュ (book review) (in Japanese). Weekly Asahi. Retrieved July 29, 2014. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help) <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. MacGregor, Laura (2003). The language of shop signs in Tokyo. English Today, null, pp 18 doi:10.1017/ S0266078403001020
  5. Seargeant, Philip. (2005). Globalisation and reconfigured English in Japan. World Englishes, 24(3), 315. doi:10.1111/j.0083-2919.2005.00412.x
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Hogan, J. (2003). The social significance of English usage in Japan. Japanese studies, 23(1).
  7. 7.0 7.1 KAY, G. (1995), English loanwords in Japanese. World Englishes, 14. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-971X.1995.tb00340.x

Further reading

  • Miller, Laura (1997). "Wasei eigo: English 'loanwords' Coined in Japan". In Hill, Jane H.; Mistry, P.J.; Campbell, Lyle. The Life of Language: Papers in Linguistics in Honor of William Bright. Trends in Linguistics: Studies and Monographs. 108. Berlin: Mouton / De Gruyter. pp. 123–139. ISBN 3110156334.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> at Google Books
  • Masuda, Koh, ed. (1991). Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary (4th ed.). Tokyo: Kenkyusha Limited. ISBN 4-7674-2015-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Gakken (2003). 用例でわかるカタカナ新語辞典 (in japanese). ISBN 4-05-301351-8. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help) <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Miura, Akira (1998). English in Japanese : a selection of useful loanwords (1. Weatherhill ed.). New York [u.a.]: Weatherhill. ISBN 0834804212.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links