I sometimes wonder how feasible is it to completely avoid loanwords, i.e. 漢語 and 外来語, but still using Modern Japanese (i.e. not simply just using Old/Classical Japanese vocabulary). Is the 和語 inventory of Modern Japanese still intact enough to express arbitrary ideas, or at least enough to write article-length things? I suppose some workarounds would be needed (say, 日本語 as ひのもとことば?) but would it be technically possible, or has enough supplanting happened that some concepts are just impossible to express without loanwords?

  • Actually, the usual rendition of 日本語 is やまとことば.
    – Zhen Lin
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 22:50
  • Isn't 大和言葉 a synonym of 和語, i.e. a category of words, rather than a name for 日本語 though? I always thought ことば in this sense meant "word" not "language".
    – ithisa
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 23:03
  • 2
    Hmm... My guess is it'd be kind of like Gadsby: A Story of Over 50,000 Words Without Using the Letter 'E' or perhaps more analogously Uncleftish Beholding.
    – user1478
    Commented Aug 16, 2013 at 0:13
  • 1
    I've also read that 源氏物語 had very few 漢語, but that was Early Middle Japanese.
    – user1478
    Commented Aug 16, 2013 at 0:25
  • @EricDong See here: 『すなわち、「大和言葉」といった場合には日本(やまと)に大陸文化が伝来する以前の、日本列島で話されていた言語そのものを指すというニュアンスがある』.
    – Zhen Lin
    Commented Aug 16, 2013 at 7:07

1 Answer 1


I think the answer is "yes, it's possible...but you'd be inventing a whole other language." To be able to describe modern concepts in an old language, you'd still have to invent new words, and if you restrict yourself to only using 和語、it's not going to be comprehensible to Japanese people.

Such an experiment is happening right across the sea, in Korea. While South Korea has occasional use of Hanja (that is, Kanji) and beaucoup loanwords, North Korea has taken a firm stance forbidding Hanja, and discouraging usage of loanwords.

As quoted here: "South Koreans puzzle over what North Koreans mean by a "vehicle that goes straight up after takeoff," when the simple English word "helicopter" will do."

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .