Word and Image  言葉とイメージ

During a recent lesson some ladies told me how they met their husbands. The conversation
went like this:

A-san: I met my husband by arranged marriage.
Brett: Do you mean ‘omiai’?
A-san: Yes, that’s right.
Brett: That’s great! ‘omiai’ is a really nice part of Japanese culture.
B-san: Do you really think so? All other western people I tell get a bad impression.
Brett: Well. Let’s be careful about how to say ‘omiai’ in English. I think the words
‘arranged introduction’ are better words to describe ‘omiai’.

When speaking English, many people focus on meaning but the image of words is also very
important. ‘omiai’ is a good example. The English words ‘arranged marriage’ have an image
of parents promising or contracting their childrens’ marriage. If you say the words ‘arranged marriage’
to a western person they will likely imagine a young girl bought or sold into marriage.
This type of marriage sometimes occurs in India, Africa or perhaps Arab countries.
The image of the words ‘arranged marriage’ give the impression that the boy and girl had no
right to choose their marriage partner. My advice is to explain ‘omiai’ by the words
‘arranged introduction’.

When speaking to a foreigner we have to be aware of the image of words as well as their
meaning. Another example is the word ‘school’. The meaning of ‘school’ is very simple but
if you say the word ‘school’, everyone imagines the school they went to. In this case, I
imagine an Australian school but a Japanese imagines a Japanese school, a Brazillian
imagines a Brazillian school and so on. So the word school has a different image for
each country!

Language is how humans express their identity and experience. It is extremely interesting
but differrent images for the same word is one of the main causes of misunderstanding.

Brett Maxwell


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