October 15, 2009

Linguistic heads in the clouds

The Wall Street Journal documents the comically absurd lengths France's General Commission of Terminology and Neology will go to in order to purge those ugly Anglo-Saxon Americanisms from the mother tongue.

Before a word such as "cloud computing" receives a certified French equivalent, it needs to be approved by three organizations and get a government minister's seal of approval, according to rules laid out by the state's General Delegation for the French Language and the Languages of France.

The Japanese, in stark contrast, borrow English terminology with such carefree abandon that at times even I wonder sometimes why they didn't stick to the Japanese equivalent.

Consider the kanji for "out" (外). Appended to the kanji for "appearance" and the compound means "facade." Appended to the kanji for "person" and the compound means "foreigner."

There are thousands of such "外" compounds in Japanese. Still, it is quite convenient, especially considering the surfeit of homophones in Japanese, to have "out" words whose meanings is confined to a specific cultural context.

The English "out" (アウト) was imported with foreign sports popular in Japan: an "out" in baseball, a ball that is "out" in tennis, the "out nine" (and "in nine") of a golf course. And spread like wildfire. Used as a standalone word, a suffix and a prefix, Eijirou comes up with 1040 corpus citations.

In Japanese, though, the phonetic "spelling" of kana forces a vowel after every consonant (except /n/), and thus distorts the pronunciation of "borrowed" words so much that they are mostly unrecognizable to foreign ears.

But here the French simply need to understand that any Anglo-Saxon word spoken with a sufficiently snooty French accent will be assumed to have been etymologically French all along. Voilà! Problem solved!

By the way, "cloud computing" in Japanese is "kuroudo konpuutingu" (クラウドコンピューティング).

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# posted by Anonymous Dan
So how does one translate

10/16/2009 10:34 AM

# posted by Blogger Eugene
Eijirou has an entry, though only definitionally: as something wonderful, fantastic or unbelievable; an expression of praise or admiration.

A favorite tongue-twister for tourists is McDonald's (マクドナルド), pronounced "Makudonarudo."
10/16/2009 10:58 AM