Is there any general idea of what percentage of loan words come from which languages? I always thought the majority of them came from English, but I keep seeing more and more that originated in Germany and Portugal.

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    When you say "loan words", I'm assuming words from the west within the last century? Otherwise, if you include Chinese, then the breakdown is going to be more than half Chinese.
    – Jesse Good
    Sep 27 '12 at 2:04
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    I suspect "Welcome to Japanese" has a breakdown of how many words came from what language. But rather than a mere pie chart, I'd love to see how many words came from which languages broken down by when they were imported. Sep 27 '12 at 2:53
  • @JesseGood What I mean is words that are written using katakana, not kanji. Is that what you meant?
    – user1316
    Sep 27 '12 at 4:00
  • You could count this in a number of ways but if the there is no immediately available stat (which I doubt), then possibly the easiest meaningful approach would be to take a JLPT N1 +N2 textbook, find the chapters on loanwords, list them up, allocate language of origin and a percentage there-on to each language: On the assumption that these lists comprise the most commonly used loanwords and in turn, a high %age of the time that a Japanese speaker uses a loan word it is one of this population, you should be able to calculate a conservatively accurate analysis of loanwords by language of origin.
    – Tim
    Sep 27 '12 at 4:44
  • I like this question and would love to have a good answer. If you could incorporate your comment into the body of the question, we might be lucky enough that the question stays open and gets answered.
    – Earthliŋ
    Sep 27 '12 at 10:03

This puts English derived words at something like 80% of foreign origin words (this would exclude 漢語{かんご}). It also has some lists of words separated by origin (leaving out English-derived words).

Let's assume for a moment that this list is in some way representative of non-English derived katakana loanwords. A rough calculation suggests that the most common origin is French (~26%), followed by German (~20%), Portuguese (~11%), Dutch (~9%), Latin (~9%), Italian (~8%), and Russian (~7%), Korean (~5%).

This list also marks the period at which words were introduced. What if we only include words marked as Meiji period or earlier? That cuts the list down to less than half size. Unsurprisingly, Portuguese and Dutch feature heavily:

Portuguese (~25%), Dutch (~20%), Korean (~12%), French (~11%), German (~11%), Ainu (~6%), Greek (~5%).

I've included the words listed for Korean and Ainu in the statistics although I would think that this word list isn't at all reflective of the actual relationship between Japanese and these languages. For the European languages, however, Portuguese and Dutch early on and words from French and German becoming more prominent later makes perfect sense from a historical perspective.


Page 12 of "Welcome to Japanese", by Kenneth Henshall with Junji Kawai, says that 45% of words are native Japanese, 45% are Chinese, 8% are English, and 2% are other. It mentions Portuguese and German as examples of other languages that have contributed words to Japanese.