Ogasawara Mixed Language: English in Japanese

From English on the Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands, by Daniel Long (Duke U. Press, 2007; Publication of the American Dialect Society, no. 91; Supplement to American Speech, vol. 81), chap. 10:

At the end of the Pacific War, the U.S. Navy occupied the Ogasawara Islands and permitted only the families of Western descent to return, along with their spouses and children, whether Japanese, Western, or mixed. These families were all bilingual and mixed Japanese and English in their speech. Before the war, monolingual Japanese officials stigmatized the mixed language as “English,” but after the war, monolingual American officials stigmatized it as “Japanese.” However, the islanders took pride in their bilingual heritage, and some of this “Navy generation” of Ogasawara Islands claim they purposely created Ogasawara Mixed Language (OML). Here are some examples from interviews recorded with some of these baby boomers during the 1990s.


  • Me no sponsor no, anō, nan to yū no? Sono French door, anō glass door ga warete, water ga up to the knee datta. ‘My sponsor’s—that, what do you call it? Their French door, that glass door broke and water was up to the knee.’
  • Uchi no Mama was no leg man mo mita-zutta zo. Anoo, heitai no clothes kite. You no ojiisan, too, he had lots of stories. ‘My mama said she even saw a one-legged man, uh, wearing army clothes. Your grandpa too, he had lots of stories.’

Temporal expressions

  • I remember I was only about twelve da kedo. Kinky tachi saa, Kinky to ka aretachi. Guam kara kaette kita ja, sugu. Sou darou? May, May no twentieth da to omou n da yo ne. May twentieth ka May twenty-fourth gurai da to omou. ‘I remember I was only about twelve, but Kinky and them, um, Kinky and all of them had come back from Guam, you know. About May twentieth or May twenty-fourth, I think.’
  • Every year. Mada aru yo, decorations, sukoshi. Twelve years old gurai no toki, chotto Christmas tree kazari hazimete. ‘Every year—I still have them, the decorations, a few. When I was about twelve years old, we started Christmas tree decorating a bit.’

Wraparound structures

  • It’s about three times gurai yatta ne. ‘It did it about three times, huh?’
  • We bought about two pounds gurai katte kita no. ‘We bought about two pounds.’

Basic vocabulary

  • Dakara face to name ga chigau kara. ‘It’s because the face and name don’t match up.’

Phrases as well as words

  • Aa, tsunami no toki? Me to mama wa last one to get out of there, yama ni nobotte. ‘The time of the tsunami? Me and Mama were the last ones to get out of there, climbing up the hill.’

OML versus code-mixing

OML differs in many significant ways from normal code-mixing or code-switching between English and Japanese. When Japanese code-mix, for example, they generally do NOT: (a) ignore honorifics (keigo), (b) ignore polite forms (teineigo), (c) use English pronouns, (d) incorporate English whole phrase structure, (e) use English phonology, or (f) use English counters. These are all significant features of OML.

Passing of a transient language

Since the reversion of the islands to Japan in 1968 and the subsequent incursion of ethnic-Japanese (now outnumbering the Westerners ten fold), OML has fallen deeper and deeper into disuse. For elderly (those raised before the war) and middle-aged (raised in the Navy Era) Westerners, the decreasing usage of OML seems to correspond to a decreasing desire to distinguish themselves from their new and returned ethnic-Japanese neighbors. Even when they do wish to assert their uniqueness, there is less need to rely on language to accomplish that. The Westerners had many things in common with the Navy personnel, but they relied on OML (or on Japanese) to distinguish themselves from the Americans. These days, they have many nonlinguistic aspects which they can employ. These include their non-Japanese given and family names, their participation in the Christian church, their non-Asian physical appearances, and their common heritage and shared experiences.


Filed under Japan, language, Pacific, U.S.

2 responses to “Ogasawara Mixed Language: English in Japanese

  1. This is really interesting…

    I read about a village in Wakayama-ken that also sort of has a mixed dialect. I think the town is called Mio. I’m not sure they had people of mixed descent there though.

  2. Gerald Ford

    Really, really fascinating. It’s almost a 50-50 mix of both languages. I’ve seen how Japanese living in the US start to mix in English words, but the language is still essentially Japanese. This is a whole other issue. :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.