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Japan's national broadcaster is being sued for not speaking Japanese

A pensioner says wants €11,000 in damages because NHK uses too many English words.

Image: takako tominaga via Flickr

A PENSIONER is suing Japan’s national broadcaster for emotional distress, claiming the overuse of foreign loanwords has rendered many of its programmes unintelligible.

Hoji Takahashi, 71, is demanding 1.41 million yen (€11,000) in damages for the broadcaster’s reliance on words borrowed from English, instead of their traditional Japanese counterparts.

“The basis of his concern is that Japan is being too Americanised,” the man’s lawyer Mutsuo Miyata said.

“There is a sense of crisis that this country is becoming just a province of America.”

Japanese has a rich native vocabulary, but has a tradition of borrowing words from other languages – often quite inventively and sometimes changing their meaning in the process.

Most Japanese speakers do not think twice about using words including “trouble”, “risk”, “drive” or “parking”, among many others.

Although English provides the bulk of loanwords – an inheritance of the post-World War II occupation by the United States, and the country’s subsequent fascination with American culture – words borrowed from many other languages are also in use.

Thus, the word for part-time work is a Japanised version of the German ‘arbeit’, ‘concierge’ comes from the French, and the Spanish ‘pan’ is understood as bread.

However Japan’s phonic structure, in which sounds are usually made of a consonant and a vowel, renders many of these borrowed words unintelligible to speakers of the language from which they came.

The English “trouble” becomes ‘toraburu’, for example, while the French “concierge” is pronounced ‘konsheruju’.

Takahashi, a member of “Nihongo wo taisetsu ni suru kai” (The ‘Treat Japanese as Important’ Association), brought his suit because entreaties to NHK had been ignored, his lawyer said.

“He decided to file the suit because the broadcaster did not bother to reply to him,” said Miyata, a former highschool classmate of the plaintiff.

“This is a matter of Japanese culture, the country itself, including its politics and its economy,” he said.

NHK said it would refrain from commenting on the matter as it has not received any legal documents from the court.

Traditionalists in France and French-speaking Canada also worry about the erosion of their native tongue as the influence of Hollywood spreads.

In 1994, French parliamentarians passed the “Toubon Law”, which stipulates that the language of education in France must be French, bar some exceptions.

Quebec has a government agency to enforces rules that demand a certain amount of written material must be in French.

- © AFP, 2013

Read: Japanese minister: ‘Our banks escaped crisis because we can’t speak English’

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