07 May 2007

Japanese Loanwords in Pohnpeian

During the period of Japanese rule (1914–1945) the islands of the Marianas, Palau/Belau and Ponape/Pohnpei were the most intensely colonized areas of Micronesia. By 1938, about nine out of ten people in the Marianas were Japanese colonists (many of them from Okinawa or Korea), and the same was true for about two out of three in Palau and about one out of three in Ponape. As a result, Pohnpeian adopted many words from Japanese, some of which are have fallen out of use or been replaced by words from English as the prewar and wartime generation passes from the scene.

The following lists are presented in my rendition of the current standard Pohnpeian spelling. My linguistic source cites the same forms in a phonemic transcription, but I want to give my readers a feel for the workings of one of the most successful orthographies in Micronesia.

Standard Pohnpeian distinguishes 7 vowels, but only 5 are needed for the Japanese loans, and vowel length is indicated by a trailing h. (The language has no glottal consonants, neither h nor glottal stop.) Palatal glides are written with i, but labiovelar glides are written with w. Pohnpeian makes no distinction between voiced and voiceless obstruents, which are written p, d, t, s, k. Note that d is a dental stop and t is a laminal stop (which sounds a bit like ty to me).

Domestic articles

  • aisara ‘ashtray’
  • asi ‘chopsticks’
  • dama ‘lightbulb’
  • dawasi ‘Japanese brush’
  • dompwuri ‘bowl’
  • kadorsingko ‘mosquito coil’
  • kama ‘sickle’ or ‘pot’
  • manaida ‘cutting board’
  • parikang ‘hair clipper’
  • samusi ‘rice paddle’
  • sarasi ‘bleach’

Food items

  • aiskehki ‘popsicle’
  • ansu ‘star fruit tree’
  • dakuwang ‘pickled radish’
  • kasuwo ‘skipjack tuna’
  • kiarameru ‘caramel’
  • kiuhri ‘cucumber’
  • pihru ‘beer’
  • ramen ‘noodle soup’
  • ramwune ‘marble’
  • samma ‘mackeral’
  • sasimi ‘sashimi’
  • saida ‘soda’
  • soiu ‘soy sauce’
  • sukiaki ‘sukiyaki’
Game/Sports terms
  • anaire ‘marble game’ (sometimes araine)
  • apadopi ‘long jump’
  • damaski ‘pool, billiards’
  • deng ‘score’
  • iakiu ‘baseball’
  • iakumehda ‘hundred meter dash’
  • iohidong ‘ready, set, go’
  • iranai ‘to pass in a card game’
  • kesso ‘to run or swim the final lap in a race’
  • kurop ‘baseball glove’
  • lepdo ‘left field’
  • masuku ‘catcher’s mask’
  • pahsdo ‘first base’
  • rensuh ‘to practice for an athletic event’
  • sahdo ‘third base’
  • sakura ‘hanafuda card game’
  • sandangdopi ‘hop-skip-jump’
  • sansing ‘to strike out [in baseball]’
  • sensuh ‘athlete’
  • suhdo ‘judo’
Personal articles
  • angkasi ‘handkerchief’
  • asmaki ‘headband’
  • kamidome ‘barrette’
  • kapang ‘bag’
  • pwundosi ‘loincloth’
  • sarmada ‘underwear’ (now women’s vs. pirihp ‘men’s underwear’)
  • sohri ‘thongs’ [‘rubber slippers’]
  • depwukuro ‘gloves’


  • aikiu ‘to ration’
  • amimono ‘knitted object’
  • anapi ‘fire cracker’
  • apwunai ‘watch out!’
  • adasi ‘to go barefoot’
  • iddai, eddai, edai ‘ouch!’
  • daidowa ‘World War II, old times’
  • dekking ‘concrete reinforcing bar’
  • dempoh ‘telegram’
  • dengki ‘electricity, light’
  • denso ‘ceiling’
  • dendenmwosi ‘large land snail’
  • dopas ‘quickly, fast, speedy’
  • kairu ‘frog’
  • kakko ‘showing off’
  • kampio ‘to care for an invalid in the hospital’
  • kasdo ‘movie’
  • kenkang ‘porch’
  • kisingai ‘crazy, mad’
  • koiasi ‘fertilizer’
  • kona ‘toothpaste’
  • kukusuh ‘air gun’
  • kuruma ‘cart’
  • makunai ‘unskillful, not tasty’
  • mangnga ‘cartoon, character’
  • mai ‘skillful, good’
  • mwohso ‘appendicitis’
  • ompwu ‘to be carried on another’s back’
  • pariki ‘to go fast’
  • paiking ‘infection’
  • pangku ‘flat tire, broken slipper’
  • pampei ‘security guard’
  • pwohsdo ‘post office’
  • pwuhseng ‘balloon’
  • pwuraia ‘pliers’
  • rakudai ‘failure’
  • sahpis ‘service’
  • sidohsa ‘automobile’
  • sirangkawe ‘to ignore’
  • sohko ‘warehouse’
  • suhmwong ‘to order’
Archaic terms
  • dampwo ‘rice paddy’
  • dane ‘seed’
  • dengwa ‘telephone’
  • deriuhdang ‘hand grenade’
  • impiokai ‘agricultural fair’
  • kansohpa ‘copra drying shed’
  • kikansu ‘machine gun’
  • kinsipakudang ‘atomic bomb’
  • osime ‘diaper’
  • passai ‘to cut grass’
  • pwohkungko ‘air-raid shelter’
  • sendohki ‘fighter plane’
  • simpung ‘newspaper’
  • skohso ‘airport’
  • windeng ‘to drive’

SOURCES: Kimi Miyagi. 2000. Japanese loanwords in Pohnpeian: Adaptation and attrition. Japanese Linguistics 7:114–132. Mark R. Peattie. 1988. Nan’yō: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese in Micronesia, 1885–1945. Pacific Islands Monograph Series, No. 4. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

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