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Why there were 19 syllables in the Japanese word for 'saxophone' during WWII

By Michelle Lynn Dinh

A photo of what appears to be an entry in a Japanese textbook tweeted by Kurita as been surprising netizens across the country. The photo (at end of story) shows a list of foreign loan words that had been turned into Japanese during the early 1940s. Most surprising of the list, as pointed out by netizens, was the word for “saxophone,” which was transformed into an awkward 19-character-long mouthful.

Let’s take a closer look at why this happened and the results of English being deemed an “enemy language” during WWII.

As a result of ultra-nationalistic sentiment during WWII, English was designated as a "tekiseigo," or “enemy language” and its use was discouraged in the public sphere during the early 1940s. Although official laws regarding "tekiseigo" were never issued by the Japanese government, many officials urged that words utilizing romanized letters or even katakana, the Japanese syllabary for foreign loan words, be eliminated.

As a result, many companies and organizations voluntarily decided to change their name. The Japanese wikipedia entry for "tekiseigo" cites several dozen examples of companies changing their names during this time, such as King Record (キングレコード) becoming Fuji Onban (富士音盤).

As the use of foreign words was quite popular during the early 20th century, the switch from English and katakana to kanji characters was not entirely easy, as proven by many cumbersome creations such as the 19-syllable-long word for saxophone, “金属性先曲がり音響出し機.” Even baseball, a sport loved by the entire nation at the time, abandoned the original call of “strike,” replacing it with “よし一本,” meaning “all right, one.” Sliding into home would be met, not with a call of “safe,” but “安全,” the Japanese word for “safety.”

For those with a background studying Japanese, the list above left shows Japanese words that were created to replace English.

Now in the 21st century, the use of English and other foreign words is prolific in the public and private sector. Still, even to this day there are some who feel overwhelmed by the amount of non-Japanese words in everyday life. It’s hard to measure the effects this language ban had on the Japanese nation during the 1940s, but Japan’s modern day relationship with English speaks volumes for how much the country has changed.

Sources: Hachima Kiko, Weblio.jp

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- English language education in Japan: Are native speakers essential? -- Learn Japanese with us and this website of nothing but swimsuit model selfies -- Why the Japanese Are Bad at Foreign Languages (Part 2)

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For the non-Japanese readers, the word (divided into syllables) is: ki-n-zo-ku-se-i-sa-ki-ma-ga-ri-o-n-kyo-u-da-shi-ki

...which is only 18 syllables. I'm not sure where they got 19 from, unless they are counting 'kyo' as 2-syllables (being 2 characters) which is incorrect.

kinzokusei sakimagari onkyou dashiki

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Sliding into home would be met, not with a call of “safe,” but “安全,” the Japanese word for “safety.”

Maybe this explains why every Japanese person I meet, when using the English language, cannot understand the difference between the noun and the adjective.....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It is correct as kyō 響 (きょう) counts as two syllables. Interesting article.

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Count again - I separated kyo and u, and it's 18 syllables.

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They're probably counting 'kyo' as 'ki-yo', because when you count the individual characters there are 19, though as you say, it should be 'kyo' and so 18.

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English is itself an amalgamation of many different languages, with words borrowed from Scandinavian, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, and even ancient Greek and Roman.

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Even though the Japanese (Kanji) versions of the foreign words (concepts) are ridiculously long, it is much more descriptive and could possibly be understood more readily what the object in question is and likely be used for.

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ultra-naionalistic? Biiessu. Not wanting to use loanwords fom the enemy language sounds par for the course then and something that should be being promoted now (like the French) to make Japanese easier to understand. Most times English loanwords are unecessary, affected replacements for a Japanese alternative -- such as se-fu for anzen. The result is a lexical complexity like that of English, as glenn points out, that make English vocabularly such a bitch to learn. English language speakers learn vocabulary into their fourties. If it were not for all the gairaigo (loanwords) Japanese language speakers could learn kanji and be done.

Gairaigo drives a wedge between Japanese and other East asian languages, when without it Japanese woukd be well placed to become the common language of East Asia, being the only kanji-using language without tones.

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