I hate Katakana words.

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Sep 11, 2010 13:41 pronunciation
I hate Katakana words in Japanese.

As you know, Japanese people use 2 different sets of characters in combination; Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji (Chinese characters). Thousands of Chinese characters symbolize meanings, whereas Hiragana and Katakana characters, which comprise ~50 characters respectively, define pronunciation of each syllables, somehow like alphabet. I found many Europeans are surprised at this system, because they live only with 26 characters. In particular, it seems that they can't understand the use of 3 different character sets in one language. Probably, distinction between Hiragana and Katakana could be the most mysterious part.

Well, imported English words are written with Katakana characters. Traditional Japanese words are usually written with Hiragana,or Kanji plus Hiragana. That's the difference.

Often, you write Latin words in italic font to distinguish them from English words. The purpose of the use of Katakana is similar to this.

Now then, the problem is the imported English words written with Katakana. Some of them have more than 50 years of usage in Japan, but these days the number of Katakana English words in Japanese vocabulary is increasing quite a lot.

What's the matter of this? Because Katakana characters only define pronunciation, there is no clue of meaning of those words. If it is written in alphabet, actually guessing the meaning of words could be easier. There are lots of clues, like prefix and suffix etc. However, written with Katakana, the original alphabet spelling of imported words cannot be easily estimated. Needless to say, words made up with Kanji are easy to guess their meanings from the Kanji used there.

Even worse, the pronunciation of Katakana words are often very different from its English counterparts. For example, the word "message" (ˈmesɪdʒ) written as メッセージ is common in modern Japanese, but it is pronounced as 'me'seɪdʒ or 'me'seːdʒ. This little difference seems critical for English native speakers. My pronunciation didn't work. The word should be better written like メッセジ or メッスジ.

There are hundreds of similar examples. I hence have to reexamine pronunciation of well known English words one by one in dictionary and correct my pronunciation.

Increase of the usage of Katakana words also suggests decline of our knowledge in handling Kanji. One hundred years ago, we imported many concepts from Western world. At that time, we had a good knowledge of Kanji, so that we could translate the new concepts into a new combination of Kanji. The word "petroleum" was translated as 石油, stone oil, for instance. However, these days few new words with a new combination of Kanji are made. We can't assign a good combination of Kanji for a imported new concept any longer.

From 1990's, film companies started to give up to translate titles of imported films. "A river runs through it." was released as "リバー・ランズ・スルー・イット." "Home alone" was "ホーム・アローン." Now, film theaters are full of non-sense trains of カタカナ.

Did Japanese people become stupid recently? That's what I meant here.