Constant Morph of Japanese Words

No matter what the language is, it has changed over time and is still changing. You can say that especially with the Japanese language. The speed of change differs depending of the word (or the group of the words). I sometimes find some words become trend or out of trend in just a few months. And, of course, this makes the keywords or the market interests research very challenging for both SEO and SEM (PPC).

The Japanese language is written using 4 different types of characters, Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji, and Romaji. The Kanji and Hiragana are used to write majority of the sentences. Each Kanji character has (multiple) meanings and can be pronounced in several ways. If a word is well established in Japan, it’s usually written in Kanji and/or Hiragana.

The words originated in foreign countries such as “television” and “cup” are written in Katakana. Many words became popular in Japan in the recent years such as the digital and high-tech related words are usually written in Katakana, too. The tricky part is that while there are more than 55 Hiragana letters, you cannot replicate the exact pronunciation of the foreign words with them. It’s not just the difference between “R” and “L” or “B” and “V”, but Japanese got really creative in adopting foreign words.

For example, “television” is written as “テレビジョン”, but Japanese usually shorten it to “テレビ”. The “cup” is written as “カップ”, but Japanese also write it as “コップ”. By the way, “cop” is also written as “コップ”.

About 15 years ago, I had an opportunity to work with a website marketing the products using the HD technology such as TV and computer screens. The translator wrote “HD” in Hiragana as “ハイデフィニション” (high definition), which was correct. However, people in Japan was calling it “ハイビジョン” (high vision) at that time. In order for them to be visible to the Japanese search users, they had to change the Japanese word for HD to “high vision” on their website.

Interestingly, the commonly used word for “HD” in Japan has changed to “ハイデフィニション” (high definition) several years after that. I believe that more HD related information started to come in from US and Europe, people started to see “ハイデフィニション” (high definition) in the translated document, and are now used to use that term.

The big events can introduce new words. Those new words could change the shape quickly in the days of everyone is constantly consuming the translated information one way or another. A new word can become “trendy” overnight, and could be replaced by another word in a few months or even weeks.

The availability of the Internet has also closed the gap in words depending on where they live. You could hear a lot of differences in the speaking words from one area to another before the WWW, but now, you don’t find that much of the differences between the big cities such as Tokyo, and rural areas.

As a digital marketer, you want to be aware of these changes and incorporate the findings to the marketing strategy from the content to advertising. It will help you always connecting with the right audience.