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A T-shirt in Kyoto in 2008. English text has been added for fashion purposes, but the text does not have a comprehensible meaning in English. This use of English is reminiscent of the use of Chinese and Japanese characters on clothing sold in western countries, also added for aesthetics but often without a comprehensible meaning.

Engrish is a slang term for the misuse or corruption of the English language by native speakers of Japanese and other Asian languages.[1] The term itself relates to Japanese speakers' tendency to inadvertently substitute the English phonemes "R" and "L" for one another, a process known as lallation, because, unlike English, the Japanese language has only one liquid consonant (traditionally romanized with "R").

The term Engrish first appears as a mispronunciation of the word English in the 1940s, but it was not until the 1980s that it began to be used to as a byname for defective Asian English.[2] The related term "wasei-eigo" refers to pseudo-anglicisms that have entered into everyday Japanese.

While the term may refer to spoken English, it can also describe written English. In Japan, it is common to add English text to items for decorative and fashion purposes. Such text is often added to create a cosmopolitan feeling rather than to be read by native English speakers, and so may often be meaningless or grammatically incorrect.

Engrish can be found in many places, including signs, menus, and advertisements. Terms such as Japanglish, Japlish or Janglish are more specific terms for Japanese Engrish.[2]

Roots of the phenomenon[edit]

There are two contributing factors to Japanese Engrish. Firstly, the two languages have significantly different grammar: Japanese word order, the frequent omission of subjects in Japanese, the absence of articles, a near-complete absence of consecutive consonants, and difficulties in distinguishing /l/ and /r/, or /θ/ and /s/ sounds, all contribute to substantial problems using Standard English effectively.[3] Indeed, Japanese people have tended to score comparatively poorly on international tests of English.[4]

An example of the Japanese use of English for aesthetic and marketing purposes on a Toyota RAV4 car spare wheel.

Secondly, English is frequently used in Japan (and elsewhere) for aesthetic rather than functional purposes;[5] i.e., for Japanese consumption, not for English speakers per se, as a way of appearing "smart, sophisticated and modern", in much the same way as Japanese and similar writing scripts are used in Western fashion.[6] Indeed, it is claimed that in such decorative English "there is often no attempt to try to get it right, nor do the vast majority of the Japanese population ever attempt to read the English design element in question. There is therefore less emphasis on spelling and grammatical accuracy."[7]

In popular culture[edit]

A shop front in Kyoto.

Instances of Engrish due to poor translation were frequently found in many early video games produced in Japan, often due to the creators not having enough (or not wanting to spend enough) money for proper translations.[citation needed] One well-known example of Engrish in pop culture is the translation of the video game Zero Wing which gave birth to the phenomenon All your base are belong to us, which also became an Internet meme. This phenomenon is parodied in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga,[citation needed] in which the character Fawful extensively uses Engrish in his dialogue. In the Japanese version of Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (in which Fawful also appears as the main antagonist), in the same subseries, the character Broque Monsieur also speaks Engrish.[citation needed]

Engrish has been featured occasionally in the Trey Parker and Matt Stone cartoon South Park, such as the song "Let's Fighting Love", used in the episode "Good Times with Weapons", which parodies the poorly translated opening theme sequences sometimes shown in anime, and in Parker and Stone's feature length Team America: World Police where the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is depicted singing the song "I'm so Ronery".[8]

The British fashion brand Superdry, which takes inspiration from Japanese clothing styles, has established a style of placing meaningless Japanese text such as 'Sunglasses company' and 'membership certificate' on clothing sold in Britain.[9] The company explained to a Japanese television news programme that most translations were done using simple automatic translation programs such as Babelfish, without attempting to make the texts accurate.[10]

Monty Python's Flying Circus featured a parody of the drama series Elizabeth R, where they portrayed the cast riding motor-scooters and speaking Engrish, thus changing the title to "Erizabeth L".

A Lotteria restaurant in Myanmar

In the 1983 film A Christmas Story, the Parker family goes to a Chinese restaurant for their Christmas dinner, and are serenaded by the waitstaff with Engrish Christmas carols, such as "Deck the harrs wis boughs of horry, fa ra ra ra ra ra ra ra ra" and "Jingre berrs, jingre berrs, jingre arr the way, oh what fun it is to ride in one-horse open sreigh!"[11]

In the Western release of the NES video game Ghostbusters (1986), players who defeat the end boss are rewarded with this message: "Conglaturation!!! You have completed a great game. And prooved [sic] the justice of our culture. Now go and rest our heroes!" [12] The misspelling, conglaturation, is often used as sarcasm toward someone who tries to succeed, but ends up failing miserably. A similar typo is seen at the end of Ghosts 'n Goblins (1986) on the NES/Famicom, where it reads, "Congraturation. This story is happy end. Thank you." In a similar vein, the Hudson Soft video game Stop the Express (1983) reads, "Congraturation! You sucsess!"[13] upon completing each level.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ziemba, Christine N. (December 5, 2004). "Translate at your own risk". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  2. ^ a b Lambert, James (2018). "A multitude of 'lishes': The nomenclature of hybridity". English World-wide. 39 (1): 12. doi:10.1075/eww.38.3.04lam.
  3. ^ Dougill, John (2008). "Japan and English as an alien language" (PDF). English Today. 24 (1): 18–22. doi:10.1017/S0266078408000059. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-17. Retrieved 2013-05-21.
  4. ^ Kowner, Rotem (2003). "Japanese Miscommunication with Foreigners: In Search for Valid Accounts and Effective Remedies" (PDF). Jahrbuch des Deutschen Instituts für Japanstudien. 15: 117–151. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-08-01.
  5. ^ Ikeshima, Jayne Hildebrand (July 2005). "Some perspectives on the phenomenon of "Engrish"" (PDF). Keio Journal of International Studies. 15: 185–198.
  6. ^ Dougill, John (1987). "English as a decorative language". English Today. 3 (4): 33–35. doi:10.1017/S0266078400003126.
  7. ^ Melin, Tracy; Rey, Nina (2005). "Emphasizing Foreign Language Use to International Marketing Students: A Situational Exercise That Mimics Real-World Challenges". Global Business Languages. 10: 13–25.
  8. ^ Stuever, Hank (October 15, 2004). "Puppet Government 'South Park' Creators' Left Jab at Jingoism May Backfire". Washington Post. Retrieved 16 September 2011. The North Korean dictator speaks in the voice of "South Park's" Eric Cartman, ... only with an Engrish accent. "I'm so ronery," Kim confesses in a pitiful ballad to himself, which explains his evil-doing -- he just needs to be ruvved.
  9. ^ "Superdry". Unmissable Japan. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  10. ^ "Superdry: Popular UK Fashion Brand Uses Gibberish Japanese". Japan Probe. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
  11. ^ StarWalker13 (April 26, 2009). "A Christmas Story Chinese Restaurant Scene" on YouTube
  12. ^ NES Longplay [324] Ghostbusters, retrieved 2019-09-03
  13. ^ Five translations in games that will make you smile, retrieved 2019-10-12

External links[edit]