Spelling in Translation

Today’s post will have lots of bad words, but don’t worry, I’ll spell them so that young children can’t understand them.

The Japanese language suffers from two fatal weaknesses.

The first weakness is that the people don’t have middle names. This means as a child you rely on force of expression rather than the presence of your middle name to know you are in trouble. There’s a huge difference between “DWAYNE LIVELY! GET IN HERE!” and “Dwayne Edward Lively, get in here!” The latter doesn’t even need to be shouted.

The second weakness, especially if you’re a parent, is that because Japanese is a phonetic language you can’t spell words to hide them from your kids. Growing up in the USA all of us remember our parents spelling words to hide them from us. “That Kathy is a B I T C H.”  or “I think that Kathy is  P R E G N A N T” (often they try to use code to hide the actual words “I think that Kathy is PG.”) Or “I think that little S L U T Kathy is having S E X with that little S H I T Bobby.”

The problem is we eventually learn to spell and when we talk with our friends, we interpret the sentences as “My M O M thinks Kathy is a fucking bitch.” (Note, when you’re in junior high, “fucking” is attached to many phrases.) Or “My O L thinks Kathy got knocked up.” or “My O L thinks Kathy and that asshole Bobby are fucking.”

(Note: Kathy is a fictional character with a name chosen at random. Any similarity to an actual Kathy is unintentional and purely coincidental. Bobby really is an asshole, though.)

In Japanese, parents can’t spell the words because each letter in the alphabet represents an actual syllable in the word. For example if they spell “yariman” (slut) or “kuso ama” (unpleasant bitch) they have to actually say “Ya Ri Ma N” and “Ku So A Ma” which helps the child pronounce the words correctly rather than disguise their meanings.

I believe this is why Japan doesn’t have a lot of bad words and most of the profanity is implied through tone.

This of course, is why I want to teach Japanese parents English. I went them to be able to say “Y A R I M A N” and “K U S O A M A” rather than teaching those words to their kids.

One thought on “Spelling in Translation

  1. Pingback: Some Days Are Brutal; Some Days Just Hurt | Mere Blather

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