Would it sound weird if you used the pronunciation of カタカナ words from the country they were derived from?

That’s a really good point.

Yeah that’s an annoying one. I want to pronounce both of those correctly but I always find myself saying them ‘the English way’ when speaking English. (Even when I was in Japan! But only if the person I was speaking to wasn’t a native Japanese speaker. None of this was deliberate!)
Even the word ‘Tokyo’ ends up being toe-ki-yoe instead. But Osaka and Kobe never get mangled (I have a friend who says it ‘Koby’ and I just can’t.

Another similar example ist スタイル. It just refers to the body, not to the clothes.


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That would be true for english speakers. For germans it’s almolst the exact same pronunciation except for the ‘r’ of course. Nevertheless I agree with your point.

Yes, it would be very weird, but also wrong. Gairaigo are not “words from a foreign country being said by a japanese person” in that instance, they are japanese words that derive from another language and now follow japanese phonetics.


You ignore that that’s the secondary meaning.

But yeah, you’re right, seems it CAN be used in that way too, but as far as I know it usually isn’t.

I love how excited they get when they get a word right. I wish I manage to get and stay this excited about Japanese.

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Maybe when we move to Japan some of that モチベーション will rub off? :smiley:

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This is something my bilingual 5-year-old sometimes does. With his other bilingual friends they switch languages back and forth, often mid sentence. He sees the English word and it’s similar Japanese counterpart as separate words, but sometimes prefers the English, even in a Japanese sentence (or vice versa). It’s not at all strange with his bilingual friends, but his Japanese friends just hear (English) and it doesn’t even register for them. Adults sometimes have to listen a bit more carefully when kids are speaking, so his friends’ parents will sometime catch the English word and comment something like 「ええ、発音が本当にネイティブですね」Basically though most Japanese will just block it out as (foreign language) or (English) without even hearing what you said.


Yes, English has many such loanwords, including words from Japanese. One example off the top of my head that I just learned is kowtow (overbearing subservience) from the Chinese/ Japanese 叩頭 (こうとう) being the kneeling bow with forehead touching the ground that you may have seen before.


English has undergone so much influence from other languages that some linguists have considered classifying it as a creole. About 30% of our words are French in origin, with another third coming from Latin and the final third being Germanic. Although once a word has been in a language for over a thousand years, I don’t know if you would still call it a loan word, really.

It makes me wonder what English words will still exist in Japanese in a few centuries, and whether or not they’ll even be recognizable then.

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Also, having grown up in the Southern US, we would have known what you meant if you insist on pronouncing Me-hee-co and other Spanish words “authentically”, rolling your Rs and everything, but unless you’re really Mexican, you just look pretentious. Yes, we can tell the difference.

So I guess you could pronounce it the way it is in your native language and get a pass, but you should at least try.

In my experience 剣 is used to refer to western swords and 刀 to refer to Japanese swords.


I’ve always had the sense that a good portion of words also come from Greek origins as well, but I don’t know the percentage. This is especially true for scientific and mathematical words, but lots of ‘common’ (i.e. not that specialized) words too. Just randomly off the top of my head, ‘myth’, ‘labyrinth’ (hmm, got minotaurs on my mind? Maybe cuz my mnemonic (ooh, there’s another Greek origin word!) for ‘habour’ 港 (みなと) is minotaur). I wonder what the percentage might be?

This is not exactly an answer to the original question, just a funny story about basically the reverse situation, where a Japanese native will use カタカナ pronunciation of certain common English words (or names, in this case) in the middle of their otherwise well-pronounced English.

A Japanese native I met while living for a bit in Europe (he was also living in the same city) once told me about how he was trying to talk to someone about a celebrity known universally around the world, and he was flummoxed when the other person had never heard of them!

He says, “You’ve never heard of My-Koorudcha Kusohnn?! I don’t believe it! Everybody knows! In Africa, in Russia, in China, in Japan! Yes, from America! But everyone in the world knows.”

And the other person was like, “Who??! I can’t even pronounce that name!”

So he kept repeating the name – being very careful to pronounce it exactly and precisely as he had learned it – to try to ‘ring their bell’ on the pronunciation: “My-Koorudcha Kusohnn! My-Koorudcha Kusohnn! My-Koorudcha Kusohnn!”

Eventually the other person kind of figured it out, “Do … you … mean … Michael Jackson? Oh!!! Yes, of course I know him!”

Anyway, that was the punchline of the story. It was pretty funny how he’d pronounce (in perfect Katakana!) 「マイケル・ジャクソン! マイケル・ジャクソン! マイケル・ジャクソン!」 while telling the rest of his story in well-pronounced English, as he was quite fluent in English by that time. And of course he could pronounce “Michael Jackson” just fine, once he’d learned the difference between the popular-in-Japan-but-Nihongo-ized version of the celebrity’s name and the native English version.

It’s one of those reverse culture-shock stories you sometimes hear from non-native English-speakers talking about learning the subtleties of the differences between their native language (including words borrowed from English) and native English.

Kinda fits the main topic of this thread, as it’s an example of how odd it would sound to an English speaker if a relatively fluently-speaking-English Japanese native suddenly inserted Katakana-ized pronunciations of English words in the middle of a conversation in English. Not exactly the same situation, but pretty close. :sweat_smile:


One of the most infamous words that japanese people are surprised means something different in english is probably “ファイト.”

In japanese if people are chanting it, they usually mean “keep going” or “show your fighting spirit” or something similar. But to a native english speaking it just simply means fight.

It’s the example I usually see in youtube videos about people making these kinds of loanword mistakes.


ファイト = Let’s go!

Neither of which mean what they say. :wink:

Everybody knows all words come from Greek: My Big Fat Greek Wedding- Give me any word and I show you the greek root - YouTube


With words, definitely not. Sometimes with names, for example like New York etc, this might not be such a big issue and they will understand you, but that’s not always 100% certain either. Someone said it very well that カタカナ words aren’t just a Japanese way to pronounce foreign words, but they are words in their own right and sometimes their meaning also changes completely. Someone also brought out a nice example of how names of famous people also can become quite unrecognizable for English speakers.

Similar thing happened to me, but in Japanese. I was taking a Chinese philosophy course at university and there was a discussion about how Confucian values have influenced other East Asian countries, including Japan. So, I was trying to discuss this with my Japanese friends and I found it so strange they had never heard of ‘Confucius’, till I understood that wait a moment! This is a Latin name for Chinese thinker, whose real name is Kong Fuzi and in Japanese is known as 孔子(こうし).