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Idea of simplifying the Japanese written language to suit technical writings promoted by the Japan Patent Information Organization (JAPIO)

Japanese language is a language used almost exclusively in Japan, which is written with combination of three scripts (Chinese characters, and two syllabic scripts, “hiragana” and “katakana”). Arabic numerals are also used. Japanese language generally allows various sentence structures to represent the same meaning and it allows the correlation between the structure and the meaning to be one-to-many, many-to-one, and many-to-many occasionally. To find true meaning of the sentence, sometimes it is necessary to catch the implied meaning (“Implied meaning” is one of the essentials of aesthetic sense of Japan, which is represented by “Wabi/Sabi” showing something imperfect, impermanent and incomplete). For instance, the noun and verb in Japanese language do not change their writing and speech form differently, e.g., in the singular or in the plural in response to whether the subject is in the singular or plural, therefore, to find whether the subject is in the singular or in the plural, it is necessary to read between the lines (catch the unwritten meaning from the context). Even Japanese language itself allows the diversity in speech and writing, the translation to or from other language comes into question frequently, especially in the scenes where a literal translation is required, e.g., technical writing and translation including patent documents.

To be literal, it is necessary to expend much time, money and effort on the technical writing and translating manually. This situation caused by the specificity of Japanese language has impeded the rapid and voluminous information transmission inside and outside of Japan. The fuzziness associated with the sentence structure has been an obstacle to use the machine translation. To cope with online language translation service on machine translation bases which instantly translates in multiple languages (e.g., the recent collaboration of the EPO and Google to improve the machine translations in multiple languages), the Japanese language as it stands is considered to be defective.

To be suitable for technical writings and translating including patent documents, the Japan Patent Information Organization (JAPIO) has launched and promoted an idea of reconstructing grammatically and pragmatically the Japanese language since 2007 (“Technical Japanese for Patents” named by JAPIO). The establishment of “Technical Japanese” is sought firstly for patent writings, and the application of “Technical Japanese” is seemingly to extend to other writings gradually. Presently, the idea is ongoing and it is limited to the concept (no concrete plan has been presented by JAPIO). Without knowing why, the progress has been very slow indeed.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan pledged to open Japan to free trade in his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on 29th January 2011. To open the country shall mean in the first place “to open the language” by adopting “Technical Japanese” as soon as possible, so I think.

Though wondering from the subject, I think that specific loan words or phrases from Japanese language have already been established as present‐day Japanese outside Japan. That is, for instance, the words or phrases related to the sub-culture from Japan, such as “Manga”, “Otaku”, “Moe” and the like. I think “to open Japan” shall mean in the second place “to advance the Japan sub-culture worldwide” (this was one of the external policies worked out by former Prime Minister Taro Aso who was universally recognized as a “Manga” freak). In order to accelerate the spread of the Japanese sub-culture represented by “Manga”, “Otaku”, “Moe” and the like where the Japanese language is accepted as it is on word or phrase bases outside of Japan, my idea is to establish “Otaku-Japanese” narrowed down to the form of presentation specific to the Japanese visual sub-culture. “Otaku-Japanese” is composed of the simple Japanese scripts (words, phrases), and pictorial symbols (e.g., (*^_^*), (^o^)v), and even if very few understand it, I think it is OK because “Otaku” shall mean “not common” where young people shares the theme or topic of Japanese sub-culture among themselves. To advance the culture, to create new language is worth thinking. Perhaps, mating a hybrid of the Japan-made industrial product with the culture from Japan by new language (“Otaku-Japanese”) will be a major breakthrough towards the locked-up situation of Japan economy. Not a conventional sense of values such as high-level of technology and also low price, but establishing a new sense of values as is mentioned above is required for the industrial products, so I think.

By R. Enomori

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