When studying second language acquisition, linguists often research how the native language (also known as L1) interferes with the target language (L2). For examples, a native English speaker who is learning Japanese might say “gomen nasai” when hearing that their friend has received bad news. They might have meant to say, “I’m sorry (to hear that),” but they are actually admitting fault for whatever happened. Likewise, a native Japanese speaker learning English might ask, “Are you busy?” and add more work when an English speaker replies that they are not. Yes, I’ve been there.
These linguists rarely look at how the L2 interferes with the L1. I mean, seriously, when’s that going to happen?
If you’re learning Japanese, all the freaking time.
I once overheard two English-speaking guys talking on the train. One said to the other, “I’m going into work at a shougakkou on Mokuyoubi.”
Wait, what? I can understand using shougakkou in place of ‘elementary school’ within Japan. After all, I attended a ‘primary school’ like many other Brits and so both expressions are equally unusual to me. I’ll happily tell you that I’m thinking of upgrading my ordinary keitai for an iPhone. Yeah, it makes sense to select the word you have in common when two or more dialects collide.
I also understand using a Japanese loan word for something so culturally specific that there’s no comparable word for it. Would you prefer to eat “vinegar rice, often served with raw fish” or sushi? I’m even a fan of the word kawaii. Sure, you can translate it as ‘cute’, but we all know there’s something more going on there.
So why Mokuyoubi when you mean ‘Thursday’? Is this really unique to those of us learning Japanese? Maybe those linguists should investigate.
Do you use Japanese words when you’re talking/writing in English? Which ones? If you’d like to read more about Japanese check out my article on the number eight and Japanese wordplay.