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Gairaigo - Borrowed Words in Japanese


Like most countries, other languages have influenced Japan. The most obvious influence is the neighboring giant of China. As you may well know, kanji (one of the Japanese writing scripts) originates in China. Over time, the words borrowed from China lost their original meaning and took on a new exclusive Japanese definition. So in some ways the words are no longer really borrowed. Though Chinese influence may seem obvious to most, what might not be as evident is the influence from Europe, and some of Japan's other neighbors. Borrowed words are usually written in katakana.


The influence from England started in the 19th century, and has continued unabated. The popularity of English has increased for a few reasons: The inclusion of English courses in school, English language media and advertising. Today the number of English words that now occupy the Japanese is almost countless.

Examples: post, ball, bus, pool, automation, rush, merit, and television.


Holland was the only European country that Japan would trade with between the 17th and 19th centuries. This led to a large number of Dutch words finding day to day use in Japan.

Examples: kok, brandpunt, hoos, pomp, pons, boor-bank, hop, bier, Diutsch, ontembaar, kompas, alkali, koffie, glas, gom, pek, blik, mangaan, motor.


Strangely, Portugal were the first visitors from Europe to Japan, so some of their words found their way into the Japanese vocabulary.

Examples: confeito, tempero, marmelo, capa, botao, pao, tabaco, carta, balanco, pinta, cruz, Holanda, Grecia, gibao.


The words from Italy are, not surprisingly, related to food and music.

Examples: cembalo, mezzo, piano, opera, sonata, solfege, staccato, spaghetti, maccaroni, ciao, finale.


Examples: dessin, litre, metre, independants, polonaise, chapeau, haute couture, objet, gramme, sabotage, silhouette, fiance, marmotte, bourgeoisie, bifteck, vacances, Suisse, croquette.


Examples: Seminar, Thema, schon, Arbeit, Karte, Gaze, Lymphe, Kresol, Memagogie, Neurose, Bombe, Lumpen, Lupe, Hysterie, Natrium, Typhus, Hamoglobin.

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