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Disgruntled viewer sues Japanese public broadcaster over using English words

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Elderly viewers confused by increasing trend to use anglicised terms instead of their Japanese equivalent

Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, is in a spot of toraburu with a disgruntled viewer who has filed a damages lawsuit against the company for the “mental distress” caused by its excessive use of words derived from English.

Hoji Takahashi, who says he represents a pressure group that protects the Japanese language, is seeking 1.41 million yen (£9,300) in damages from NHK, reports said.

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In his suit filed with the Nagoya district court, Takahashi said the deluge of English words used in NHK’s news and entertainment programmes had caused him emotional distress, and accused the broadcaster of ignoring its responsibility to use Japanese alternatives.

Among the words he cited as particularly troublesome were kea (care), toraburu (trouble), risuku (risk) and shisutemu (system). He also noted the frequent use of loan words in programme titles, such as BS Kosheruju (BS Concierge) and Sutajio Paaku Kara Konnichiwa (Hello from Studio Park).

The 71-year-old claims he and other elderly viewers had been left baffled by some of NHK’s content. “I contacted NHK to inquire about this, but there was no response so I decided to take the matter to court,” Kyodo News quoted him as saying. “I want the broadcaster to take into account elderly viewers like me when it is creating shows.”

The frequent use of words derived from English, plus a smaller number whose origins can be found in Portuguese, Dutch and other languages, is not confined to NHK.

But Takahashi said that given its considerable reach and influence, the company had a responsibility to remain neutral and appeal to as many viewers as possible.

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NHK said it had yet to study the complaint and declined to comment.

The presence of English words in Japan has increased dramatically since the end of the second world war, when the country embraced American pop culture.

The modern Japanese lexicon is littered with borrowed words. Most have been around for decades and are immediately understood by people of all ages: sarariiman (salaryman), terebi [television], passion (personal computer) and konbini (convenience store).

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English is not the only foreign language to have influenced Japanese: tempura comes from Portuguese, pan is the French-derived word for bread, while part-time work is known as arubaito, from the German word Arbeit.

“Personally, I think the lawsuit is ridiculous, but it does at least draw attention to a problem,” said Makoto Yamazaki, an associate professor at the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics.

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“There has been pressure on the Japanese government and media to rein in the use of loanwords since the early 2000s. It’s OK for people in the same company or group to use, say, specialised words, but when they are picked up by the media it becomes a problem.”

Yamazaki noted the increasing use in Japanese of corporate and political buzzwords such as accountability, governance and compliance, which many people above a certain age find difficult to understand in their borrowed form.

“Politicians are particularly fond of them,” he said. “It is possible to use alternative words in Japanese, but they think that by using the borrowed version they are offering something new and exciting.

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“But politicians and the media have a responsibility to avoid creating ‘word minorities’ among their audiences.”

© Guardian News and Media 2013

[“Stock Photo: Asian Girl And Microphone” on Shutterstock]

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