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2005年7月17日 (日)

Believing in the future of our mother tongue


Believing in the future of our mother tongue


Language is like one's beloved life companion. This thought occurred when I saw the results of a recent survey on the Japanese language conducted by the Agency for Cultural Affairs.



According to the survey, the expression seken-zure (sophistication) is misunderstood by a large number of Japanese.

Among teenagers, six out of 10 answered incorrectly that seken-zure describes an attitude, thought or behavior that "does not fit the social norm."

Only a little over 10 percent in this age group knew the right answer: "To be sophisticated and wise in the ways of the world through experience."


The older the group, the more the respondents knew the correct meaning, with more than 60 percent of those in their 60s comprehending the phrase. As people grow older and more experienced, I reckon they begin to personally identify with seken-zure in the fullest sense.

However, even among people in their 60s, nearly 20 percent were as ignorant of the meaning of this expression.


Another interesting finding from this survey concerned recent language usage. More than half the teenagers and people in their 20s say yabai (dangerous or bad) when they mean "fabulous," "tasty" or "cool." These young people also led all other age groups by far in the frequency with which they use expressions such as watashi-tekiniwa and uzai-the former a contrived way of saying "I," and the latter a slang word that means "annoying."

If language is one's companion for life, I suppose we can expect twists and turns along the way.


More than 60 years ago, folklorist Kunio Yanagita wrote in "Kokugo no Shorai" (The future of the Japanese language), published by Sogensha: "My overall view is that the Japanese language is growing every day. The vocabulary is expanding, with new usage and expressions appearing, coming into fashion and being copied."


Yanagita went on, "If you genuinely love the Japanese language and want to preserve it, you should use it to say anything you want to say and to write anything you want to write, expressing yourself completely, clearly and moving a person to deeply understand your meaning."

I think these words were those of a man who believed in the future of his beloved mother tongue, who understood the difficulty of maintaining beautiful Japanese.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 14(IHT/Asahi: July 15,2005)


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