Notes from the classroom: Adopted versus adapted words


"Hey, check out these mangas, they're awesome!"
"Brad, of all animes out there, how could you have not watched Ninja Scroll?"
"Ninjas and geishas are really cool. I can't wait to see them when I go to Japan!"

You see what's wrong with those sentences above, right? It's the -s tacked onto the Japanese words. Even Destructoid's grammar nazi, Samit, fell victim to this. There's a little difference between adopted words and adapted words when it comes to language. So please, sit down for just a moment and pay attention while I explain this with the limited linguistic knowledge I have.

When we use words like "manga" and "anime," these are adopted words. They keep all the grammatical workings of their original language, along with the pronunciation that's originally used. And since Japanese doesn't have any distinction between singular and plural, any word directly taken from the Japanese language shouldn't be pluralized. Sure, we all pronounce them wrong (like with "anime"), but that's the standard that's been drilled into our culture as we're slowly adapting the word.

Which brings me to adaptation. This is the step beyond adoption, where one language (in this case, English) has completely taken a word and made it part of their lexicon, shaping and molding it to fit their speaking style. A bunch of words in English, such as art, table, and routine were all originally adapted from French. These words seem like they've always been in the English language, but they were originally borrowed.

Words aren't adapted within a set of a few years. They manage to work their way in over decades, because they need to spread throughout the entire userbase of a language, or at least the language in a region (i.e. the U.S. or the U.K. instead of "all English speakers). So, just remember this when you go to pluralize Japanese words -- you shouldn't.

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Brad Rice
Brad RiceFounder   gamer profile

Brad helped found in 2006, and currently serves as an Associate He's covered all aspects of the industry, but has a particular preference for the business-end of things, more + disclosures



Filed under... #learn japanese



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