Recently, I came across a blog that mentioned the usage of the word “smog” in its katakana form “スモッグ” during a broadcast of the NHK news. As you all can probably guess, it was our professor’s English blog about Japanese vocabulary. At first, I didn’t pay it much attention and didn’t think of why they chose to use this word instead the words they have in Japanese for smog. It wasn’t until when Alex mentioned some possibilities of why they might have chosen to use words that were borrowed from the English language, over preexisting Japanese words, that it occurred to me. Perhaps it was directly related to the connotations attached to the word “smog”, that they chose it over “霧(きり)” and “煙霧(えんむ)”. A quick search on the definitions of “霧” and “煙霧” told me that they meant fog, mist, or haze. For native English speakers, the difference between fog/mist/haze and smog is clear. Smog is essentially fog that has some sort of pollution mixed in. Now, I do not know the connotations attached to the words “霧” and “煙霧”, but if they are to be translated as fog or mist, then it would be sensible that they chose to use “スモッグ” as a way to emphasize the point that it is harmful, man-made pollution.
This sort of behavior isn’t by any means unique to Japanese, nor is it uncommon. We probably do not notice, but even the English language has many examples of borrowing words from a different language, rather than using the English equivalent. Examples include words such as manga (comics), sakura blossoms (cherry blossoms), hors d’oeuvres (appetizer), panzer (light tank), mu gu gai pan (mushroom chicken), and chow mein (fried noodles). As we can see from these examples, while they are both the same thing essentially, there is an underlying difference in the connotations of the words themselves. In the example of manga and comics, the subtle difference between them is that manga are comics done in a specific fashion, and that manga have to be made in Japan. The emphasis is that manga is a Japanese creation, and that manga are not the same as North American comics.
Well, it is my theory that when one person, who isn't completely fluent in the language, translates a sentence, they will choose to use some words over others, because they feel that certain words will "fit" more. Also, with respect to sentence structure, they may choose to phrase in such a way that the original "feeling" of the sentence is not lost. In doing so, the result may just end up being engrish.
Maybe you can have the class vote on which is their favorite engrish of the week and then on the final week they can vote on their overall favorite engrish among the weekly winners. And perhaps whoever in the class submitted that photo can get a free bag of candy or something along those lines. I think this way you can foster more involvement with your readers.
By Herman Lam