Confusing Japanese loanword: エール (Eeru)

By | January 11, 2019

As you’ve probably already discovered, Japanese has a huge number of loanwords, especially from English––and that number seems to be increasing fast. Fortunately, a majority of these can be guessed from context if you can manage to match them up to their original word by sound. But some of them are hard to guess because of pronunciation changes, and others can be confusing because their meaning doesn’t quite match up to their English (or other language) equivalent. (This post is about some words in the latter category)

In this article I’d like to talk about the word エール (eeru) that I feel falls into both of those categories. Not only is the source words hard to guess, but there is a significant chance in nuance.

When I first heard this word, from context I guessed that it had something to do with helping someone; so when I came across it later I had a vague understanding of how it fit into things. Those times I didn’t have easy access to a dictionary so I just managed with my incomplete understanding.

Then, the other day I came across the movie “天国からのエール” (Tengoku kara no eeru), which was translated as “A Yell from Heaven”. This didn’t mesh too well with my experience using this word, so I finally looked it up in the dictionary.

Lo and behold, the Japanese to English dictionary said “応援の声” (ouen no koe), which is literally “A voice of support”. The dictionary did have “yell” as an English definition. I don’t know British English, but in American English the word “yell” has a very different nuance than “cheer”, which I think would be the best one-word translation of 応援の声. Even if this is a great translation to British ears, I would argue that making a title that works well in both American and British English would be more appropriate. (ex: “A Cheer from Heaven”).

One reason the pronunciation is so different between yell and エール is modern Japanese generally doesn’t have the “ye” sound––though in words like 千円 (sen’en) it does sound a little like “sen yen”, and I believe long ago Japanese had a character for the “ye” sound. The other reason is that words ending in “l” or “ll” are also very hard to pronounce in Japanese; really the best you can do is to use the る (ru) sound and de-emphasize the vowel.

In case you are curious, my Japanese to Japanese dictionary gave some additional context to the word エール, namely that it is “a cheer used to encourage athletes at a student sporting game”.

Returning to the topic of the title, since I haven’t seen the movie I can’t say for sure whether “A Yell From Heaven” or not is a mistranslation. But based on the synopsis I read for this movie, the American English word “yell” does not fit too well.

If you have seen this movie let me know what title you think would be best.

(Note: featured image taken from Pexels.com)

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2 thoughts on “Confusing Japanese loanword: エール (Eeru)

  1. Yeti

    I’ve heard this in the form of エールを送る. It confused me at first as well for the same two reasons you mentioned.

    Wouldn’t 米 mean American English? I would thing 英 would be British English.

    I agree they should take another look at that movie title translation. Usually title translators don’t even try for a literal translation. Even for a literal translation, it seems that taking 和製英語 at face value got them into trouble this time.

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      Good point about the use with 〜送る, that’s another example of how this word’s usage differs from English. Also thanks for pointing out the 米 thing. I think you are write, and removed that line from the article.

      You’re right that title translators don’t usually try to a literal translation.

      This reminded me of another article I wrote about movie title translation:

      http://selftaughtjapanese.com/2016/05/17/translation-challenges-the-tradeoffs-of-title-translation-with-godzilla/

      Reply

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