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Janglish: a case study

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Janglish: a case study

Postby Bob1 » January 17th, 2008 12:09 pm

If you have ever visited Japan, you have no doubt seen t-shirts and the like with something on them that appears to be English, but upon reading it, you can make neither heads nor tails of what is meant. I have a cousin in San Francisco who loves to buy such t-shirts with their unaccustomed and indecipherable wordings whenever he visits. Of course, such Janglish is not limited to t-shirts; one finds it on signs and all manner of packaging. It sits there as a sort of stylish decoration, much the way French was used in Czarist Russia (quite to Tolstoy's disgust).

It has always fascinated me how Japanese could come up with these seemingly random, yet strangely evocative, English word strings. However, I just came across a case in which the etiology is transparent.

In Japanese supermarkets one can usually find "Choco cakes" made by Japanese confectionary manufacturers such as Lotte (a brand similar to Hostess in the US). Actually these particular items are really based on the "Moon Pie" first invented by the Chattanooga Bakery in Tennessee sometime in the early 1900's as a sweet for coal miners to put into their lunch buckets, though "Choco cakes" are less sweet so as to appeal to Japanese tastes. But I digress.

I bought such a "choco cake" made by a 3rd tier confectionary company, and displayed prominently on the package I found the following quintessential Janglish:

"Over-optimism modest chocolate and a soft marshmallow lead you in elegant tea time."

And below this in Japanese:


(Amasa hikaeme chokoreeto to yawarakai mashumaro ga anata wo ereganto na tiitaimu ni michigikimasu.)

Obviously, the English was meant as a a translation of the original Japanese, a sort of ornament to lend an international flair. The translation into natural English would be "The mildly sweet chocolate and soft marshmallow will guide you to an elegant teatime".

The "hikaeme" means "modest, reserved, humble", and the "Amasa" means "sweetness", so literally, the first three word phrase is "Sweetness modest chocolate". So if you look back at the original Janglish, it would be natural to wonder "Where did 'over-optimism' come from?"

"Amasa" is of course the adjective "amai" made into a noun by adding "-sa" to the root "ama". The most common meaning of "amai"is "sweet" (as in "sugar is sweet"), but just as with the English word "sweet", the Japanese word "amai" can also have other meanings. Among these extended meanings is over-optimistic. So in Japan, if you propose some business idea to your boss and he tells you that your way of thinking is "amai", he means that you haven't thought things through very well and are being overly optimistic. So remember now that the original Japanese sentence used the noun "amasa", so we need to turn "over-optimistic" into the noun "over-optimism". Voila, we have reconstructed the most incongruous portion of the original Janglish: "Over-optimism modest chocolate . . ."

Now, imagine I wanted to create a phrase in Eihongo, the mirror-image counterpart of Janglish. Recall the idiom I used in the opening paragraph, "can make neither heads nor tails of what is meant". Now apply a literal translation: 意味を頭もしっぽも作れない。 (Imi wo atama mo shippo mo tsukurenai) I'm sure this makes no sense in Japanese, but I wonder whether it is as evocative to native Japanese speakers as Janglish can be to English speakers. Would it sell t-shirts?

Such a business proposition would probably be more "amai" than "sweet".
Last edited by Bob1 on January 24th, 2008 10:21 am, edited 1 time in total.

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T Shirt reading is a very popular hobby out here

Postby JonB » January 18th, 2008 12:43 am

And other signs too. A few years back I went to Aiichi world expo and there was a burger stand selling ホットドグ or if you wanted to shop in Englsih you could get Hot Duck :lol:

Actually I would have preferred the latter but you would have thought at that event where all the signage was in multiple languages that someone would have verified it all and not just putting it through spell check...
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