Brought To You By The Letters R, L and The Colour Red

Posted by on Nov 8, 2011 in Okayama, Travel Volunteer Journey | 4 Comments
Brought To You By The Letters R, L and The Colour Red

In most countries, you find that people speaking English as a foreign language make the same mistakes. It takes a long time for Italians to drop the sing-song of their native tongue; the French will resolutely never pronounce an H; and the Spanish find swap Bs and Vs like footballers swap jerseys.

Actually, they’re not alone in this: the Japanese do it too, more subtly, but it’s there. It’s hard to pick out, though, when the R and L issue is so noticeable. Every nation has linguistic foibles like this – ask an average Scotsman to say “murder” and the sound is like hitting a wet hessian sack with a baseball bat: “Muh. Duh.” But when the Japanese fail to make a distinction between their Rs and Ls, it some how shines out all the brighter, especially when the swapping of the letters still leaves you with an actual English word. Someone talking about a “time flame” is not discussing a rubbish fantasy novel, but a temporal estimation; a “liver fish” is simply one that swims in fresh water; there’s no need to fret about being served “lice” with every meal.

I know how confusing this kind of thing can be: when I first visited America, I spoke about and ex-girlfriend to one of the locals. Except I crashed into my rolling-R so hard, that he didn’t hear “girl” but “ghetto” (or “gheddo” in the American pronunciation). For a number of days, the American thought I was some kind of hardened, wrong-side of the tracks, gangster, warning of the perils of having a “ghetto friend.” Thus the problems of trying to make one language fit the entire planet, I suppose.

Today we learned a bit about bengara dyeing, which, as you probably wouldn’t have guessed from that, is named after bengala, as in Bengal. Dutch traders (some of the few people allowed when Japan didn’t want visitors) traditionally brought bengala cloths dyed in an attractive red from India, and found that, even though they couldn’t pronounce it properly, the Japanese absolutely loved it. The trade didn’t last all that long, however: bengara was just red ochre, oxidised iron, and could quite easily be found in Japan itself.
And when the locals started looking for it, they found that the “red among reds” was to be found in the hills of Okayama prefecture. This, twinned with some highly profitable copper mining, brought considerable wealth to the area, wealth that the Nishie family were able to enjoy.
The incumbent Mr Nishie’s forebears built a sprawling home on top of a hill near Fukiya at the height of the Edo period. It’s changed little over the years and is still used as the family home. The links to bengara have not been forgotten either – we spent part of this afternoon dyeing some Ishikawa silk using the traditional method. It goes like this…



イタリア人が歌うように英語を話すのを変えることは難しいし、フランス人は絶対”H”の発音はしないし、スペイン人は”B” と“V”の音が入れ替わっている。
日本人は”R” と“L”の音が一緒なのだが、これが結構やっかいなのだ。

どんな言語にも短所があり、例えばスコットランドの男性が“murder”と言うと、まるで濡れた麻袋を野球のバットでたたいたような”Muh Duh”となる。
が日本人が”R”と”L”の区別を曖昧に発音し、特にそれらが入れ替わっても“英単語”として成り立ってしまう時、なぜだか言葉が輝きを増してしまう。誰かが”time flame”について話をしていて、でもそれは決して下らないファンタジー小説の話ではないし、”liver fish”は淡水を泳いでいる魚の事だし、”lice”が毎食出てくるのかと心配しなくても、それはいわゆるご飯のことなのだ。

この手の“特徴”は本当にややこしい。私が以前アメリカに行った際、私は昔の彼女の事について地元のアメリカ人と話をしていたのだが、どうやら”R”の発音を強くしすぎたため、そのアメリカ人は”girl” を“ghetto”(もっとアメリカン・アクセントで言うと”gheddo”という感じだろうか・・・)と思って聞いていたらし。で・・・アメリカ人は私のことをギャングスターか何かと思い、差し迫ってくる危険と戦っているぐらいに思っていたらしい。もちろん分かった後大笑いになった。





  1. Robert
    November 8, 2011

    We also gave them Biljarts, Badminton and Bowling, and got them hooked on Coffee, Chocolate and Beer :)

    No matter what the Americans say about Chocolate and them introducing it after WWII, chocolate was introduced somewhere around 1790 in Nagasaki, it is mentioned as a drink in the pleasure houses of Maruyama.

  2. Kavey
    November 8, 2011

    Oooh it reminds me of tye dye!

  3. cdb
    November 14, 2011

    OMG! I laughed so hard when I read this. This has made my day.

  4. Jennifer Lim
    November 15, 2011

    Ghetto friend! hahahahahha awesome