I write a lot about how learning a foreign language like Japanese helps you understand how your own brain works. One thing I’ve observed is that your brain will always try to force a new and unknown concept it encounters into a pattern it’s already familiar with. When my nephew came to visit us from the U.S., we’d just bought a car with the rather odd name of Mazda Bongo Friendee, which sounded so strange to him, I could almost hear the gears in his brain turn as he tried to make sense of the name. Back in college I was going to meet a Japanese friend so we could study together. She had told me, “Meet me by the vending machine,” using the Japanese word jido-hanbaiki (lit. “automatic selling machine”). My brain failed to connect this word to anything useful, however, so it substituted the closest pattern it could find: the English word “bike” which sounded slightly similar to the Japanese word. I therefore stood waiting for my friend by the bike racks for half an hour, wondering where she was.
My brain heard jido-hanbaiki as “bike” for some reason.