がいらいご【外来語】


borrowed word, foreign word

As opposed to 漢語 and 大和言葉

(1) Script: 外来語 are common in modern 日本語 and are usually written in カタカナ。Some words, however, have become naturalized, though, and are written in ひらがな。A word written both ways is タバコ (cigarette) often written as たばこ and occasionally as 煙草、though always pronounced /tabako/.

(2) 中国語: Although 中国語 words are technically 外来語、those borrowed hundreds of years ago are written with 漢字 or ひらがな and are considered part of 日本語。外来語 from modern 中国語 tend to be foods, but are considered 外来語 and may be written in カタカナ or 漢字。For example, チャーシュー, "barbecue pork" and 面子 (also written メンツ) are imports from 中国語.

(3) Placement in 日本語: When a word is borrowed into 日本語, the meaning is often changed or only certain aspects of the word are borrowed. Although most words are borrowed for technological and scientific concepts not existing in Japanese, many examples exist of words that have simply replaced perfectly good Japanese words.

獅子(しし)→ ライオン lion
Perhaps the loss of 獅子 to ライオン was hastened by the popular company ライオン。For the traditional lion dance, however, the old word 獅子舞い(ししまい)is still used.

Sometimes, a 外来語 can totally replace a Japanese (or pseudo-Chinese) word. But more often, either the 外来語 or the Japanese word takes on a narrow meaning as the case with the above example where ライオン is used for anything to do with the animal lion and 獅子 is used for only a specific dance.

In contrast, there are also many instances where a Japanese word continues to exist in parallel with the 外来語。Generally, one of the pair becomes the common word and the other word is designated mainly for jargon, such as for academic or intellectual writing, university clubs or officialese:

computer: 計算機(けいさんき)jargon =コンピューター standard
copy: 複写(ふくしゃ)jargon =コピー standard
surgical operation: 手術(しゅじゅつ)standard =オペ (from German, operation) jargon

(4) Nouns from various languages: Most 外来語 today are from 英語、though many are from other languages, including オランダ語フランス語 ドイツ語韓国語 ポルトガル語 and ロシア語。As with other nouns, 外来語 can be either singular or plural depending on the circumstances.

Sample words from various languages are:

オルゴール music box
From オランダ語

栗(くり)→ マロン chestnut
From フランス語、マロン generally refers to the flavor when used in desserts, not the food or color.

ギプス cast
From ドイツ語、referring to a cast worn after breaking a bone, etc.

チャリンコ or チャリ bicycle
Although most words borrowed today from 韓国語 are foods (e.g., キムチ kim chee), this word has been adopted in some parts of Japan. (An alternate theory exists that this is from チャリンチャリン、the sound of a bicycle bell.)

チョッキ vest (US), waistcoat (UK)
From ポルトガル語

イクラ salmon roe
From ロシア語、this refers only to the roe of salmon. This is sometimes written in ひらがな

(5) Verbs: When used as a verb, する is tacked onto the end of the 外来語。A couple of words have managed to become verbs in their own right, with a conjugating る at the end.

カンニングする cheat on a test
From the 英語 "cunning," カンニング refers only to cheating on a test, not cheating on taxes or having an affair. The word does not mean cunning and is normally used as a verb with する。A crib sheet (cheat sheet) is referred to as a カンニングペーパー。

メモる to write a memo
Although メモをとる is common, this variant is also used.

(6) Adjectives: Some 外来語 adjectives are considered 形容動詞、so な is required when using them before a noun. Others are considered nouns.

デリケートな問題 a delicate matter
彼はデリケートな神経の持ち主だ。He is a sensitive person.
ピンクのシャツ a pink shirt

(7) Affixes: 外来語、particularly English, sometimes become active affixes in Japanese.

-er: パネラー panelist (panel + er), though this appears to be changing to パネリスト
-man: 営業マン(えいぎょうまん)salesman, 銀行マン(ぎんこうまん) male bank worker

(7) Foreign context: 外来語 have a stronger tendency to be used in contexts related to foreign things or words.

ナイス:ナイスショット nice shot (e.g., in golf)

There is also a higher tendency to use 外来語 in the presence of people perceived to be non-Japanese.

(8) Abbreviation: Especially when a compound of two or more words is borrowed, it is frequently abbreviated in 日本語。The rule of thumb is to abbreviate to four kana (actually four morae, which includes long vowels).

デジカメ digi(tal) came(ra)
リモコン remo(te) con(trol), for the TV, etc., also known as a チャンネル (channel)
ワープロ wor(d) pro(cessor), a machine or software for word processing
バイト part-time job, abbreviated from アルバイト from ドイツ語 Arbeit
テレビ televi(sion)

(9) 外来語 are Japanese: Each word has a set pronunciation, connotation and correct usage. It is easy to think 外来語 are 英語 and pronounce business as ビスネス rather than the correct ビジネス. Another pitfall is (for Americans) to think パンツ means pants as in trousers rather than pants as in underwear. Savvy Japanese people may understand you, but the average person will have difficulty if you misuse 外来語。

(10) Honorifics: 外来語 generally may not take honorific prefixes. Notable exceptions include たばこ、ビール and トイレ which take honorific お when used as 美化語。Using 美化語の外来語 is generally not recommended for beginners of 日本語

おビール honorific beer
おたばこ honorific cigarette
Common uses are in a スナック or to request patrons to extinguish their cigarettes.

(11) Katakana transliteration: When borrowing names, the pronunciation of the language (or region) of that name is usually imitated. As a result, the 英語 name may be quite different from the 日本語 name.

チューリッヒ Zurich
ナポリ Naples (Italy), but ナプレス・ネープルズ・ナプルズ Naples (Florida, US)
フィレンツェ Florence
ミュンヘン Munich
モスクワ Moscow

King David ダビデ王
Benjamin (English name) ベンジャミン, but ベニヤミン in the Old Testament and ベンヤミン as Walter Benjamin
Bergman ベルイマン (Ingmar), but バーグマン (Ingrid)

In some cases, the same word from a single language can become two words in 日本語

iron: アイアン (golf club), アイロン (for clothes)
stick: ステッキ (cane), リップスティック (lipstick)

(12) 和製英語: Just as the words telephone and television are "Greek words" made by non-Greeks, so do "English words" made by Japanese proliferate in Japan.

ゴールインする (goal in) to cross the finish line, score a goal or achieve a goal
ベースアップ (base up) a wage raise

Determining what is 和製英語 and what is an authentic 外来語 can be difficult:

エネルギッシュ energetic, from German energisch
ワンピース a one piece (dress)

(13) 音便: 外来語 do not usually follow 音便 rules applied to Japanese words.

1ヘクタール(いちヘクタール) one hectare, not いっペクタール

Exceptions do exist, though:

1センチ(イッセンチ)one centimeter, much more common than いちセンチ



Vocabulary Items

英語 (えいご) /eigo/, the English language

オランダ語 /orandago/, the Dutch language

音便 /onbin/, sound change particularly for ease of pronunciation

外国語 (がいこくご) /gaikokugo/, foreign language

漢語 (かんご) /kango/, words derived from Chinese or at least from 漢字

漢字 (かんじ) /kanji/, Chinese characters, see 漢字

韓国語 (かんこくご) /kankokugo/ the Korean language

カタカナ katakana, see カタカナ

形容動詞 (けいようどうし) /keiyoudoushi/, adjective-like words such as 静か(しずか)

スナック /sunakku/, a type of drinking establishment

中国語 (ちゅうごくご) /chuugokugo/, the Chinese language

ドイツ語 also 独語, both /doitsugo/, the German language

日本語 (にほんご) the Japanese language

美化語(びかご) /bikago/, the use of お・ご、generally a sign of politeness or refinement

ひらがな hiragana, see ひらがな

フランス語 /furansugo/

面子 (めんつ) /mentsu/ also written メンツ, face or social standing as in lose face

ポルトガル語 /porutogarugo/, the Portuguese language

大和言葉 /yamato kotoba/, words of native Japanese origin

ロシア語 /roshiago/

和製英語 (わせいえいご) /wasei eigo/


This entry was created on 2000-05-27 by Benjamin Barrett 惣坊均 and Tom Gally, with additional contributions by Tony Atkinson, Jim Lockhart, Masako Sato and 惣坊均。Revised by BB and 惣坊均 2000-08-01.


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