An elderly man in Japan is suing a national network for using too many English words. Hoji Takahashi, 71, is asking for 1.41 million yen ($14,000) in compensation for the NHK broadcast network under penalty of civil code. People like Takahashi-san cannot keep up with the influx of English loan words in Japanese, which are often used by politicians and media figures because they are trendy. And so people with his cultural perspective object, claiming that they do not understand, or more commonly, that English is overtaking their pure, native tongue.
Japan has adopted many words from other languages, but, in recent history, the English language has become predominant. Prevalent terms like “internet” and “apartment,” to even noun modifying suffixes like “-tic” (dramatic, romantic) which never had a Japanese analog. “Don’t mind” is “Donmai,” which breaks into the Japanese culture of everyday politeness. Even one of the most famous of Japanese exports, Pokémon, is a contraction of the English words “pocket” and “monster.” And Japanese is not the only national language overrun with English, and the subsequent reaction by cultural purists.
Since the mid-90s, French ministers have sought to defend the linguistic home front from being routinely Anglicized. The notorious “Toubon” laws were put in place to force formal wording situations like road signs and contracts into using exclusively French words. When the government tried to ban common terms like “le weekend” and “le babysitter,” protesters took the streets with signs that said “Relaxez-vous!” The battle rages on today with attempts to ban English in University classes.
Similar ongoing battles against English exist in Germany, Spain, and, famously, Quebec, where all non-French terms are routinely subordinated. Recently, in the Franco-Canadian province, an official complaint over Italian words like “calamari” in restaurant menu launched the scandal known as “Pasta-gate.” People objected to the government’s overreach, and perhaps sought to defend the natural mix of culture.
English slang and terms, in other countries is considered, for lack of a better term, cool. That word itself, “cool” has crossed borders with our bands, our marketing, entertainment, and tourism. English is an extremely versatile and freewheeling way of expressing thought, and just as the English spread the foundation of the language through its colonies, America continues to propagate its widespread evolution.
This is the last bastion of colonization. People thought the English empire was dead, it is still alive in memetic cultural norms left by the British. From Africa to Asia, people play soccer and rugby, and if they want to be gentleman they wear their whites and play cricket. Rock and Roll and fine etiquette occupy the counterculture and the elite, respectively, and, lastly, there is the language. America contributed tobacco, Coca-Cola and the like, Michael Jackson, and constant slang terms to the Anglicized global culture. Whether we should be proud or not is unclear, especially with our nation so unaware of how big a problem it is considered to be in other places.