Japanese Language Survey: As Words Constantly Evolve, Let’s Share Them Across Generations

As society becomes increasingly digitized, new words and phrases are being created. Language should be carefully used to ensure smooth communication across generations.

The Cultural Affairs Agency has released the results of its fiscal 2022 public opinion survey on the Japanese language, covering people age 16 and older nationwide. The latest survey asked about recent word usage, such as whether people use the word “hiku,” meaning “to draw back,” in the sense of “to feel something is strange and be taken aback.”

Seventy percent of the respondents said they use “hiku” this way while 29% said they do not, indicating that this usage is becoming more and more common in society. As for “oshi,” meaning “recommending something to others,” respondents were more or less evenly split on whether they use the word in the sense of “a person or thing that one likes and supports.”

Only 31% said they use the word “tsunda,” meaning “checkmate,” in the sense of “I’m screwed” and 32% said they are bothered by this usage. All of these words are used more frequently by the younger generation, and their use tend to decrease going up through the age groups.

Words cannot lead to dialogue or constructive discussions unless their meanings are shared. Even if you know a word, the person you are talking with may not know it. It is hoped that words will be carefully chosen according to the generation of one’s audience and the occasion.

It is also important to develop the habit of looking up words in a dictionary or encyclopedia when encountering unknown words.

The latest survey also revealed that 85% of respondents have at some point had trouble understanding alphabetical abbreviations such as AED (automated external defibrillator) and SNS (social networking service).

The use of such abbreviations has become widespread, especially for digital-related terms. They are short and therefore may be easy to use, but sometimes their meaning may not be widely understood. In such cases, it may be necessary to provide assistance such as by adding supplementary explanation.

Eighty percent of respondents to the survey said they are careful in their use of language. Harassment has become a social problem in workplaces and schools, and online postings sometimes cause emotional confrontations.

Behind the trend to use language carefully may be psychological reasons such as not wanting to get into unnecessary trouble.

To develop a sense of language, it is important to enrich one’s vocabulary by reading books from a young age. Emotion is also nurtured through literary works. It is hoped that children will have more opportunities to experience the printed word at home and school and to deal deeply with the language.

With the COVID-19 pandemic having subsided, opportunities for face-to-face contact have increased. It is hoped that smooth communication will be sought through the appropriate use of language.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 30, 2023)