Japan's Public Broadcaster Sued for Using Too Much English

Japan has the highest proportion of elderly citizens of any country in the world.

A local retiree is claiming damages from broadcaster NHK because he says foreign words are making its programs impossible for the country's elderly to understand.

TOKYO -- A disgruntled 71-year-old Japanese man is suing his country's public broadcaster, NHK, over what he claims is its excessive use of Japanized versions of foreign words -- known as loanwords -- which he says have rendered its programs unintelligible.

Hoji Takahashi is claiming $14,100 (1.41 million yen) in damages in the Nagoya District Court for unnecessary emotional distress caused by NHK broadcasts peppered with foreign words, most of them English, after his complaints about the matter were ignored.

“The younger generation probably understands, but old people don’t understand the meaning when we hear words like ‘asurito’ (athlete) and ‘conpuraiansu’ (compliance),” Takahashi told the local Chuunichi Shimbun newspaper.

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“The basis of his concern is that Japan is being too Americanized. There is a sense of crisis that this country is becoming just a province of America,” Takahashi’s lawyer Mutsuo Miyata told AFP.  

A spokesperson for NHK Nagoya told The Hollywood Reporter that the bureau had yet to receive the legal documents and so could not comment on the complaint.

It is not clear whether Takahashi is going to sue Japan’s commercial broadcasters, which also frequently use loan-words in their programs.    

Japanese has been full of loanwords for decades, with many of them imported from the U.S. during the post-war occupation period, but some date back to the nineteenth century. Business attire is referred to in modern Japanese as ‘sutsu’ (suit), but the term that it replaced, ‘sebiro’ -- which was written in Chinese characters and assumed by many to be a native word -- is a Japanized version of Savile Row, the famous London street of tailors.   

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The phonetic katakana script is used to render foreign words into Japanese, with many of them abbreviated or tweaked enough to leave them incomprehensible to native speakers of the language they originate from. Sexual harassment becomes ‘seku-hara’; TV commercials are ‘shi-emu’ (CM), while falling head over heels for someone is ‘rabu-rabu’ (love love). It is only fair to note though that Japanese words such as ‘hara-kiri’ or ‘sake’ are often as equally mispronounced in English. (It's 'sa-kay', not 'sa-kee.')    

Japlish, as it’s sometimes known, isn’t the only hybrid lingo causing concern. This week, Germany’s national railway company issued a guidebook of 2,200 native phrases that should be used by staff in place of Denglisch, the German-English words that have become commonplace.

"To help employees, we have given them a glossary of Anglicisms so they can take a critical look at their everyday speech and put a brake on the inflationary use of English and pseudo-English", said a Deutsche Bahn representative.