As a beginner student of Japanese I noticed that Japanese uses an incredible amount of English vocab (pronounced the Japanese way of course).

I have studied a few other languages and English has this effect on many languages due to it's global scope but not to the extent of Japanese.

There are social experiments on YouTube where Japanese people try to speak Japanese without using an English loanword and they find it very hard. Some English loanwords they didn't even know were from English.

I seen a comment from a Japanese lady who lived in the States for a few years and when she went back to Japan she discovered that many Japanese words that she still uses have been subsumed in a sense by the cooler English version. She even said that a few times when speaking to young people they didn't even understand the Japanese word and have only ever heard the English version.

Is Japanese in danger of losing to English bit by bit ?

Do you think at some point the Japanese government is going to make a movement to encourage a return to pure Japanese and try to shake off the adopted English vocab ?

  • 1
    A few years? Do you have any example Japanese word that virtually disappeared that quickly in the last 5 years or so? For now, I think that lady is joking, or she is not Japanese to begin with. And what are the examples of loanwords Japanese people don't even know they were from English? There should be some (for example this), but they should be very rare.
    – naruto
    Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 14:05
  • 3
    Over 30% of English vocabulary is loanwords of French origin, so English was subsumed by French? Can you speak English without using a French loanword? 30-40% of Japanese vocabulary is 漢語, so Japanese was subsumed by Chinese?
    – chocolate
    Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 15:08

3 Answers 3


Things like this have happened all over the world. In the past, English speakers were so in love with cultures of other countries that they imported countless words into the English vocabulary. Now, English is a wonderful mishmash of words from old English, French and Latin. This is why English often has several ways to say one thing (e.g., ask-question-interrogate, help-aid-assist, word-term-lexeme).

For English speakers, such massive influx of foreign words happened long ago when English was not culturally as strong as now. In addition, English doesn't have something like katakana to explicitly mark foreign words as foreign. As a result, you certainly cannot speak English fluently without using those non-English-origin words, and you probably cannot even tell which easy words are originally foreign. But that is not to say English disappeared or English was in danger of disappearing.

Back to Japanese, it is true that some native words are gradually disappearing, but this is something that happens over a period of 50 years or more. Aside from trivial buzzwords, common native words won't be forgotten in 5 years or so. Someone who has lived in the States for only a few years is unlikely to notice any significant difference. I have no problem reading Japanese written 50 years ago. In addition, loanwords from English are almost certainly written in katakana, so Japanese people rarely forget their origin.

Do you think at some point the Japanese government is going to make a movement to encourage a return to pure Japanese and try to shake off the adopted English vocab?

This already happened during WWII (unsurprisingly). There are recent "proposals" from the government, too, but most Japanese did not pay attention to them. See also: Do loanwords have a more formal/technical/"soulless" feel compared to their native counterparts?


English loan words show up in a lot of other languages as well. When I was a French student you would see things like "Le Hamburger" and "Le Email". But with respect to Japan/Japanese and the question at hand, I think the nature of the Meiji Restoration being a turn toward the West after centuries of isolation probably has set a long arc of linguistic change into motion.

That arc was also probably accelerated compared to other languages given the the insulation from English that the Shogunate created compared to the Meiji period. Heck, the only Japanese word I know for bread is the same as the French i.e. パン. That could mean that Japanese ends up experiencing the same sort of linguistic drift that we see in English.

There might be other challenges to think about that will change the language and its use: Japan is going to be hit harder than the US or Canada by looming demographic changes over the next few decades - https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-japan-ageing-idUSKBN27C0GV. That's going to bring down the number of Japanese as first-language speakers in the world. There's also a whole lot of written material culture that was lost when hiragana was standardized into the 49 characters that we know today. Apparently keeping old Hiragana alive is something of an almost lost art - https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jun/26/saving-woman-hand-the-artist-rescuing-female-only-writing

Anyway, very interesting question that probably doesn't have a simple answer.


There's been a lot of studies regarding English loan words in Japanese. You can even find complete books about the subject. Here's two references:

An interesting section to read in relation to your questions would be, in the first reference, part 4 Stances Towards Loanwords in Japan. Here's the intro:

Different stances towards the usage of loanwords in Japan and even what is considered to be loanwords can be regarded as a significant factor in determining the effects loanwords have on Japanese society as well as on the perceived modern Japanese language ideology of a monolingual Japan.

What you're asking is quite difficult to answer because it's about predicting the future. Personally, I don't think Japanese is at risk of "losing to English". Even though Japanese has more loan words than other languages for many reasons described in those research, Japan has a very strong culture and the loan words are always adapted in the language, keeping a Japanese signature.

In addition, even though there's more compared to other languages, it still consist of a minority of the Japanese language, you can easily see this when you read Japanese. I saw the social experiment you're talking about and they're using specific loan words that are known to have lost an original Japanese equivalent, for the sake of a fun experiment.

What might happen is that more and more Japanese will learn english and start pronouncing the words like the original, but that will be the extent of it (in my opinion). I think it's just a normal effect of globalization and english being the universal language.

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