The older you get, the more complaints you have. Among the Japanese silver-hair set, a common monku has to do with the desperate state of the language. To which assertion you might reasonably respond: “Is that unusual for homo sapiens superannuati? Doesn’t every generation divine the fall of civilization in the crude utterings of its linguistically fecund but irresponsible progeny?”
Well, maybe, but whereas English, as a derivative tongue, has for centuries vigorously embraced the catchy new idioms wading ashore with the immigrants or flapping out of some hipster’s flip-flops, the Japanese language has been somewhat more rigid. At least until recently.
The national tongue has been under attack from Katakana-English – phonetic renderings of English words and phrases – for a while now, much in the same way non-native species in ballast water displace, dominate and then destroy native fauna.
I recall one night at the office, burning the midnight oil with some other unfortunates, when a breathless young lady whirled in and reeled off something that sounded like “Global positioning system malfunction on the transmission interface quadrant!” before rushing back out again, a sheaf of paper slup-slup-slupping onto the floor in her wake. All I could think was: “Damn. Not a word of Japanese.”
Seems the youth of today are not interested in learning the Japanese equivalents of common English words. When it comes to the above example, I can hardly find fault with our whirling dervish: The Japanese is something along the lines of “Zenchikyuusokui soshikimou no housou chuukanryo shibungi ga kinoofuzen da yo!”
Not everyone is so forgiving, however. A buddy of mine – a rather bloody-minded Londoner – has taken it upon himself to use Japanese at all times, even when the Japanese prefer to use Katakana English. It is his personal, all-too-quixotic crusade to defend the language.
We were in a coffee shop the other day, and I ordered the native way: “Hotto kohii. Kuriimu; satou nuki.” (Hot coffee. Cream, no sugar.) The waitress understood perfectly. Then she turned to my buddy Paul:
Paul: Atatakai ocha o kudasai. Gyuunyuu.” (Hot tea. With milk.)
Waitress: Eh? Kuriimu, desu ka? (With cream?)
Paul: Chigaimasu. Atatakai gyuunyuu. (No. Warm milk.)
Waitress: Atatakai gyuunyuu desu ka? (Warm milk?)
Paul: Hai. (Yes.)
When she brought our orders, I got a steaming cup of java, and Paul – a glass of warm milk. When in Rome, my man, do as the Romans.