Hannah Kunert PhD Completion Talk ' From loaning to owning: Japanese loanwords in hiragana'


Hannah Kunert PhD Completion Talk ' From loaning to owning: Japanese loanwords in hiragana'

Loanwords (外来語・カタカナ語), which are words ‘borrowed’ from other languages, especially English, are an integral part of the Japanese language, and are estimated to account for around 10% of the modern Japanese lexicon. While these words are conventionally written with the katakana script, recently some examples have been appearing in the hiragana script, which is usually reserved for words of Japanese origin.

This research investigates what kinds of loanwords appear in hiragana, in which genres of text they are typically found, and why hiragana is being used in these cases. A mixed methods research design provided a broad base from which to approach this phenomenon, and consequently four different data sets were utilized; a corpus of hiragana loanwords, surveys and interviews with native Japanese speakers, and case studies of selected individual texts. The case studies, in particular, drew on the multimodal nature of these texts, and utilized the ‘visual grammar’ of Kress and van Leeuwen (2006), and the semiotics of typography described by Stöckl (2005) in order to understand how hiragana was being used within a text.

The findings from this research illustrate the wide range of semiotic functions this marked use of script can perform, for example connoting traditional Japanese culture or cuteness; being ‘easier to read’ for perceived audiences; providing a sense of balance with the other scripts used in the text; or highlighting an instance of wordplay. While loanwords in hiragana can be described as a ‘marked’ use of language, another important finding was the general level of acceptance with which these words were perceived by native Japanese speakers within authentic texts, with script having the effect of blurring the line between loanword and ‘Japanese word’. The results of this study therefore extend the prior research on Japanese loanwords (Loveday, 1996; Rebuck, 2002; Stanlaw, 2014); typography and graphic design (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006; Spitzmüller, 2012, 2015); language play (Gottlieb, 2010; Knospe, 2015); and writing and identity (Kataoka, 1997, 2003; Miller, 2011). These findings reinforce the often-cited flexibility and adaptability of the Japanese writing system, as well as providing new perspectives on script as a semiotic resource within the Japanese language.


  • Ms Hannah Kunert
    Ms Hannah Kunert, School of Languages and Linguistics, The University of Melbourne