Anyone have this issue?  Speaking in one language and then changing to another without realizing?  “Code switching” they call it.

Although that is descriptive, not explanatory.  I have a working theory… well, perhaps not fleshed out enough to be a theory.  So, I have a hypothesis – or maybe I should call it a hunch.  I think aural similarity in vowels greases the rails.  Consider:

Japanese Spanish Pronunciation
a a Ah (like “Aha”)
e e Eh (like “egg”)
i i Ee (like “Eek”)
o o Oh (like “Oh sh**”)
u u Ew (like “Ewe”)

There’s virtually (not literally) no difference in short vowel sounds between these two languages.  Also, since Spanish has gendered nouns (and, like biolgical entities, not just male and female, but Spanish distinguishes masculine, feminine, neutered, common, epicene, and ambiguous), many words end in vowel sounds ‘o’ or ‘a.’  Japanese similarly ends most words in vowel sounds.  Hmm…

When I first returned to the USA after a long stay in Japan, old college buddy Jeremy let me sublet a room.  I hadn’t had decent guacamole or tequila in years, and we were headed out one night to reacquaint myself with these Mexican delights.  I said something like…

¡Vámonos, quiero las margaritas!

…What was that?


What you said.

I was speaking Spanish.

No you weren’t.

I wasn’t?

No, that was like…. Banzai Spanish.

Then Jeremy mimicked a sword slice á la John Belushi in Samurai Delicatessen.


Over the past couple of weeks here’s a few things I’ve caught myself saying (italics are Japanese):


Me: Tiene un… cómo se dice en Espaõl no sé, shikashi es para abrir kono botella de vino.

Do you have a …. I don’t know how you say it in Spanish, but it is to open this bottle of wine.


Me: Quiere beber Jerez.

A museum guard: Vivir en Jerez?

Me: Iiechigao, bebir.

Guard: A, para allá…

He wants to drink some sherry.

To live in Jerez?  (The fault is my pronunciation of “beber” sounded like “vivir,” “to live.”  And Jerez, the source of the name for the alcoholic drink “sherry,” is based on the town name it comes from, “Jerez.”  She thought I was asking about a place to live in town, not a place to drink some sherry.)

No, that’s not right.  To drink.

Ah, go that direction…


I met a Japanese woman eating tapas at a cafe in Sevilla with a woman from the UK.  I told her I used to lived in the Kansai region, and it turns out she’s from Kobe.  We spoke in Japanese a bit, and she actually teared up for a moment.

Her: It has been so long since I’ve been able to speak any Japanese.  I feel so… relieved.

Me: Jitsu wa, Hanshin Daishinsai no toki yo vivó en Kansai.

Her:  Daijoubu deshita?

Me:  Hai.  Pero estaba preocupado por mis amigos.

In fact, I lived in Kansai at the time of the Great Hanshin Earthquake.

Were you ok?

Yes.  But I was worried about my friends.


This probably doesn’t seem interesting or funny to most people.  But to those of you who code switch, you’re going to laugh.


One thought on “Japanish

  1. Interesting hypothesis, BZ. I feel that phonetic similarities could very easily cause a meshing of language since both localizations are using the same “pointer” in your memory, so to speak. Good read.


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