The Most Common Loan Words in Japanese

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The Japanese language has borrowed many words from foreign countries, firstly from China as early as the Nara Period (710-794). Gairaigo (外来語) is Japanese word for "loan word" or "borrowed word". Many Chinese words were mixed into Japanese to the extent that they are no longer considered "loan words". Most Chinese loan words are written in kanji and carry the Chinese reading (on-reading).

Around the 17th century, the Japanese language began to borrow from many western languages.

For example, from Portuguese, Dutch, German (especially from the field of medicine), French and Italian (not surprisingly many are from the fields of art, music and food), and most of all, English. Today, English is the origin of most modern loan words.

The Japanese use English words to express concepts for which they have no equivalents. However, some people simply prefer to use English expressions for practically or because it is fashionable. In fact, many loan words have existing synonyms in Japanese. For example, the Japanese word for "business" is "shoubai 商売", but the loan word "bijinesu ビジネス" is also used. Another example is "gyuunyuu 牛乳(Japanese word)" and "miruku ミルク(loan word)" for "milk".

Loan words are generally written in katakana, except the ones of Chinese origin. They are pronounced using Japanese pronunciation rules and Japanese syllables. Therefore, they end up quite different from the original pronunciation.

This makes it hard to recognize the original foreign word.

Many loan words are often abbreviated in ways they wouldn't get abbreviated in their original language.

Examples of Loan Words

Maiku マイク ---- microphone
Suupaa スーパー ---- supermarket
Depaato デパート --- department store
Biru ビル ---- building
Irasuto イラスト ---- illustration
Meeku メーク ---- make-up
Daiya ダイヤ ---- diamond

Multiple words are also shortened, often to four syllables.

Pasokon パソコン ---- personal computer
Waapuro ワープロ ---- word processor
Amefuto アメフト ---- American football
Puroresu プロレス ---- professional wrestling
Konbini コンビニ ---- convenience store
Eakon エアコン ---- air conditioning
Masukomi マスコミ ---- mass media (from mass communication)

A loan word can be generative. It may be combined with Japanese or other loanwords. Here are some examples.

Shouene 省エネ ---- energy saving
Shokupan 食パン ---- loaf of bread
Keitora 軽トラ ---- light commercial truck
Natsumero なつメロ ---- a once-popular song

Loan words are often combined into Japanese as nouns. When they are combined with "suru", it changes the word into a verb. The verb "suru (to do)" has many extended uses. To learn more about them, try "The Extended Use of Japanese Verb - Suru".

Doraibu suru ドライブする ---- to drive
Kisu suru キスする ---- to kiss
Nokku suru ノックする ---- to knock
Taipu suru タイプする ---- to type

There are also "loan words" that are actually made in Japan. For example, "sarariiman サラリーマン(salary man)" refers to someone whose income is salary base, generally the people work for corporations. Another example, "naitaa ナイター," comes from the English word "night" followed by "~er", means baseball games played at night.

Here are list of common loan words.

Arubaito アルバイト ---- part-time job (from German arbeit)
Enjin エンジン ---- engine
Gamu ガム ---- chewing gum
Kamera カメラ ---- camera
Garasu ガラス ---- glass
Karendaa カレンダー ---- calendar
Terebi テレビ ---- television
Hoteru ホテル ---- hotel
Resutoran レストラン ---- restaurant
Tonneru トンネル ---- tunnel
Macchi マッチ ---- match
Mishin ミシン ---- sewing machine
Ruuru ルール ---- rule
Reji レジ ---- cash register
Waishatsu ワイシャツ ---- solid colored dress shirt (from white shirt)
Baa バー ---- bar
Sutairu スタイル ---- style
Sutoorii ストーリー ---- story
Sumaato スマート ---- smart
Aidoru アイドル ---- idol, pop star
Aisukuriimu アイスクリーム ---- ice cream
Anime アニメ ---- animation
Ankeeto アンケート ---- questionnaire, survey (from French enquete)
Baagen バーゲン ---- a sale at store (from bargain)
Bataa バター ---- butter
Biiru ビール ---- beer (from Dutch bier)
Booru pen ボールペン ---- ballpoint pen
Dorama ドラマ ---- TV drama
Erebeetaa エレベーター ---- elevator
Furai フライ ---- deep frying
Furonto フロント ---- the reception desk
Gomu ゴム ---- rubber band (from Dutch gom)
Handoru ハンドル ---- handle
Hankachi ハンカチ ---- handkerchief
Imeeji イメージ ---- image
juusu ジュース ---- juice
kokku コック ---- cook (from Dutch kok)

Nationality is expressed by adding "jin 人", which literally means "person", after the country name.

Amerika-jin アメリカ人---- American
Itaria-jin イタリア人 ---- Italian
Oranda-jin オランダ人---- Dutch
Kanada-jin カナダ人----- Canadian
Supein-jin スペイン人---- Spanish
Doitsu-jin ドイツ人---- Germany
Furansu-jin フランス人---- French

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Your Citation
Abe, Namiko. "The Most Common Loan Words in Japanese." ThoughtCo, Jun. 12, 2017, Abe, Namiko. (2017, June 12). The Most Common Loan Words in Japanese. Retrieved from Abe, Namiko. "The Most Common Loan Words in Japanese." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 19, 2018).