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It is often wrongfully assumed that Germany and Japan were not in contact prior to World War II. In reality, the two countries share a rich history of comingling, interdependence, and (as a result) cultural exchange beginning centuries prior to 1939. Perhaps the most interesting of these cultural exchanges relates to linguistics. One might think the geographical distance between the two countries to be an obstacle to linguistic exchange. However, this paper will outline the means by which German loanwords were introduced to Japan and explore various reasons for their continuation in Japanese society. Loanwords are present and used daily in virtually every language on Earth, however the discussion of the role they play in modern language is usually not commonplace in day-to-day life. A loanword is a term that has been borrowed by one language from another for various different reasons. Admittedly, it can be difficult to identify a loanword in English upon first glance, since one must be aware of the term’s etymology. While the three alphabets in contemporary Japanese (hiragana, katakana, and kanji) may seem daunting at first, they each actually serve a purpose in making a sentence easier to read by representing different term usages and etymologies. The phonetic katakana alphabet is used to spell words of foreign origin – that is, terms not originally from China or Japan. Given this information, it can be deduced that katakana in particular actually makes it easier for a reader to identify loanwords in Japanese. Most European loanwords in Japanese are spelled in katakana. In the year 1600, the first Dutch ship, operated by the Dutch East India Company, arrived on the Japanese archipelago looking to trade. Along with items and tools that were novel to the Japanese, the Dutch had also brought with them the Dutch language, which served an important role in the dispersal of German words and influence in Japan.
Glasser, Jillian, "German Loanwords in Japanese: Introduction to and Presence in Modern Japanese Society" (2022). Honors Theses. 3543.