I’m a Japlish speaker. No, that’s not the same as ‘Engrish’: hilariously butchered English, often spotted on signs, menus, and ads in East Asian countries such as Japan, China, and Korea (there’s even a whole website dedicated to it! www.engrish.com). I mean Japlish, the hybrid language my friends and I unknowingly created and spoke—and still speak today.
I grew up predominantly speaking English despite growing up in Japan (my parents are Singaporean)— though I technically learned both languages at the same time. When I was six, my parents enrolled me in an international school, but I still spoke Japanese daily with my friends, making me proficiently bilingual. Fast-forward ten years to sixteen-year-old me who went to get a haircut at a QB House near my school. Striking up a conversation with the barber led to his asking me with genuine astonishment in Japanese: “By the way… what language do you speak with your friends?!” I looked at him blankly. He explained: “Whenever I hear you students talk, I get confused. I pick up Japanese words here and there, but it’s also weirdly mixed with English words. You guys sound
Naturally, I was baffled: I spoke English with English speakers and Japanese with Japanese speakers—that’s it. Or was it? The next day at school, I listened carefully to our conversations, heavily conscious of how we formed our sentences—and sure enough, it was an erratic mix of Japanese and English. It was only at that moment, after being in an international environment for a decade, when I realized I neither spoke purely English nor Japanese with my bilingual friends. We spoke Japlish.
Here’s an example:「最後のessayいつdueなの?」(“Saigo no essay itsu due nano?”) This literally translates to: “The last essay when due is it?”—or in proper English: “When is the last essay due?”
Another commonly used phrase:「Ohマジで?!」 (“Oh majide?!”)—which translates to: “Oh really?” We used hybrid words/phrases forcibly stuck together as juvenile slang.
By Justin YW Lau
Justin YW Lau (@JustinYWLau) is a writer and musician born in Singapore and raised in Japan.
Currently studying for an MA in English Literature at Durham University (UK), he has been published in The Missing Slate, Bunbury, Denizen, and is editorin- chief of Transect Magazine.