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EDITORIAL | National Japanese Language Survey Highlights its Living Character

The survey shows respondents weclome the adoption of new words into Japanese while viewing the language as a basis of their culture and behavior toward others.



Expressing more than the phonetics of the spoken word, this exhibition of Japanese calligraphy by artist Shoko Kanazawa shows the complex relationship between culture and language. At the Mori Art Museum, December 28, 2021. (© Sankei)

Flexibly adopting new words, but taking care in employing them. Such a trend is becoming apparent. The environment surrounding the language Japanese use in daily life is changing dramatically for various reasons.

Some of those reasons have to do with the spread of SNS (social networking sites). We want to connect to the future while cherishing the Japanese language as a source of our culture and spirituality.

The Agency for Cultural Affairs has released the results of its 2022 "Public Opinion Survey on the Japanese Language." Its target population was Japanese people aged 16 and older. 

When asked if they ever use the word hiku ("pull") in the sense of "feeling astonished at something strange," 70% of the respondents said they "sometimes" did so. Similarly, 53.3% of respondents said that they used the verb moru (flourish) in the sense of "to make something look better." Meanwhile, 49.8% of those replying said they used oshi (recommend) to refer to a person or thing they like. 

These are all previously existing words for which new meanings and usages can now be found in the dictionary.

Interestingly, when asked if they were bothered by other people using these words in a new way, more than 80% of all respondents said they were not bothered. That is probably due to the increasing opportunities for being exposed to them through diverse media such as television and the Internet. 

Princess Aiko, daughter of the Emperor and Empress of Japan speaks to the country at her first solo press conference as she turns 20. (©Sankei)

Correct Usage of Japanese

On the other hand, respondents were very focused on awareness of how to correctly use our national language. 

More than 80% said that they are usually "careful about the use of language." There was no great variation in the percentage by age bracket. 

When asked about specifics of why they are careful, the most popular answers were in the following order: 

  • Using appropriate language in formal settings, 
  • Using honorific expressions properly, and 
  • Not making comments that could be perceived as discrimination or harassment.

These responses serve as evidence of the rich characteristics of the Japanese language. It is rooted in the ability of speakers to use polite language and honorifics showing proper respect for the occasion and the person who is being spoken to. 

The responses also reflect a sense of caution about issues related to harassment. They also indicate an awareness that the choice of words can cause friction when people venture an opinion online.

Announcing the buzzwords of the year for 2021, including the winning new word, "Shotaimu" (Sho Time), based on baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani's name. (©Sankei)

Valuing the National Language

In response to the question "Do you value the Japanese language," 62.2% of those answering the questionnaire replied that they do. 

As for their motivations in doing so, 52.9% cited "because I think our language is the basis for how we think, express feelings, and judge right and wrong." That was followed by "It [the Japanese language] is in itself Japanese culture and it also supports our culture as a whole" at 45.0%. 

Participants were also asked about alphabetical acronyms such as AED (automated external defibrillator) and SNS (social networking service). Among respondents, 85.1% said they sometimes have trouble understanding their meanings. Still, many are getting used to them. Needless to say, we need to make an effort to take various opportunities to remember them.

Words are alive. Their leaves and branches grow, but the trunk remains unshaken. Let's treasure our Japanese language.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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