Jun 12, 2011

Japanese Smelling like English and English Smelling like Japanese

I wrote that the Japanese language had been deeply influenced by foreign languages in the journal "Multilingualism and Literature". I'd like to look at some particular cases in today's journal.

At the end of the journal "How Many Friends Can You Keep?", I wrote "I'm proud of the quality of my friends, not the quantity of them."

It's quite difficult to translate the expression "be proud of" into Japanese. If you looked it up in an English Japanese dictionary, you would find that the meaning of "be proud of" was "を誇る (wo hokoru)". If I follow the dictionary, I should translate that phrase into Japanese as follows.


This Japanese phrase sounds a little unnatural to me, and I guess its nuance is different from what I mean in the original English phrase.

When I hear "を誇る (wo hokoru)", I imagine that one is proud of something quite precious, such as the Novel Prize. I think that the expression "be proud of" in English is used for more common things. (Is it true?) The phrase "I'm proud of the quality of my friends" doesn't sound unnatural, but "友だちの質(quality of my friends)" is too trivial to "誇る (hokoru)" in Japanese.

There is no Japanese expression which is precisely corresponds to the English expression "be proud of". I guess that the origin of the expression "を誇る (wo hokoru)" is a translation of "be proud of". When I hear the expression "を誇る (wo hokoru)" in Japanese, I am reminded of the English expression "be proud of".

I wrote about the word "和臭 (washu)" in the journal "Smells Like English Sprit". Intellectuals in Japan used to write classic Chinese prose and poems (of course I can't write them), but they were written in Japanese style. They are called "和臭がする (washu ga suru)" (smelling like Japanese). In this sense the Japanese expression "を誇る (wo hokoru)" smells like English.

In this case English influenced Japanese. Sometimes Japanese could influence English. English prose, which is written by Japanese speakers, might smell like Japanese.

In Japanese we tend to avoid assertive sentences. When I write Japanese prose, I often use the expression "と思う (to think that)" or "だろう (maybe or might be)".

On lang8 I translated the phrase "I'm proud of the quality of my friends, not the quantity of them." into Japanese as follows.


If I translate it directly into English, it would be "I don't want to be proud of the quantity of my friends but the quality of them". I used the expression "思いたい (want to be)", because I'd like to avoid an assertive sentence.

When I write in English, I often use the expressions "I think", "I guess", "I would like to", "might be" and so on. I "think" that it "might" not be grammatically incorrect, but I "guess" that it "would" sound unnatural for native English speakers, "wouldn't" it?

Does my English smell like Japanese?


  1. Hello!

    I'm an American college student who is currently learning Japanese. I just found your blog, and I find your posts about language really interesting.

    As to your question, I often find myself using phrases such as 'I think', 'might', and other language softeners, and I think that it's not at all unusual especially in casual speech. The only thing is that I remember being told in school was not to use them in formal papers because you are trying to assert a point.

    When I am writing in Japanese, the phrases I have trouble with are phrases like "I'll miss you" or "I hope things are going well." I'm never sure if I am conveying the correct feeling.

  2. Thank you for your comment.

    I can't translate "がんばって" into English well.
    I used to translate it "good luck", but "I hope things are going well." "might" be more appropriate.