There comes a special moment when you’re learning a foreign language, where you come across something so strange and bizarre, that it makes you go: “wow, what a stupid language”.
I was trying to read a Japanese football match report about yesterday’s Champions League clash between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea. Within the first paragraph, was the katakana term 「ファーストレグ」。
It was 5am in the morning, and I was wracking my brains wondering what the heck was a “fast leg”. Several seconds later, something clicked inside, and I finally realised it was referring to “first leg” instead.
My colleague, who understands Chinese, was quite surprised that “first leg” had to be translated into katakana. He was pretty sure that there were Chinese characters that could be used to represent that term instead, like “第一 something”.
For me, I was reminded yet again on why I dislike katakana so much. The script is very limited for representing foreign loan words, as Japanese does not have as many consonants compared to other languages. You will eventually run into problems like this where a single katakana term could end up representing many possible words (sometimes unintentionally).
One way to mitigate this is to use a proper Japanese term, represented by kanji instead. But from what I understand, many Japanese people, especially the younger generation, are fond of using katakana if possible, to avoid having to memorise another set of kanji characters for new words. It’s a bewildering, double-edged sword.
I hope Korean isn’t as silly as Japanese when I eventually plan to study it later this year. Would you like to fast on your first leg?