German Loanwords in Japanese: Introduction to and Presence in Modern Japanese Society

Date of Defense


Date of Graduation




First Advisor

Jeffrey Angles

Second Advisor

Olivia Gabor-Peirce


It has often been wrongfully assumed by the uninformed outsider that Germany and Japan were first brought into contact through the events of World War II. Officially, the two countries began their diplomatic relations upon the American-initiated Meiji Restoration of 1868. Unofficially, historical documentation and linguistic evidence both support, in actuality, the rich shared history of comingling, interdependence, and cultural exchange between the two countries and their inhabitants, which began centuries earlier, perhaps even preceding German physician Phillip Franz von Siebold’s arrival to the archipelago via the Dutch military in 1823. Perhaps the most interesting of these cultural exchanges relates to linguistics. This paper challenges existing beliefs in the field of language contact regarding the introduction of German loanwords to Japan as outlined by Irwin (2011), Schmidt (2009), and Varley (2000). There is no doubt that Irwin’s “Loanwords in Japanese” (Amsterdam, 2011), Schmidt’s contribution to Tadmoor and Haspelmath’s World Language Database (Berlin, 2009), and Varley’s Japanese Culture (Honolulu, 2000) serve as indispensable resources to the study of language contact regarding Japanese, and thus, it is not the aim of this paper to critique or discredit the content and findings described in these works. Rather, this paper utilizes the information described in these and numerous other primary and secondary source materials ranging from Booij’s The Phonology of Dutch (The Phonology of the World's Languages) (Oxford, 1999) to Nagao’s “Doitsugo no gairaigo toshite haitta Nihongo ni tsuite” (Tokyo, 1972) in order to propose new theories regarding German interaction with Japanese society. Through analysis of loanword phonetics and phonology and the application of original research and ethnographic experiences gained first-hand in Japan (Kitakyushu, 2017), Germany (Nittenau, 2018), Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, 2019-2022), and the University of Chicago (Chicago, 2022-2023), this paper will ultimately present the process by which German loanwords were introduced to Japan and explore various reasons for their continued use in Japanese society today.

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