A fake gaijin accent is a method employed by a speaker of Japanese in order to sound like a gaijin. By definition, a gaijin is assumed to speak English, so the accent will generally mimic English. Much more rarely, fake Russian or Chinese, Korean, and Indian accents are used. As far as I know, there has been no organized study of this phenomenon; this will be my attempt to classify and categorize it, and provide some examples from personal experience.

A fake gaijin accent normally includes any of the following characteristics:

Diction

selection of simple Japanese phrases (eg. shokuji o suru → taberu, sumimasen deshita → gomen ne, shitsurei shimasuja ne)

increase in use of gairaigo (foreign loanwords generally written in katakana) and wasei eigo (Japanese-made English-like words)

pidginization with English words (eg. ureshii → hapii, pan → bureddo, san → misutaa, watashi → mii)

accompaniment of English phrases and interjections popularized by Japanese pop-culture (eg. "Oh my God!", "Oh yeah!", "Oh no!", "Hey baby")

Syntax

usage of English-like structures:

  • excessive definition of subject, using "wa"
  • excessive use of personal pronouns, especially "watashi" and "anata"
  • excessive use of copula "desu"
  • arrangement of sentences in English word order (subject - verb - object) * this is fairly rare.

simplification of Japanese grammar:

  • removal of particles
  • excessive use of particles that would naturally be omitted (especially "wa")
  • usage of verbs in their uninflected (dictionary) form or masu form

Pronunciation

liquid r or related "mouthy" sound caused by raised tongue

rounded vowels, sometimes accompanied by a "y" sound at the end of terminal vowels

change in vowel sounds, especially shift of Japanese "a" to the English short "a" (in cat) or "ya" (sounds like "yeah")

lengthening of vowels or ignoring enlogated vowels

emphasis of vowels which are normally unvoiced in Japanese (eg. des' → desoo)

Removal of glottal stop (small "tsu" / doubled consonant sound) eg. yukkuri → yukuri

English-like pronunciation of katakana words, often accompanied by removal of final vowel

Anglicizations of romanized Japanese (ie. Tokyo → toh kee o, sake → sah kee) are sometimes present.

Intonation

Addition of basic stress pattern and/or or shifting of Japanese pitch accent
    - most often, the second-last syllable of words three syllables or longer (as in English banana, separation)
    - another common pattern is to stress the second syllable regardless of length

slower speech sometimes accompanied by unnatural phrase breaking (e.g. desu ka pronounced with a notable break)

Other Language Acts

The usage of a fake gaijin accent may be accompanied by:

  • increased laughter / smiling / covering of the mouth
  • increased use of gesture
  • increased use of interjections
  • adoption of "American" body language (eg. handshake, eye contact)
  • reduction of Japanese body language (eg. bowing)
  • repetition of mistakes made by non-native speaker

Usage

It is mostly used by Japanese people. Some example situations:

pidgin Japanese - Often used by a non-English speaking Japanese person to communicate with foreigners in Japan. The speaker will unconciously try to sound like what a gaijin is supposed to sound like. Due to lack of experience, the speaker will often emulate TV stereotypical speech patterns.

music program announcers - In addition to English-like intonation, they often segue into perfect English phrases (eg. "And now coming up next! At number three on the charts..." "Keep it cool boys and girls")

Japanese rap / hip-hop - This has already been strongly based on the prevalent american style, so it makes sense that they copy the linguistic style as well.

anime or radio drama voice actors asked to play "American" characters

parodies of famous gaijin for comedy / variety shows (eg. Steven Spielberg, David Beckham)

TV commercials, especially eikaiwa

English conversation schools (one Japanese person reported that she was instructed to use a fake English accent when answering the phone, so that potential customers would think the staff were "real" English teachers.)

hostesses at snack bars, call girls (Russian / Chinese variants are more often seen here)

Of course, it is also used by foreigners who need to hide their skill at Japanese or sound more "authentic". This can often be critical for establishing credibility in the following fields:

Personal Experiences

POP CULTURE EXPOSURE

The fake gaijin accent is ubiquitous on Japanese TV. It doesn't bother me when used in parodies and political humor, but sometimes it just makes me wince. The most recent was during the 2003 World Judo Championships in Osaka. Akiyama Yoshihiro, himself born as a Korean resident of Japan and later naturalized, was asked about his thoughts on the internationalization of judo. "Everyone competing today is here for one common goal. We all want to make judo into the best sport it can be. I consider everyone here my brothers and sisters, regardless of what country they're from." I was moved. Then, he said in a fake gaijin accent, "Judo saikou!" (Judo is the best!) I almost threw up.

The talk show, "Koko ga Hen da yo, Nihonjin", which features a panel of gaijin, often subtitles the (Japanese) speech of the foreign panelists, emphasizing mistakes. The hosts also sometimes use a fake gaijin accent, often to mock the speech of the panelists.

There have been a few commercials of note. One was without doubt the worst TV commercial I have ever seen. It went something like this:

Store Manager: (in Japanese) I'm happy to announce the grand re-opening of Happy Mart. (name changed)
Blonde: Watashee no namae wa Jane desoo. Happy Mart wa, saikou!
Store Manager carries on for 24 more seconds while Blonde smiles. Mercifully, commercial ends.

The NOVA English Conversation School "Nova Bunny" series of commericals always feature the accented tagline "Koushi wa, gaikokujin desu". (Our instructors are foreigners.) Strangely, the ads contain no English at all, only bizzarrely accented Japanese. What are they trying to say, foreigners don't speak English, only hen na nihongo? Ironically, this is probably more accurate than the general assumption that all gaijin speak English.

Another particularly upsetting commercial was for a hair conditioner. It featured two Japanese girls talking to each other in fake English accents for no conceivable reason at all. I resolved never to use hair conditioning products again.

AT WORK

Fake gaijin accents have always been used in my workplace. When teaching English, it wasn't unusual for my students to gleefully repeat my mistaken Japanese phrases or words. This was acceptable; I enjoy laughing at myself, and admittedly my Japanese wasn't that great. However, I took exception to being talked to like I was retarded by kids I'd just met. "Anata, soo-shee soo-ki?" That'd be like me asking my Japanese prof, "You rikey lice?"

I work in a tourist bureau now, and one of my coworkers, a Japanese lady who speaks perfect English, has the unenviable task of translating the names of local tourist attractions into phrases that will both be comprehensible to foreigners and to Japanese people they try to talk to. She often uses a fake gaijin accent while testing her translations. She also teaches English on the side, and claims that it gets a rise out of her students and helps to lighten her classroom atmosphere.

AT PLAY

I was in a citizen's drama group, and when the director was referring to my lines, he always used a fake gaijin accent. This didn't really bother me, because he made fun of everyone's voice when performing their lines. What did bother me was when I found a grammatical mistake in one of my lines and he said "Don't worry about it! The audience is going to expect a gaijin to make mistakes in Japanese!"

My girlfriend and I also use it. Some of my more endearing mistakes (eg. "mikko" from "sanko", "three pieces") have been incorporated into our private vocabulary. My favourite such expression is still "Kimi wa hen desu."

Conclusions

The fake gaijin accent phenomenon is brought around by a variety of situations. I believe that in many cases, it is an honest attempt to communicate in a stressful situation, and not a phenomenon unique to Japan. In other cases, it may stem from an insecurity about speaking English, sometimes known as a false beginner effect.

As the application is widespread, so are the effects. I think that any foreigner who is in Japan long enough will eventually feel upset or offended by a fake gaijin accent at some point, especially as they become better at Japanese. Usage on TV and other medias will promote English as "cool" among Japanese youth, but probably be no help towards dispelling the myth that English is impossible.

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