Friday, June 13, 2008

'Inggrish' to the Fore

I am currently reading a highly entertaining book on the evolution of the English language titled Mother Tongue, written by best-selling author, Bill Bryson (pix).

Despite being born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, Bryson, married for the last two decades to an Englishwoman from Yorkshire, has the dazzling dry wit of a Brit. All his writings, no matter how mundane the topic, entertain and enthrall.

Just savour his opening paragraph in Mother Tongue: "More than 300 million people in the world speak English and the rest, it sometimes seems, try to. It would be charitable to say that the results are sometimes mixed.

Consider this warning to motorists in Tokyo; "When a passenger of the foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet at him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage, then tootle him with vigor."

It would appear that one of the beauties of the English language is that, with even the most tenuous grasp you can speak volumes if you show enough enthusiasm - a willingness to tootle with vigour, as it were."

According to Bryson, the Japanese are particular masters at the art of seizing a foreign language and alternately beating it and aerating it until it sounds something like a native product.

Wrote he: "Thus the sumato (smart) nyuu ritchi (new rich) Japanese person seasons his or her conversation with upatodatu (updated) expressions like gurama foto (glamour photo) and haikurasu (high class).

Sebiro, for a suit of clothes, looks convincingly native until you realise that it is a corruption of Saville Row, the London street where the finest suits are made.

'Productivity' was stretched and mauled until it emerged as purodakichibichi, which, despite its greater length, sits comfortably on the Japanese tongue.

But for the most part, the Japanese use the same sort of ingenuity miniturizing English words as they do in miniturizing televisions and video cameras.

So 'modern girl' comes out as moga, 'word processor' becomes wapro, 'mass communications' become masukomi, and 'commercial' is brusquely truncated into a short, sharp cm."

I never knew that the Japanese were the most relentless borrowers of English words and that the number of English words currently in Japanese has been estimated to be as high as 20,000.

Some samplings: erebata (elevator), nekutai (necktie), batta (butter), beikon (bacon), sarada (salad), remon (lemon), chiizu (cheese), bifuteki (beefsteak), hamu (ham), shyanpu setto (shampoo and set).

If at all, it just goes to show why the Japanese are well ahead of us in more ways than one; what they sometimes lack in originality they make up with such refreshing ingenuity.

No comments: