What is Engrish?

Engrish is a slang term which refers to poor-quality attempts by Japanese writers to create English words and phrases; whether in mistranslation of an original Japanese language text, or in an attempt to create an original text in the English language. The Japanese-specific terms Japlish and Janglish also exist, although they are much less common and typically considered more derogatory. It is also commonly used with reference to any East Asian language, not necessarily Japanese.

Engrish is most often considered to be a humorous misuse of English. Engrish also refers to the deliberately careless or mistaken use of English words in advertising, for example, as an exotic embellishment. It is generally considered distinct from wasei-eigo, which refers to English-based coinages that have found common use in Japan but are unknown in English-speaking countries.

The term Engrish is considered offensive by some Japanese and a few other East Asian languages that do not have separate sounds for R and L. In the case of Japanese, the R sound is pronounced as an alveolar lateral flap, articulated with the tongue flapped against the hard palate behind the front teeth, so that it sounds like a Spanish soft R. Because Japanese does not have a separate equivalent for the English L, native Japanese speakers not fluent in English often mispronounce English words with the letter L in them. While the term mocks the accent, it is used mainly without malice in reference to humorous misuses, puns, and double enendres within written English, not difficulties in pronunciation.

Engrish can also refer to the Japanese pronunciation of English or a Japanese dialect with a number of English loanwords. Because Japanese has only five vowels, few consonant clusters and no distinction between R and L, English loanwords are often pronounced in a manner that sounds unusual and even humorous to English speakers. For example, in spoken Japanese, guitarist Eric Clapton becomes エリック・クラプトン Erikku Kuraputon, Australia becomes オーストラリア ÅŒsutoraria, and “McDonald’s” becomes マクドナルド Makudonarudo, which is often further abbreviated to マクド Makudo or マック Makku. Japanese uses over 600 imported English words in common speech, sometimes in abbreviated form. Examples are ハンカチ hankachi for “handkerchief”, フォーク fōku for “fork”, テーブル tÄ“buru for “table”, プロレス puroresu for “pro wrestling”, and so on. The more outlandish and humorous the pronunciation change is, the more likely it is to be considered Engrish. Even fairly logical English loanwords in Japanese will often sound foreign and unintelligible to an English speaker, such as the use of チーズ chÄ«zu for “cheese” when taking a photograph. These pronunciation changes are linguistically systematic and are completely unrelated to the speaker’s intelligence.

Engrish was once a frequent occurrence in consumer electronics product manuals, with phrases such as “to make speed up find up out document”, but it is less frequent today. Another source of poor translation is unchecked machine translation, such as that from the Babelfish service or Google Language Tools.

Engrish features prominently in Japanese pop culture, as some young Japanese people consider the English language to be highly fashionable. Japanese has assimilated a great deal of vocabulary from the English language, and many popular Japanese songs and television themes feature disjointed phrases in English amongst the mostly Japanese lyrics. Japanese marketing firms helped to create this popularity, and have subsequently created an enormous array of advertisements, products, and clothing marked with English phrases that seem highly amusing and/or inexplicably bizarre to a native English speaker. These new English terms are generally short-lived, as they are used more fashionably than meaningfully.

In contrast to Engrish, the term Nihonglish is occasionally heard, as well as the variant 英本語Eihongo, a combination of 英語 Eigo, the Japanese word for the English language, and 日本語 Nihongo, the Japanese word for the Japanese language. It refers to the conceptual opposite of Engrish: badly pronounced and ungrammatical Japanese produced by a native English speaker. A typical example is the American English pronunciation of こんにちは konnichiwa; rendered with an English stress pattern and phonetics as /kə.ˈni.tʃi.wɑ/ . The term Nihonglish is often found among communities of Japanese language students where Japanese can be used sporadically in English conversation much as English is used among English students in Japan. The use of Nihonglish is usually intentional, and is done with a humorous or sarcastic intent. A heavy English accent is used, indicating supposed unfamiliarity with the rules of Japanese pronunciation. It is also known for being practiced occasionally by some non-Japanese fans of Japanese animation, in such cases it is also sometimes referred to as otakuism.

Poor Chinese English (or a mixture of Chinese and English) is sometimes referred to as Chinglish. Whereas “Engrish” is generally not considered a pejorative term, on account of it often being intentional, “Chinglish” is much less neutral, implicitly ridiculing people whose native language is not English. In comparison, English speakers who embarrass themselves trying to speak other languages are sometimes described as embarazado.

Some idiosyncratic usages of English among a community that is largely bilingual (Spanglish, Yinglish, Franglais) have names with more neutral connotations, and are applied largely to people whose skills in English are more on par with those of the society in general.
“ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US”, one of the most popular and well-known Engrish phrases ever created. The infamous mistranslation occurs as part of the subtitled dialogue during the introduction to the Sega Megadrive version of the 1989 video game Zero Wing.

Some video games are particularly noteworthy for their poor Japanese-to-English translations that result in memorable Engrish phrases. The video game Samurai Spirits, for instance, used the word “Victoly” instead of “Victory” at a duel’s conclusion. Probably the most well known of these are the phrases “All your base are belong to us” from Zero Wing as well as “I feel asleep” and “The truck have started to move” from Metal Gear. Naturally, as gaming technology progressed and the mainstream appeal of gaming grew over the years giving way to larger budgets for games, these kinds of poor translations have become nearly extinct due to the hiring of more professional translators. Engrish phrases can still be found in some Japanese versions of games today, such as the popular “Shine get!” from Super Mario Sunshine, which was popular enough to be parodied in the English versions of later Mario games. Fawful of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is loosely considered to be a parody of poor game translations as well as the less infamous “ZELLLLOOO!!! JUZDIE ZELLLOOO!!!” (which is a mistranslation of “Zero”) and “THE BADDLE HAZ JUSD BEGUNN!” of MegaMan X6.

Anime can also feature examples of Engrish which, over time, become distanced from their original intended meaning. In Dragon Ball, for instance, the character of Bulma (Buruma) was intended to be Bloomers or panties (in the sequel Dragon Ball Z, her son would be called Trunks); later, however, there are ocassions when her name is clearly spelled “B-U-L-M-A”

Another example is “Going faster is the system job” written on computer cooling-fans manufactured by a company called Titan. Engrish has featured in several episodes of the American animated series South Park. In one such episode, Good Times with Weapons, the main characters play ninja accompanied by a ridiculous song, sung in Japanese by Trey Parker, the show’s creator, that featured the chorus “let’s fighting love.”

The Pokemon game is another rich source of Engrish. For example, one Pokemon creature was intended to be named after the Greek hero “Hercules”, but when written in Japanese it appeared as “Heracures”. American translators did not recognize the famous name, and translated it back as “Heracross”, believing it to have been an unknown or possibly nonsense Japanese word.

Engrish is occasionally employed deliberately for an amusing or exotic effect, just as Chinese characters or letters of the Greek or Faux Cyrillic are equivalently used in Western society (usually incorrectly) as a graphical embellishment. Similarly, in English, umlauts, accents, Ø, and misspellings are added to give an exotic look to otherwise ordinary phrases like Mötley Crüe and Hägar the Hørrible (see heavy metal umlaut)— or Häagen-Dazs. See also French phrases used by English speakers for examples of distortion or deliberate change of meaning.

The term Engrish has been increasingly used for any occasion when English is misspelled or misused in other countries.
Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engrish
Perhaps the best known site with pictures of “Engrish” mistakes is Engrish.com

Note: The people I know who use the term “Engrish” do so as a term of endearment, out of a love of the language, not in any way that is derogitory. However, there are those who consider the term to be insensitive. I coined the term “innocent English” to refer to these mistakes as well as those of native speakers, as a more sensitive term for English mistakes.

2 thoughts on “What is Engrish?”

  1. Hello there
    just wanted to say that the name of the GREEK hero is indeed Heracles. The Roman (Latin)equivalent which came to us was Hercules. So in this case the Japanese were not incorrect. The fault lies with ignorant translators.

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