More on Tweets and language

AP is running a fun story today about Twitter in Japan, which taught me that the verb Tweet (which I’ve written about here) is translated as mumble in Japanese. Here’s the quote of the day:

“It’s telling that Twitter was translated as ‘mumbling’ in Japanese,” he [a Japanese media analyst] said. “They love the idea of talking to themselves.”

That’s not a trend I’ve ever noticed when teaching Japanese students — any truth in it? It is striking that mumbling is a private act, so even if twitter.jp users are not exactly talking to themselves, they are at least talking quietly and unobtrusively. Compare that to the English “tweet” and “twittering,” which suggests to me a rather louder, more irritating sound.

The report goes on:

Ending Japanese sentences with “nah-woo” — an adaptation of “now” in English — is hip, showing off the speaker’s versatility in pseudo-English Twitter-speak.

(Here‘s a detailed blog posting about this neologism.) It’s not surprising to me that technology has caused new words to come into Japanese, or any language, but I’m curious that the Japanese have calqued (to use the technical word) an English adverb, rather than a noun or verb. For example, German borrowed der Computer, and even French has l’Internet (attempts to translate the word literally using webs and nets never caught on). So, I would have expected the word Twitter (or even Tweet) to crop up — although wouldn’t those words both be very hard to fit into Japanese phonology? And doesn’t Japanese already have a word that expresses the English now? Does its (apparently) word-final restriction mean anything?

Japanese linguists, please help out!

Author: Nigel Caplan

Nigel Caplan, Ph.D., is an associate professor of ESL and materials developer in Delaware, in the United States.

2 thoughts on “More on Tweets and language”

  1. I’m very much not a japanese linuguist! but in the japanese geek community, dropping in bits of English in ways that may or may not make sense has long had a hipness factor. Dropping in bits of japanese is also hip in certain american geek subcultures, so I guess we’re a mutual admiration society.

    1. Good point, Ian, but it’s not just geeks: random bad English is a popular marketing tool across Asia — see engrish.com for the latest blunders. I’d love to see an example of geeky Japanese, though!

      I’m still surprised to see the borrowing of an adverb (as opposed to nouns/verbs – “isu cureemu”, etc.) when one already exists, or so I’m told.

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