This article was contributed by Spencer Huddleston from myGengo, a Tokyo-based startup devoted to breaking down language barriers and making global communication accessible to all through high quality human translation services that are always scalable, convenient and affordable.
If you understand words like karate, karaoke, sushi, origami, ramen and sumo then you must have a pretty solid comprehension of the English language. (And yes, I do mean English!) Wait...what's that you say? Oh, you thought these were Japanese words, did you? Believe it or not, they're actually both languages—words of Japanese origin that over time have each made it into the English dictionary. And if you still don't believe it, check the Oxford Dictionary of English for yourself!
In fact, many more Japanese words also appear in English dictionaries, but unlike the words rambled off above, you've probably never even heard of them. Or if you have heard of them, then chances are you had no idea they were English. Let's take a look at some of these together! (Right after we learn how they ended up in the dictionary in the first place.)
How do Words Make it Into the Dictionary?
So how exactly do words make it into the dictionary anyway? Excellent question—in fact, it’s one so commonly pondered by inquiring minds that Oxford Dictionaries lists it on their website amongst the top of their most frequently asked questions. As explained in the FAQs, texts from all types of published materials (both written and spoken) are monitored and tracked daily. Using software to analyze emerging word trends (including context, usage and spelling) lexicographers are able to capture an accurate snapshot of a language on any given day. The words that appear consistently and across a variety of different mediums are those considered for dictionary entry.
In other words, every single word (regardless of its origin) can only enter a language "officially" if it's been determined that the word has been used enough, over a period long enough, carrying a weight significant enough for it to earn a rite of passage into the dictionary. The next 5 examples below have all achieved this accomplishment.
5 Japanese Words in the English Dictionary
Example Sentence:Even if a foreigner living in Japan has their Japanese citizenship, in the eyes of the Japanese, they will always be considered a gaijin.class=MsoHyperlink>gaijin.
Example Sentence: My boss is a total workaholic and if he doesn't slow down he's going to be a victim of karoshi before he ever makes it to his 40th birthday.
Example Sentence: Statistics show that the suicide rate among hikikomori is higher than ever before and I feel sorry anyone who suffers from this awful sickness.
Example Sentence: I think the Hello Kitty watch your boyfriend gave you for your birthday is super kawaii, and once again, I'm totally jealous of your cute accessories.
Example Sentence: People may call me everything from fanboy to nerd to geek, but the truth is that being an anime otaku makes me who I am.
Translating English Words of Japanese Origin
Let’s say you're a translator who happens to come across an English word of
Japanese origin in your source text. Do you leave it alone because it's in the
English dictionary or do you translate it? The short and safe answer is that it
all depends. For example, if you come across the word "ramen" during a
translation, you probably aren't going to translate it as "Japanese soupy
noodle dish". That is, unless the context of what you're translating
warrants it to be translated that way. An instance like this might include a
translation where the purpose of the translation is to explain different types
of Japanese dishes in very basic layman's terms. Otherwise, it usually makes
the most sense to keep the word as “ramen”.
As any seasoned translator will tell you, translation is an art, not a science and over time even the new beginners will begin to learn a sense for what works best.
One Last Japanese Word We Want in English