Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chuuka Soba

Back to the blog that no one reads but me! I was speaking with a friend yesterday (and come to think of it, I speak of this subject often) about wanting to write but never doing so. And thinking on it now, it seems that a blog is exactly the place start.

And so I will start back with an entry on my lunch. This plain looking bowl of ramen is from the chain restaurant 'Chikara,' which primarily sells udon.

Generally I don't much care for udon, nor is Chikara's fare all that great, but with only 30 minutes for lunch and this shop a block from my school, it made the most sense. And then of course I passed over all the various styles of udon and ordered 'chuuka soba.'
Looking at the picture, you might think 'Oh, so you had ramen.' and of course, you would be right.

Soba is the Japanese noodle made from buckwheat. Chuuka refers to Chinese cooking. The majority of shops selling the dish seen below call the same thing 'ramen.' So what's the deal with Chikara calling it 'chuuka soba'? Saying it this way is the equivalent of saying 'Chinese noodles' in English. And this brings me to an interesting concept.

The other day in a business class I was teaching, we looked at a news article discussing the Chinese Government's recent (?) decision to ban the use of foreign words in all official publications, from newspapers to radio broadcasts and web reports, the claim being that the use of foreign words corrupts and detracts from the purity of the Chinese language. Several years ago I read that France had passed similar legislation. These countries, instead of using a foreign word to describe something that may not have an equivalent word in their own language, create new words to suit the purpose, thereby maintaining the 'purity' of the language.
Back to ramen. As I said
before, most shops in Japan call this bowl of
noodles ラメン (This is 'ramen' written in the katakana alphabet, one reserved only for words of foreign origin).
The issue of somehow 'sullying' a language through the use of foreign words is an interesting one in regards to Japanese. As anyone who has ever lived here knows, katakana words are everywhere, sometimes with meanings entirely different from that of their origin ( one of my favorites is 'about' which means 'vague').

With so many foreign words floating around and new ones coming into common use all the time, it's a wonder that people don't get confused. But of course, they do, as do the foreigners who hear these words and assume the meaning to be the same as always.
While initially, it may seem a bit snobbish of countries to discourage the use of foreign words, when it comes to Japanese, I can see where sometimes the foreign alternative may be inferior to a Japanese substitution.

How about the role of foreign words in English? Some will argue that English has become the international language it is mainly because of the ease with which is subsumes foreign words. What do you think?

Sent from my iPhone

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