as i have mentioned before, one thing that comes with learning about languages is learning about concepts that only exist in a certain language, which is a fascinating thing. and if you’re like me, you may want to use that very cool foreign word whenever you can.
this, however, can bring in the risk of appropriating the word. meaning, the word is taken by non native speakers to express something that may not be its original meaning, to the point it can get twisted beyond recognition. if you’ve read my posts about the issue with words like “yaoi” or “fujoshi” you probably know what i’m talking about by now, but those are only two examples, and there’s bigger issues than the words people use for the content they consume and create.
i spend a big part of my time on online spaces for japanese media, which means i have seen people adopt japanese terms as part of their language very often. it can be something as simple as saying “all acording to keikaku” (計画 (plan)) because of a meme, or calling triangles “sankaku” (三角) because a character from a japanese game loves triangles and they like saying it, or saying “nya” (にゃ) instead of “meow” just because. these cases are known as Gratuitous Japanese.
now, i’m not japanese, so take this with a grain of salt, but i think it’s mostly harmless. since the words in question do not have that much of a cultural or historical significance, the worst it can be in some cases it would be “being cringe”. but using these words can still be disrespect for the language, as some people would be using foreign words to “adorn” one’s speech (or writing). i don’t know what these people’s intentions are, so i’m not going to pretend i know, but in a lot of cases it can be interpreted as “this person doesn’t think language is an actual language but an accessory”. which, i’m sure you can see, is not something anyone should think about any language.
however, as i said, i don’t think sprinkling words of a different language in your speech isn’t inherently bad. not as long as all the languages used are respected.
and i say it isn’t inherently bad because, as a multilingual with many multilingual friends, i tend to speak in “spanglish” with my friends, and sometimes we add some french to the mix too. this is because we all know the three languages, and as i said at the start, you can only convey some ideas or feelings in certain languages, so we are simply using the tools we have to ensure communication.
now, going to the “next level” of appropriated words, we have a more “problematic” case: when westerners take a foreign word and disregard its meaning, choosing to claim the word has an inherently negative meaning. CW for subtle racism
this is the case of yaoi/yuri and fujoshi/fudanshi/fujin, as i have mentioned before.
but i want to bring up more examples, which i’ve seen very recently:
still sticking to japanese terms (because i’ve seen discourse on this particular word for the last couple days on twitter), we have the term “doujinsh” (同人誌). its literal translation means “self published print works”, but the meaning many westerners have given it is “R-18 comic or story”.
this is another word to add to the list of japanese words that westerners have sexualised, and therefore demonised, and while it’s not that big of a problem itself, it does reveal that a lot of non japanese speakers tend to associate japanese = s*xual and s*xual = bad
which is a big issue.
now, let’s see another example, one with a word that’s closer to me:
gringo / gringa.
i brought it up earlier, since it’s one of my favourite words. and as i said there, it means “foreigner”.
however, some (mostly white) people from the USA have started claiming that “gringo” is a slur we use against them, which is simply ridiculous (and quite self centered, if you ask me).
while i admit that, yes, it’s mostly used for people from the USA (who i refuse to call American because i, too, am from the continent “America”), and it is sometimes used with distaste, at worst, it can be compared to how, in english, we say “white people”. but even then, the word is not even used negatively a lot of times!
also, for a word to be a slur, it has to have a history of oppressing minorities THROUGH that word.
so no, it’s not even close to being a slur.
one last example of this:
people who don’t live in the Philippines pushing for the usage of Pinxy and Filipinx as a “gender neutral” version of the words Pinoy and Filipino, when those words are already gender neutral, acording to most filipinos, who are the ones who know and use their language.
again, take this with a grain of salt, as i’m not filipino and just explaining what my filipino friends have told me.
the issue here is people taking a gender neutral word and suddenly claiming it’s no longer gender neutral, just because it doesn’t adhere to western neutral standards, it’s people completely disregarding what filipinos have to say because it doesn’t fit their own western narrative. it’s both saying “i don’t care about what you think of your language and its rules” and implying they aren’t inclusive because they don’t adhere to western standards.
which is pretty sh*tty if you ask me.
these are not the worst examples, though, there are far worse things that come with westerners appropriating words
for example: appropriation and secularisation of words important to some religions and cultures
CW for disrespect of religious terms and ideas, specifically hinduism and buddhism (as well as the former CWs)
for example, we’ve got “karma”, “chakras” or “nirvana”
i don’t want to delve too much into this because i have absolutely zero authority to talk about these, but these words have been used so often that they’ve been stripped of their meaning, treated as something without much importance, when they are key elements of currently practiced religions.
Karma is a belief that the things that that you do in this life affect your next life, and a reason why people strive to do good things in life. while some people here throw it around almost like a vengeance thing, and bring up “good” or “bad” karma (when those don’t exist).
Chakras aren’t supposed to be aligned but destroyed in order to reach transcendance and get closer with certain deities. They essientially weigh you down and they don’t govern aspects of people’s being…The chakras are what hold you to the material world and key is to destroy them to become closer to the divine and their blessings. and yet, people throw “aligning chakras” when they refer to something as simple as being in a good mood.
Nirvana is a state of transcendence and the goal of Buddhism. but people often paint it like the Christian heaven, or use it as “cloud nine”.
here’s a doc (courtesy of @katabasis) full of appropriative terms, words and objects focusing on western spiritually and modern witchcraft
lastly, we have the most HORRENDOUS example of secularisation AND DEMONISATION of a religious symbol, done on purpose.
CW for Nazism, Nazi symbolism and equating religious symbols to hate symbols (as well as the former CWs)
yes, i’m talking about the Nazi symbol, which many of you may know as the “Swastika”.
I’m going to be 100% honest, just writing about this makes me want to cry because of how f*cked up some human beings can be, because a white man, when translating Hitler’s autobiography, translated the original name of his symbol (“Haken Kreuz” lit. “hooked cross”) to the same name of a symbol that means a lot to hinduism and buddhism.
for context, here’s the Swastika:
it looks familiar, i know
it looks like the symbol that represents a lot of pain and genocides
but the Swastika is a beautiful symbol
it means well being, it’s a good symbol
now a lot of people associate it with a hate symbol
to the point Japanese people have considered changing the symbols for some of their PLACES OF WORSHIP because of its possible associations, because most of us don’t know what the swastika means.
here’s a good article that explains how the world’s perspective on the swastika changed.
the thing is. there is no record whatsoever that Hitler or the Nazis called their symbol a swastika, they called it a “hooked cross”, like i said before.
it was James Murphy, the man who translated Mein Kampf, who chose to use the name of a religious symbol in place os a symbol of hatred, of genocide
THIS is the worst way a foreign word has been appropriated by the west, by English speakers. and we can’t let that keep happening, or happen again. which is why it’s so important to know where words come from.