“In the beginning was the Word…” John 1:1a
Japanese has a reputation for being a very difficult language for native English speakers to master, but it actually incorporates a considerable number of English words in its vocabulary. Unfortunately, many of these words are often unrecognizable. Called gairaigo (外来語), meaning literally “words from outside,” these loanwords are usually written in the special katakana alphabet that is exclusively used for adopted foreign words. All such borrowed words undergo an initial form of transformation just to fit the standard Japanese pronunciation pattern of consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel which in itself tends to elongate the original word. An example of this is the single syllable word “desk” which becomes “de-su-ku” in Japanese. In addition to this adaptation, certain English sounds are not available in the Japanese language so this invites an even further departure from the original pronunciation. A good portion of this borrowed vocabulary is also truncated and often uniquely combined with other gairaigo to form an entirely new word not normally found in English lexicons. The now internationally used term “cosplay” (コスプレ), which is used to describe the practice of dressing up as a character in a movie or comic book, was created by the Japanese using a combination of the English terms “costume” and “play.” Perhaps the following story, using a number of gairaigo terms, will serve to illustrate how the Japanese curiously incorporate English into their everyday speech.
A day in the life…
I left my apa-to1 and got on my baiku2 to go shopping at the depa-to3. On the way, I stopped at the gasorinstando4 to get gas and then pulled into the local konbini5 to pick up a snack and a carton of miruku6. After parking my baiku at the station, I purchased a chiketto7, waited at the correct ho-mu8 for my train, and along with the other sarari-man9, I was careful not to sit in the designated shiruba-shito10 located in every train car. At the depa-to, I found several ba-gen11 and bought some hankachi12 for my father. In the electronic section of the store, I briefly watched a show featuring my favorite aidoru13 and then using the rimokon14, I switched channels to an amefuto14 game on the large screen terebi15. So much shopping made me tired, so I went to the food court, ordered a sarada16, drank some ko-hi-17 and munched on some furaidopoteto18 while enjoying the eakon19 as it was hot outside. On the way home, I passed many biru20 and then went to work on my pasukon21 while enjoying a cold bi-ru22.
Words are essential to effective communication no matter what language we use. This is why Jesus is called the “Word” (John 1:1) as God amazingly sought to communicate with mankind and freely offered redemption through His Son. In many ways, this form of communication seems like a foreign language to those of us who think we can earn God’s favor by our actions and efforts. Instead, God extends grace and truth through the Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us to convey God’s message of love (John 1:14) for all people. This is truly an utterance that speaks to the desperate needs of our heart in any language.
depa-to3 (department store)
gasorinstando4 (gas station)
konbini5 (convenience store)
sarari-man9 (salary men)
shiruba-shito10 (silver/elderly seating)
rimokon14 (remote control)
amefuto14 (American football)
furaidopoteto18 (fried potato-french fries)
eakon19 (air conditioning)
pasukon21 (personal computer)