Believe it or not, engrish is a research topic! I came across a research paper discussing the engrish phenomenon is Japan by Prof. Jayne Ikeshima published in 2005 in the Keiai Journal of International Studies. Prof. Ikeshima belongs to the faculty of International Studies of Keiai University. Here is what she is writing:
[…] English seen in Japan—primarily on products, but in other venues as well—often leaves one baffled. Much of it is at best odd, and at worst incomprehensible. It abounds with mechanical, grammatical, and lexical errors, which contribute in varying degrees to obscuring the meaning. The type of English described above, found in advertising and on products, is a well-documented phenomenon which has been noted by many. It has even acquired a technical name— “Engrish.”
She notes that:
[…] the English-using population of Asia is estimated at 350 million, which is almost equivalent to the total populations of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada combined (Kachru 1997, from Kubota 2001), and that the “worldwide ratio of non-native speakers of English to native speakers is somewhere between two and four to one” (Kachru 1996, from Kubota 2001). In other words, non-native users of English now outnumber native speakers. For better or worse, English has become a multinational language, and the lingua franca of today’s world.
She argues that engrish is what it is (i.e. nonsensical English words stringed together) because they are intentionally used as design elements, same way as Chinese ideograms are used to decorate products in the western world:
One possible explanation is that English is used on products in Japan as more of a design element than as an attempt to communicate.
And she concludes that the problems resulting from engrish can be dealt:
[…] by the consulting of a dictionary or grammar source, but most of all, by consultation with a competent Japanese or native speaker of English. There are many such people in Japan, which may cause one to wonder why this has not happened.
Prof. Ikeshima’s paper is not the only one dealing with engrish. I came across this recent article by Dr. Stephanie Schlitz and this one by Dr. E-chou Wu & Dr. Patricia Golemon discussing the engrish phenomenon.
Every educated Japanese has studied English for at least six years, and most have studied it for longer than that. But, for complex cultural and linguistic reasons, the results are not commensurate with the time and effort. Sadly, mistakes are inevitable because of the differences between the two languages. Articles do not exist in Japanese, the word order is often the reverse of English, and some 60 per cent of sentences do not have a subject. Besides which, English can be devilishly tricky. Hence bar notices like “Special cocktails for persons with nuts.” Or hotel signs like “If you want condition of warm in your room, please control yourself.” Or even, “You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaids.”
Undoubtedly, the engrish phenomenon in Japan is something worthy of attention! We, at EngrishCheck, are here to deal with the engrish problem. Please feel free to contact us to find out how we can help you and your business.