Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Ukelele Music and Hula Dancing at the Luau:
Asian and Pacific Loan-Words in English

Because our English language has borrowed so many words from other languages, people who speak English well also know many words from the languages of Asia and the Pacific Islands. For example, in addition to the very familiar Hawaiian words from the title of this essay -- ukelele, hula and luau (an outdoor party or feast) -- competent speakers of English also know the Tahitian words tattoo and taboo (a strict rule against something). We speakers of English also know words from other Pacific Island languages such as the Bahasa language of Indonesia and Malaysia -- gong (a giant cymbal-like noise maker), ketchup, orangutan, paddy (a watery field where rice is grown) and sarong (a sexy, one-piece wrap-around dress worn by Pacific Island women). We also know at least one word from the Tagalog language of the Philippine Islands -- boondocks (difficult terrain far away from any signs of civilization, i.e., the kind of place the Army sends soldiers for training purposes). Just before we reach the mainland of Asia, we come to Japan, another country that has given us many words. Here are just a few of the Japanese words that most English speakers already know -- futon (a Japanese sofa bed), tsunami, sushi, samurai, ninja, karate, dojo (a school where karate is taught), sensei (the head teacher at a karate dojo), kamikaze, honcho (the Japanese word which means something like "sergeant" or "squad leader" and which we usually use in the expression "head honcho"), and hara-kiri (the gruesome Japanese method of suicide by cutting one's own belly open). And I must mention my personal favorite Japanese-English word -- karaoke (the practice in some Japanese and some American nightclubs of letting drunken customers get up on an empty stage and sing the popular songs of the day to a recorded accompaniment). English also has gained words from mainland Asian countries like China and Korea. Almost every day, for example, I pass a sign in Center Point, Alabama, which has the Korean word Hyundai displayed in giant letters, and once or twice a week I pass another Korean sign at the main intersection in Trussville, Alabama, which advertises training in a martial art known as taekwondo. Also China, the most populous country in the world, has naturally had a big impact on English. Here is a sampling of Mandarin-English, Cantonese-English and other Chinese-English words that you will recognize if you are a well-educated speaker of English -- kung fu (the name of still another martial art), typhoon, kow-tow (to bow down as a sign of submission), gung ho (a serious dedication to a military organization such as the U.S. Marines, the Green Berets, or the Navy Seals), chow (which means "food," as in chow hall), chop suey, wok (a special frying pan used by Chinese cooks), and, of course, tea. So the next time somebody asks you how many languages you speak, tell them this: "I speak English well, and I know a little Hawaiian, Tahitian, Bahasa, Tagalog, Japanese, Cantonese-Chinese, Mandarin-Chinese, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Gaelic, Arabic, Swahili, Hebrew, Latin and Greek." We'll get to the classical Latin and Greek, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Gaelic, Arabic, Swahili and Hebrew in other essays.