Gratuitous English in Japan

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    Gratuitous English as used in Japan.

    This is not so much an Japanese Media Trope as a feature of the Japanese language. It shows up prominently in anime and can easily be misunderstood by people who don't speak Japanese. The Japanese language includes many "foreign loan words" (Gairaigo). While a few of these words, like "tabako" (cigarettes) and "pan" (bread, borrowed from early Portuguese sailors), have been in use for over a hundred years, most date to the post-war period.

    They are a common, everyday part of Japanese language with their own usage and meaning (often slightly different from the source, sometimes very different), appear in dictionaries alongside normal words (the same way that the word burrito appears in an English dictionary), etc. etc.

    For example, a schoolgirl who feels she has just received a stroke of good fortune might squeal "Rakki!" This originates from the English word "Lucky!" She is not "trying to speak English because it's cool" but simply saying what a Japanese person of that age and education level would say in that situation.[1]

    There are three kinds of English in Japan: English the foreign language, English that becomes Japanese, and Japanese-made English. Interestingly, the Japanese language has many loan words from English. Sometimes, an English word is used in place of an equivalent Japanese term. That's in contrast to Chinese or French, whose speakers favor making new words based on Chinese or French[2] rather than using foreign words. Japanese-made English is something else. It often falls under Gratuitous English. One famous example of this is the "Walkman".

    Occasionally, gratuitous English will be applied in an effort to give something an exotic flair, usually resulting in a lot of Foreign Sounding Gibberish. It can also appear on signs, books and particularly T-shirts (this is true of T-shirts in nearly every country, however, such as in English-speaking countries who put gratuitous Asian words on t-shirts). Sometimes this use is grammatically proper, and sometimes it's just bizarre. has dozens, nay hundreds, of examples. What's odd is that Japanese consumer products have English not because it saves money on international sales, it's because it just looks cool. Japanese stereos have "Volume", "Bass" and "Treble" labels while they could've used the Japanese words for those. This can be extended to other "exotic" languages, but English is the most common. It's roughly the same reason why some Westerners tattoo themselves with "Asian" signs (with about the same level of grammatic and syntactic success, but much more permanence). It should be noted that Gratuitous English is more ubiquitous, however.

    Sometimes using Gratuitous English can be convenient for Kotobagari. Foreign words can provide useful euphemisms for potentially offensive words. Gratuitous English can also be used in an attempt to add verisimilitude to a token foreign or foreign-raised character, as real people almost invariably revert to their native tongues when they are counting, cursing, startled, or otherwise stressed.

    Gratuitous English is so common in the Japanese language that it's said if a writer wants to pen a historical novel with accurate period dialog, it's going to be hard to do -- foreign loanwords now saturate the Japanese language and those loanwords have often displaced equivalent Japanese terms. Besides English, Japanese language also take many loanwords from Spanish, Portuguese, French and even other Asian languages like Chinese and Korean, The irony of this is that the Japanese have far fewer English speakers than South Korea and China.

    Anime Theme Songs are rife with Gratuitous English but these are tricky to put into the actual show, lest you have rampant narms. Mind you, this doesn't stop many from trying, and is especially common with characters that are supposed to be American.

    Tends to result (from an Anglophone's point of view, anyway) in You No Take Candle - or, at best, Buffy-Speak.

    1. The equivalent Japanese word has slightly different connotations, explaining why a foreign word was adopted to express this situation.
    2. Only the French government thinks this, however. Using the French name for "CD" is a good way to elicit laughter in young Frenchmen.