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By Shamus
on Thursday Apr 6, 2006
Filed under:
Nerd Culture


There is an old SNL sketch that has Chris Farley playing an American tourist who somehow ends up on a Japanese game show. (If you’ve never seen it, you can get it here.) He doesn’t speak the language, know the rules, or even understand what’s going on, and the skit gets pretty crazy as he’s introduced to the strange and painful world of game shows in Japan. It’s quite funny.

The skit has everyone else speaking faux-Japanese. It sounds enough like the real thing to make the skit work for me, but even to my untrained ear I can easily tell they are talking gibberish.

This got me to thinking, though. Do Japanese entertainers ever do this with English? If so, what would it sound like? That would be facinating to hear. They might not have to though, since English speakers in Tokyo are easier to find than Japanese speakers in Hollywood or New York. In the Anime I’ve seen up until now, English has always been real English and not gibberish. Still, a low-budget show (comedy show in particular) might go this route, and it would be facinating to hear how English sounds to non-English speakers.

Steven Den Beste had a post at one point (which I’m sure is still there, but I can’t find it now) which showed the scoreboard in Angelic Layer. (Update: Right here! Thanks Steven.) The display was in properly spelled English, but none if it meant anything. It was just just some general English words arranged to look like a meaningful display at first glance. It worked: I never noticed it was nonsense until he pointed it out.

Comments (5)

  1. The picture you’re thinking of was here.

  2. foobario says:

    Marginally related observation:

    Japanese magician Cyril Takayama (you can see a lot of his stuff on Youtube) has a show in Japan, and while my one quarter of college Japanese only allows me to understand snippets of what he is saying, every once in a while he asks his audience a question or makes a comment in English. And they usually seem to know what he is saying, i.e. he doesn’t then repeat the question in Japanese. The questions are usually pretty simple (“what is your name?”, “is that your card?”) and the comments are too (“watch”, “goodbye everybody”), but it really stands out.

    Unfortunately I don’t know how common the use of English phrases is in Japan. I’m thinking of how Americans will sometimes say “Como esta?” or “Hasta la vista” (grrr frickin terminator movies) or how people with some knowledge of the Japanese language will say “so desu ka?”, and how this probably sounds to people who speak the other language, especially if they don’t speak English. (“babble babble babble como esta? babble babble babble”)

    Travelling in India, Nepal, Thailand, and Cambodia I would experience this firsthand; especially in India with the British influence so completely absorbed into the culture that Indians who do not speak English nevertheless use English words all the time, but if you point that out to them they think you’re crazy as they’re ‘obviously’ Hindi words.

  3. foobario says:

    I just watched a few more Cyril vids, and he uses English words quite a bit: “please”, “wait”, “look”, “don’t try this at home”.

    That last one makes me wonder: is “don’t try this at home” a uniquely English phrase?

    In northern India, before I could speak any Hindi, I would be trying to resolve some issue with train tickets or something and the person would be saying “… … .. .. .. problem … .. . .. .. “, which amused me because at that moment all my problems were Indian in origin and they apparently didn’t have a word for ‘problem’. Upon reflection I realized that the British occupancy might well have cemented the concepts of ‘problem’ and ‘English’ together forever.

  4. Telas says:

    I knew a guy in Louisiana whose family had moved from Bangladesh when he was about 15. He spoke no English when he got here, and he thought that whites and blacks spoke different languages.

    I can’t do it justice on a keyboard, but his impression of “the white language” sounded like a slow and nasal: “Bote kapeta wamaka paya”. Heard from a distance, it does sound like someone speaking English.

    The “black language” sounded like a much faster and forceful: “Shibigita hawigee pushamabeta. Shee.”

    And yes, listening to him explain this is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.

  5. MikeSSJ says:

    There are some anime out there featuring gibberish:

    One instance is “Fate/Stay Night”, which, however, doesn’t really feature English, but rather German gibberish. Although they use actual German words, the sentences don’t make any sense. Translated to English, it would look something like:

    “House Cat Shooting Fish Car”

    I crack up every single time I watch one of those scenes >_>

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