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GAIRAIGO [from Japanese, gai outside, rai come, go language]. Words or expressions of foreign, especially European, origin in the Japanese language, borrowed from the 16c onwards, such as tabako tobacco (from Portuguese), kōhī coffee (from Dutch). The reopening of JAPAN to the West during the 19c led to the absorption of an unprecedented number of foreign terms, mainly from GERMAN, FRENCH, and English. Attempts to exclude such words followed growing resistance to imported culture during the 1930s, but since 1945 thousands of terms have entered the language, mainly from English. Borrowing from different European languages can have etymologically complex outcomes: karuta a type of playing-card (from PORTUGUESE carta), karute a medical record (from German Karte), arakaruto à la carte (from French), and kādo identity, credit, greetings (etc.) card (from English card). Japanese use such terms freely in everyday conversation and writing, not always aware from which languages or expressions they derive. Non-Japanese may also fail to recognize LOANWORDS because of adaptations in pronunciation, meaning, and/or form.

Writing, pronunciation, and meaning

Foreign words are readily taken into the written language by means of the phonetic script katakana. As its signs represent native syllables (such as sa and ke), TRANSLITERATION almost invariably produces phonetic change. Most final consonants come to be followed by a vowel, and consonant clusters are often broken up: erekutoronikkusu electronics, kurisumasu Christmas. Sounds that do not exist in Japanese are converted to the nearest Japanese syllables (rajio radio, takushi taxi, chīmu team), or are represented by special katakana combinations created to allow foreign words to be expressed in a form closer to their original pronunciation. The endings -ar and -er, and final SCHWA are usually expressed as long a, as in hanbāgā hamburger. Loanwords may undergo semantic as well as phonetic change, as with manshon high-class block of flats (from mansion), konpanion a female guide or hostess (from companion), sumāto slim (from smart).

Abbreviation and combination

(1) CLIPPINGS are common: terebi television, apāto apartment building, masukomi mass communication, wāpuro word processor: see ACRONYM. (2) Foreign words often combine with Japanese words: haburashi toothbrush (from Japanese ha tooth, English brush). (3) Words from different foreign languages can also come together: rōsrupan bread roll (from English roll and Portuguese for ‘bread’). (4) Two or more words from English are sometimes combined in new ways: pureigaido (‘play guide’) ticket agency, bakkumirā (‘back mirror’) rear-view mirror. Such usages are known in Japanese as wasei eigo (‘made-in-Japan English’).