The culture ministry has released the results of a study conducted in fiscal 2017 which was aimed at assessing the general population's level of understanding of foreign loan words written in katakana alongside their Japanese kanji counterparts. It was found that over half of the respondents stated they didn’t know what the katakana words meant.
The survey had six parts and each part contained two words — one in kanji, and one in katakana. Although the words in each pair were synonyms, those surveyed were asked on whether they thought the two words had the same meaning, and whether or not they could correctly use them.
Five of the words were taken from “Gairaigo Iikae Tebiki” (Handbook to Using Loan Words), published by the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics (2018). The sixth word インバウンド/inbound (referring to inbound tourists) was submitted by the culture ministry because it is often used by the government.
The study comes at a time where more and more katakana loan words are being used in everyday life. The results were varied. Two words, ガイドライン/guidelines and ワーキンググループ/working group, had an over 90% understanding rate, this higher level of awareness probably due to the words being often used by the government.
In another question where participants were asked whether it would be better to use the kanji or katakana for government-issued documents, a high number of participants opted for the kanji — 80% preferring the kanji for コンソーシアム/consortium and 70% preferring the kanji for inbound. The results of the survey show there are still many katakana words which people still don’t know the meaning of.
The ministry said it expects katakana words to continue to spread and will continue to observe what changes will follow.© Japan Today