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Saturday, July 26, 2003

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Japanese English: crime and punishment


Recently, I received some letters from readers criticizing me for making fun of Japanese English. These people said that this kind of humor has been "played to death" and, moreover, that Japanese English is "not interesting." Ha!

All I can say is that as long as there is humor out there, people will laugh. And as long as I am an English teacher in Japan, I will police the language and hand out violations to English abusers. After all, if we ignore Japanese English, thus accepting its, ahem, "peculiarities," where does one draw the line?

Is it OK that one of my students recommends a certain cafe for its "strawberry snort cake?" Hmm. Another student wrote that she went to Sapporo and ate famous "Sapporo needles!" Oh, but she's just a student, you say. But no! She's planning on becoming a translator. And such spelling mistakes slip into tourist brochures all the time. Call me a stickler, but if the Sapporo Visitors Bureau starts advertising its needles, stomachs from all over the world are going to be in stitches.

Even if they get the spelling of "noodles" right, other budding translators in my class are recommending people "meet noodles." I daresay that most foreigners have never considered how they would introduce themselves to a Japanese noodle. This was definitely not covered in "Japanese in 10 Minutes a Day."

Meanwhile, my students remind me that these days many young Japanese couples are shunning weddings and are opting, instead, to get married at the City Hole. That must be a darn big hole! Another student has one message for the world: Stop ear pollution.

These mistakes can be easily remedied with one or two proper letters. C'mon, give the English language a break -- it only has 26 letters! The Japanese language has two alphabets with 46 letters each, plus 5,000 kanji characters. I'm not asking for the entire language here, just a proper letter.

While I let students off with minor infractions and a small red mark on their papers, I have much stiffer penalties for more serious English violations.

For starters, I would give a harsh penalty to the T-shirt company that jolted me awake on the train the other day by a young girl wearing a shirt that had "Morning pussy" across her chest. Now, that poor girl is headed for trouble. Obscene language is screened from magazines and newspapers all the time. Just because it appears on a T-shirt doesn't make it any less offensive. Innocent mistakes are one thing, but companies should have more integrity than to just splash words on T-shirts without considering the risk they are putting the wearers at. They are making fools of the precious customers they depend so much on. I would give that company five years in prison.

Second, it is not OK to have toddlers running around in brand-name clothing bearing visible labels that say "Lusty." Unless they change their name to "Rusty" or start hiding their tags inside their garments, I would give them the maximum sentence for encouraging child pornography.

Lastly, I would give 10 brownie points to the T-shirt company that made the shirt with drawings of cute little hippos dancing to the words "Hippo Spirits." For sure, we could all use a little more hippo spirit in our lives.

See? Not all Japanese English is bad. But those who openly abuse the English language should be made to realize it.

And now I close with one message for the world. As one of my students put it so succinctly, "I hope for word peace forever."

E-mail: amychavez2000@yahoo.com Web site: www.amychavez.com


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