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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LETTER FROM VLADIVOSTOK: Japan Beating Russia In Race to Anglicize




English, as we all know, is a language in wide use among residents of the former British Empire - and among Chinese T-shirt makers, Belarussian vegetable canneries, and producers of movies in which a band of loveable sociopaths and strippers save the planet from dinosaurs, asteroids or extraterrestrials.


It has been spoken by dozens of leading figures throughout history, including Queen Elizabeth I, Foghorn Leghorn, Julius Caesar, Dennis Rodman and many of the top writers for this newspaper.


Every day, new studies appear that underline the importance of English in the global economy. Worldwide, some 73 percent of all portly children who order Supersize fries in McDonald's franchises do so in English. The American Pledge of Allegiance is nearly always recited in English. A Gallup poll of Alabama clerics reveals that the Lord's Prayer is most likely to be answered affirmatively if uttered in English.


English has its origins in the dawn of time, when a she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus on the banks of the Thames in 1066 suddenly blurted out, "If you boys don't quitcher squabbling, I'll eat you." Yet it can be as contemporary as the latest lyrics by Baby Spice. Therefore, world travelers hoping to appear "hip" and to communicate with "homeboys" in any land are urged to make use of our wonderfully expressive tongue. Or so I discovered during a recent fact-finding tour of Japan, sponsored by the Tokyo branch of English Only.


The Japanese are far ahead of Russia in moving to an English-based economy. In Vladivostok, we find little more than Polish foodstuffs called All American or Bulgarian toothpaste "with NATURAL elements - contains 15 percent medical liquor from the Salty Lake."


Japan has transcended such dabbling. Vending machines offer soft drinks with lusty Anglo-Saxon names like Sweat and Body Request. Trendy schoolgirls wear T-shirts that read, "Now Give Me a Treat, Please." One chain store is called Book Off (a commonplace oath in Yorkshire), while a Niigata pharmacy warns away customers with a neon sign that reads "Risky Drug Store."


Even while sipping java in a coffeehouse called Coffee, a few words of my mother tongue found their way to me. A waiter handed me a leaflet with the headline: "Hedonism - Indoor Mix. Mo' what?" He seemed to want a response. "Mo' coffee," I said. He understood.


Some detractors scoff that the ubiquitous use of English is merely a historical fluke, owing to the literary success of O.J. Simpson's "I Want to Tell You" and the worldwide fascination with the bodily fluids detailed in the Kenneth Starr report. I think I can speak for my Japanese friends when I say that we beg to differ. And if you want to argue that point, well, as they say in Kyoto, you can just book off.