A Pair of Pears: Language and Cultural Bias

This time of year, my wife always gets us some Asian pears to enjoy. Asian pears, or nashi (梨) in Japanese, have the shape and consistency of apples, but the taste of a regular pear.

An Asian pear, courtesy of Wikipedia
A western pear, courtesy of Wikipedia

What’s interesting though is how these fruits are called in English and Japanese:

EnglishJapaneseEnglish meaning
PearYōnashi (洋梨)Western pear
Asian pearNashi (梨)Pear

Each language tends to assume their pear is the default, and the more exotic version is described in geographic relation to it. An “asian” pear compared to a “western” pear. This is a fun example of how each language and culture has inherent biases. The biases here aren’t chauvinistic or hostile, just part of a natural tendency of people to see the world with themselves, their culture and language as the center.

Food and language can tell us a lot about ourselves and the world around us. 😄

P.S. Another, less geographic example are green onions vs. onions (the round ones). In Japanese, green onions are called negi (ネギ) and the round ones are called tamanegi (玉ねぎ, lit. “ball onions”). In English, the round ones are the “default” onions, while green onions are described in relation to it. In Japanese, it’s basically the opposite. I have no idea why one onion is considered the default compared to the other, but usually there’s some benign reason for it lost to time.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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