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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/1427256
by Rico
Rated: E · Thesis · Political · #1427256
role of policy in language evolution in Japan; had to delete French and terminology part
The importance of language in national identity development is sometimes overlooked, as it can be easy to take language as a "given" in everyday life. However, in any nation it can be seen through analysis of language policy over the years that policy makers at different points in the country's history have placed much emphasis on the development of their language. When we realize the extent to which the topic of language is largely political, questions begin to arise. What is the impact of government on language? How successful can an external governing body be in determining the course a language will take? If policy makers worldwide and throughout history have found national language policy an important issue, what does this suggest about language and nationalism or language and the economy?

With only a small amount of thought the complexity of these issues is already evident. In this paper, I will present a discussion of these questions and others through the analysis of Japan's past and present language policies. Japanese has undergone a complex history for many reasons. As with any nation, there is evidence of contrasting and intertwining perspectives and goals that lead to everything from borrowing from other languages (such as the Chinese characters, Kanji) to the attempted eradication of dialects or internal languages (such as the Ainu or Okinawa languages). After Japanese language planning analysis (in a historical and present context), I will look more briefly into the history and current issues in language planning in France. To understand how these issues and others intertwine, I will begin with a discussion of the terms commonly used as well as the different goals a nation may have when implementing these various tactics towards language control.

First and foremost, it is noteworthy to understand that even the definition of language has been under contention for years whether in a philosophical, linguistic or sociological sense. The French linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure has by some been called the father of linguistics as we know it today. Prior to Saussure language was largely studied philologically or as an aspect of social science. The development of twentieth century linguistics led to a cascade of created and revised definitions of "language" in the linguistic sense. It is commonly accepted now that each language represents a formal system. Languages are no longer considered to be more or less developed than one another:

"Each language has a well defined and exclusive phonetic system with which it carries on its work and, more than that, all of its expressions, from the most habitual to the merely potential, are fitted into a deft tracery of prepared forms from which there is no escape. These forms establish a definite relational feeling or attitude towards all possible contents of expression and, through them, towards all possible contents of experience... a language is constructed that no matter what any speaker of it may desire to communicate, no matter how original or bizarre his idea or fancy, the language is prepared to do his work" (Sapir 153).

Each language contains a distinct set of phonetic sounds which when used together make up all grammar and vocabulary and create the "formal system" Saussure and others put forth.

Language is seen by some linguists, such as Saussure who introduced this idea, to contain an individual and a social aspect, the individual aspects collectively adding up to create a complete and perfect whole. Saussure equated language (langue) with the collective and speech (parole) with the individual. For many scholars following, however, this basic dichotomy has proved too simplistic. A primary critic, supporter and also a student of Saussure was Roman Jakobson, who criticized this idea among others suggested by Saussure. Jakobson expands upon the complexity of langue and parole, beginning with his assertion that langue cannot be so simply equated with collectivity: "Saussure obviously recognizes a personal selection from the collective values. Nevertheless, he does not at any point make use of this notion of an individual langue, that is, of the norm that an individual himself imposes intentionally or unconsciously on all his linguistic production" (Jakobson 91). Likewise, parole, he asserts, contains both individual and community elements, as well:

"In attributing an active character only to the externally perceptive motor process, and in considering the executive side as an autonomous entity called parole, Saussure artificially atomizes and deforms linguistic reality. In declaring that parole 'is always individual, and the individual is always its master,' he unfortunately disregards the role of the listener; he does not take into account the act of receiving, which is as indispensable for parole as the act of sending... Parole is a product of the reciprocal relationship between the speaker and the addressee" (Jakobson 92-93).

As shown here, language and speech are involved in a complex relationship between the individual and the collective.

An important concept for Saussure was also that "language at any given time involves an established system and an evolution. At any given time, it is an institution in the present and a product of the past. At first sight, it looks very easy to distinguish between the system and its history, between what it is and what it was. In reality, the connexion between the two is so close that it is hard to separate them." (Saussure 9). It is significant to understand this as we reflect on our own language and languages in general. This discussion, too, will attempt to outline an evolution of the language (Japanese and French) and language policies and from there I will move to an analysis of the present situation. However, as Saussure points out, the difference between the current system and the history is never clear cut.

Japanese Language History
Japan's history has seen a wide variety of language policies implemented: "Much of language planning activity in Japan has in the past been concerned with reforms, mainly of the written language and of the script" (Carroll 14). Beginning with the borrowing of the Chinese writing system, Kanji, and the contrasting notion of easily distinguishable borders related to being an island, Japanese identity has experienced a pushing and pulling between liberally adopting aspects of other languages and at the same time maintaining a strong sense of nationalism and ownership for Japanese language and culture. There has been a back and forth in Japan's past and present between adopting linguistic trends from abroad and attaching pride to the Japanese language for its uniqueness and superiority from within.

Language policy in Japan has addressed a range of topics. While many policies, particularly in the beginning stages of language planning, have focused on script reforms, there are many other linguistic phenomena that have been subject to government interest or concern. I will explore only a few of the most significant aspects of Japanese language policy history. I will look first into aspects of written language, such as Kanji and romanization. Of grammatical significance, I will examine the language planning surrounding keigo. Finally, I will discuss two minority languages, Okinawan and Ainu, and their historical importance in language planning.

Kanji, being of Chinese origin, has been a language issue of huge importance. The Chinese and Japanese languages share completely different phonetic systems, in addition to, the fact that Chinese is a tonal language rather than phonetic, like Japanese. For this reason, borrowing Chinese characters faced difficulty in translation. Thus, for centuries prior to the Meiji era the Japanese method of writing and speaking lacked unity. A symbol could sometimes be recognized, but did not correlate to a colloquial speech pattern in Japanese. The traditional Japanese writings, having little connection to the language spoken by the average Japanese citizen, had the effect of keeping reading above the heads of the masses and thus literacy rates were lower. Although the upper class received government aid for a high degree of education, the commoners did not. Despite this, many commoners could seek out basic education and achieve basic literacy through institutions, such as small temple schools (Twine 115). While basic literacy may have been achievable through personal educational endeavors, learning the more complex aspects of written language required years of training and expertise. The problem between written and spoken language was still overwhelmingly prominent:

"In 1868, the year of the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese language was by no means an effective instrument of communication. There was a complicated network of regional dialects; the spoken and written languages were so dissimilar as to necessitate the compilation of separate grammars for each; the written language itself was divided into several discrete styles, each drawing its vocabulary and syntax from early medieval Chinese or Japanese; and there were more than ten thousand Chinese characters in use... Its separation from everyday affairs was of such long standing that it could not function concisely and effectively to convey information" (Twine 115).

The first documented arousal of Japanese policy interest in language dealt with this issue. In the late Tokugawa period, the kokuji kairyou movement pushed for the replacement of Kanji in preference for a simpler script (Twine 116). In the Meiji Period this was seen in the Genbun ichi movement, which dealt with the unification of speech and writing:

"The movement began the process of simplifying the confusion of written varieties in use and narrowing the gap between written and spoken languages, thereby facilitating the spread of a written standard. By extension it also contributed towards reducing the gulf between the educated elites and the rest of the population" (Carroll 59).

It is important to note, however, that although there was a growing recognition for the need for reform, the actual process of unifying the written and spoken languages extended over a very long period. Carroll and other scholars suggest that this could be the result of conflicting ideologies. On the one hand, there was an established and generally supported argument for reforming the written language to raise literacy rates and create a more effective and accessible language, but on the other side there was an elitist position that held onto the traditional way of writing (Carroll 60). The need for written and spoken unification led to debates discussing the advantages and disadvantages to eliminating Kanji, using only the kana scripts, changing over completely to a romanized writing system and Kanji reduction, with advocates and groups forming around different positions.

During the World War era of Japan, there was a need for an ultra-nationalistic approach towards language. This resulted in temporarily abandoning the push for simplifying Kanji. The language was kept in a stand still and change was seen as treasonous.

The largest push for refinement came in the post-World War II era of Japan. Previously, the number of official Kanji in Japan had ranged from 5,000-6,000 characters. The loss of the war left the country economically and politically insecure, and in combination with the American occupancy a movement for democracy established itself with much greater strength than prior to the World War era:

"The leading figures in the script-reform camp latched on to the fashionable term 'democracy,' using it to sanctify their aims and assume moral superiority over their opponents. In language-reform terms, their strategy translated to the statement that complex Chinese characters belonged to the former ruling class and that script and the remaining vestiges of archaic styles should be changed so the entire nation could understand the written language with ease" (Gottlieb 1177).

In 1946 the official list of Kanji was reduced to 1,850. After about a decade and a half of intensive debate questioning the number of Kanji erased, the policy was reexamined and altered. The government officialized a new list of 1,945 characters, but perhaps the most important alteration was the official changing from "seigen" (limit) to "meyasu" (guide). This played out to allowing a few common Kanji in specific areas of expertise as well as some Kanji used in proper names, but more importantly allowed for some leeway in the citizens' Kanji usage.

Another aspect of Japanese language planning has involved the methods of transcribing the Japanese characters into the Roman alphabet to make Japanese accessible to more people across the globe. The first interest in the romanization of Japanese characters came from a secret society established in 1885, Romajikai. This group utilized the Hepburn system, which was developed by American-born James Curtis Hepburn. This system was thus based upon English pronunciations, rather than Japanese. In 1900 the topic of romanization was deemed important enough to necessitate the creation of the first committee established by the Department of Education to discuss and address the problem. After this initial onset of interest several publications and groups were formed including the Romaji journal (1905), Romaji Hiromekai (Society for the propagation of Romanized Japanese), Nippon-no-Romazi-Sya (Society for the publication of Romanized Japanese, 1909) and the Romazi Sekai (1911). The latter of the above created the "Japanese style" of today. This group later worked with Nippon Romazikwai (Society for the propagation of Writings in Roman Character, 1921). And in 1937, the government style was developed, although it never gained much usage outside of its specific purpose for government affairs.


Keigo, or honorific language, is an essential component of Japanese not seen in English. Keigo is the formal speech containing alternative vocabulary and grammar used to express politeness and respect or to display a hierarchy among relationships, for example, in the work place. Carroll explains keigo in such a way that "in the narrower sense, it refers to individual words and morphemes used to express politeness; in the broader sense, it refers to the whole system of honorific language" (89). There are aspects of definitive structural changes, but it is tightly linked with the cultural values surrounding it. For this reason, keigo can be limited to a linguistic study or it may be opened up to the examination of systematic gestures and behavioral patterns that accompany the language. The latter part is the idea of taiguu hyougen in Japanese, translated by Carroll as "the linguistic treatment of self and others in conversation" (89).

There are seen to be three subcategories under the title of keigo. These include kenjougo (humble language), sonkeigo (respectful/exalted language), and teikeigo (polite language). Humble language is generally used when speaking with someone of higher rank (whether this be in the workplace, in age relations, or in other realms of ranking in Japanese society) to refer to one's own actions. In the same vein, exalted language is used to refer to the actions of the person of higher status and never to oneself. Due to the strong connection of keigo to Japanese traditional culture and values, this aspect of the Japanese language has raised and continues to raise issues in language policy and concern in Japan.

Sometimes the attempt to create a stronger national identity motivates government authorities to encourage reform, to hopefully begin a new and improved stage following a period of defeat or lull. This was the case in the beginning of the 1950s in Japan. During the postwar period the issue of keigo began to gain importance as language became the subject of more critical analysis in an attempt to rebuild the Japanese community and strengthen national identity.

In 1952, keigo was reexamined and a new set of guidelines was produced by the Kokugo Shingikai (Language Council) called kore kara no keigo (honorific language henceforth). Carroll cites the Bunkachou who outlined the ideological goals behind the new principles as the attempt to change the problem that "'to date, honorific language has developed mainly on the basis of superior-subordinate relations, but from now on, honorific language must be established on the basis of mutual respect which values each person's basic humanity'" (91). During this time, the concept of "mutual respect" came to represent democracy. Along with this ideal of democracy came the desire for language reform (accompanied with other changing aspects of society such as government, industry, etc.), and modernization mostly via language reduction and simplification. As shown above, whether lessening the number of Kanji or condensing the polite language, the goal was to make the language more accessible across the board first to the Japanese and then in a global context: "There has been a general trend towards simplification since the war, encouraged by official guidelines and the abandonment of a whole level of language specific to the imperial household" (Carroll 91).

Although some of the 1952, kore kara no keigo guidelines persisted, such as the abolishing of the imperial household language, others suffered less success. Three such examples include the o- +ni naru form used with the verb naru (to become), the watashi/boku distinction, and the attempt to make anata the standard second person pronoun.

The o- +ni naru form is an aspect of respectful language where the verb stem is used in combination with the prefix of "o" and the ending of ni naru or ni narimasu to add politeness and it is also used as the passive construction. Although the council thought this form used with the verb naru would and should eventually cease to be used in everyday Japanese society, this has not been the trend (Carroll 93).

Watashi and boku both function as first person pronouns with differing connotations. The suggestion in 1952 was that boku was acceptable for use by males until they became full adults, i.e. graduated from university and moved into the next stage of life as a working adult and contributing member of society. Carroll points out "this particular recommendation has had little effect: men of all ages continue to use boku in informal situations and there is even a trend for girls and young women to use boku to refer to themselves" (96). My own experience agrees with studies of current scholars who suggest that recently there has been an increasing occurrence of females referring to themselves with the pronoun, boku. My young host sister always used boku to reference herself and this was lightly laughed at by her parents and grandparents, showing an increase in modern times for girls to use boku.

Finally, the council's attempt to encourage anata as the norm for the second person pronoun was also a failure. This is likely due to the fact that in Japanese the subject is frequently omitted and furthermore, anata is rarely used. Japanese teachers repeatedly inform the students that anata should be avoided and is rarely used. In a number of situations using anata would be seen as rude and too direct or possibly informal. Thus there was a high level of opposition to this suggestion and it failed to ever take effect in society in any significant way.

Similar to the evolution of script reform in the postwar period, motivations towards modernization and democratization led first to the desire for reform and then bounced back as concern for the preservation of the beauty of the language were brought to the surface. Unlike script reform, however, there was a more pervasive view across the Japanese populace that placed value on the use and perfection of keigo, as it was seen to be an essential part of both the Japanese language and cultural ideals. During the 1970s Japan was becoming more centered upon rising companies and industries. This placed more Japanese in the hierarchy of the work force, where keigo is commonly needed and used, but there was a simultaneous lack of mastery leading to an increase in the production and consumption of keigo guide books. That the guide books became a hot item in popular culture demonstrates the general opinion that keigo, far from outdated, was a fundamental aspect of Japanese uniqueness.

Minority Languages

In the discussion of Japanese language planning approach, there have been several important displays of the national government attempting assimilation to the point of potentially eradicating minority languages and dialects. Two examples that ring strong for those with a knowledge of Japanese history include the Okinawa and Ainu languages and cultures. I will begin with the evolution of the Okinawa situation.


Okinawa is a group of southern islands in Japan known as the Ryukyu Islands. 1940 became a key year in development of the Okinawa debate. This debate was characterized by a national attempt to establish a stronger and more widespread standardized language in contrast with the view of others of influential status that regional dialects and traditions should be preserved. In short, the issue in Okinawa was assimilation versus preservation. The parties leading the debate were the national government attempting language assimilation and the party that came to be led primarily by Yanagi Muneyoshi purporting the importance of language and cultural diversity (Clarke 194). The back and forth debate that was to follow was put into motion after an event sponsored by the Okinawa Kankou Kyoukai (Okinawa Tourist Association) and the Kyoudo Kyoukai (Local History Association). The media became heavily involved with certain newspapers, for example, employing rhetoric ranging from the militaristic and nationalist perspectives of those in support of the national government (such as the Okinawa Nippou and the Okinawa Asahi shinbun) to those in support of Yanagi's case for the value of cultural richness (such as initially the Ryuukyuu shinpou) (Clarke 214). Since there was a surprising uncertainty among the Okinawan people as to whether they wanted to preserve their language and culture due in a large part to the blatant discrimination by other Japanese, much of the support for the preservation came from external forces, such as Yanagi and his followers.

Arguments abounded. On the one side, government supporters suggested there existed a "practical need for [the promotion of standard Japanese] in the daily lives of the Okinawan people" or "that inevitably the local dialects would be replaced by standard language" (Clarke 202, 204). And on the other side, it was argued "only by enriching the language with words from remote dialects like those of Okinawa and the Touhoku area of northern Japan could a pure standard Japanese be achieved" (Clarke 201) or that the government was pursuing its goals at the expense of an enriched and diverse national language and culture. Hugh Clarke concludes that:

"Yanagi was not successful in slowing the pace or modifying the ferocity of the Department of Educational Affairs' campaign for the promotion of standard Japanese. On the other hand, neither were the prefectural authorities able to stamp out local dialects and traditions. No doubt Yanagi's passionate defence of Okinawan culture encouraged many Okinawans, even those who strongly supported the standard language promotion movement, to take pride in their own traditions, confident in the thought that the Japanese national identity embraced every regional variation" (Clarke 214).

This suggests that interest in Okinawan assimilation was due in a large part to the increased military involvement in China and the therefore increased need for national unity.


The Ainu population located in the northernmost island of Japan endured a similar history of subjugation to language assimilation and prejudice. Even as a part of Yanagi's case for Okinawa preservation, "Yanagi made the point that most Okinawans spoke standard Japanese well and with far less local accent than the people of northern Japan," using negative downward social comparison to support his position (Clarke 204). However, the Ainu situation evolved differently, and assimilation occurred gradually until the Meiji restoration period when more devoted efforts were put into it.

The Ainu people in the past were a completely separate population with their own language and culture and were even distinct physically (Howell 70). During the Tokugawa period (1603-1868) Hokkaido was under the rule of the Matsumae domain, which functioned as a somewhat autonomous region, but was under the ultimate rule of the Tokugawa shogunate:

"The Ainu, Ryukyuans and outcastes lived in communities autonomous from- but subordinate to- the mainstream population. They were considered to be not fully Japanese- or, in the case of the outcastes, not even fully human- and their communities were not part of Japan: Ryukyu and the Ainu homeland in Hokkaido were treated as semi-independent foreign entities" (Howell 74).

These populations were not granted the rights of being viewed as foreign entities so much as they were excluded. They were "excluded not only from the direct political authority of the shogunate, but also from formal membership of the Japanese population" (Howell 73). Although excluded in official government and societal realms, there was interaction between Hokkaido and the mainland during this time. Mainland Japan used the Ainu to fill a political interest and the Ainu people became dependent upon the mainland for trade: "Given the Ainu's inability to procure other regular sources of needed commodities or to extract them forcibly from the Japanese, they had little choice but to submit to the overlordship of the Tokugawa shogunate and its agent, the Matsumae domain" (Howell 75). This need for trade and commodities lead to a fairly rapid establishment of trading posts from mainlanders, resulting in an increased interaction between the mainland and the Ainu people.

During the Tokugawa period, the first centralized government, "political authority was weak or nonexistent," due to the early stage the country was in in relation to attempting a more central reign (Howell 72). Thus Ainu assimilation during this time was also weaker and more gradual than in the Meiji period to follow, but there was still a definite and sometimes deliberate influence upon the culture and language and as Howell states "attempts to manipulate the rituals could be seen as early as 1633" (Howell 81).

Howell discusses the changes made to the uiman ceremony of the Ainu people, suggesting that this ritual "evolved only gradually as an assertion of Japanese political domination of the Ainu" (Howell 81). There was a shift from Ainu ways of thinking and living to Japanese methods seen in the gradual development of the Ainu traditions. Cultural ideologies of Japanese culture infiltrated slowly but surely into the Ainu rituals. These changes included the greater establishment of a societal hierarchy as opposed to the previous emphasis on equality in the uiman ceremony, a greater emphasis on strictly systematic performance of the ceremony, establishment of a regular schedule for the practice, and the introduction and ingraining of the idea of predetermined gifts (Howell 81-82):

"The assertions of Japanese power and authority conveyed through the uiman and umsa rituals were not directed primarily towards the Ainu, but rather were designed to reassure the Japanese themselves of their own legitimacy. The portrayal of these rituals as Ainu rather than Japanese in origin, despite the fact that by the end of the eighteenth century their form owed more to Japanese bureaucratic protocol than to Ainu tradition, represents an effort by the Japanese to ground their domination of the Ainu in history and the 'timeless' traditions of Ainu culture" (Howell 83).

In these ways assimilation was already vaguely in place before the Meiji period began.

At the time of the Meiji state, Ainu assimilation became a more serious issue and many changes were made in an attempt to transform the Ainu portion of society into a contributing part of the Japanese mainland society. The Meiji state wanted to do this by implementing agricultural and industrial programs (Howell 91). The first attempt was made very early in the Meiji state and this "new regime not only banned visible markers of Ainu ethnicity, such as earrings and tattoos, but also forbade the Ainu to practise their religion or to hunt in their ancestral hunting-grounds" (Howell 91). After this, the Meiji state legally changed the name Ainu to kyuu dojin, or former aborigines, further degrading their status. In 1899 the Law for the Protection of Former Hokkaido Aborigines, Hokkaidou Kyuu Dojin Hogohou, was established in the name of protection but rather functioned as a way to force those from Hokkaido to farm, despite the difficult conditions faced with the farming of this cold, northern land (Howell 91). The "protection" law had further implications to language, as well. Since the goal was evidently complete assimilation of this culture, the policies covered a range of aspects, from rituals to enforced agriculture to language, that go into separating one group of people from another.

That the Ainu language lacked a written form likely rendered the task of language assimilation easier and quicker: "The transformation of the Ainu's everyday lives accelerated after the implementation of the protection law. This can be seen in the spread of formal education and the concomitant decline in the use of the Ainu language as the medium of daily interaction" (Howell 9-10). In this formal education, Ainu was forbidden. Today it appears that the Ainu language may be beyond the point of salvaging. Very few people speak it, with Howell citing a survey conducted by the Japanese government in 1993 where a scarce 0.8 percent claimed that they were fluent in Ainu and 91% "said they knew no more than a few words (Hokkaidou Seikatsu Fukushibu 1993, 45)" (Howell 10).

Language Planning Bodies in Japan

Moving into the realm of present day issues, I will begin with an explanation of the structure of influence on language in Japan. The first governing body I will discuss is the Kokugo Shingikai (National Language Council). This was established in 1899 by the Ministry of Education and currently contains about 50 members "from various spheres- education, journalism, broadcasting, writers, academics (linguists, scientists, and others)", who serve two year terms that may be renewed (Carroll 42).

The group was at one point called the Kinji Kokugo Choosa Iinkai (Interim National Language Research Council) established in 1921 and was "attempting since 1923 to introduce both limits on the number of Chinese characters in use and modernization of kana usage to a system based on contemporary rather than archaic pronunciation" (Gottlieb 1176).

Established in 1940, the next significant influence on language in Japan is called the Kokugoka (Japanese/National Language Section). The primary purpose of this establishment is the promotion of Japanese overseas, but the group also works to regularize Japanese in Japan.

The Kokuritsu Kokugo Kenkyuujo (National Language Research Institute) was established in 1947 for the purpose of conducting language research given to help suggest the National Language Council in the formation of government policies. The administrative group is set up with the idea of "raw data" as the goal. They also create publications, such as the Japanese Language Studies Annual Survey and Bibliography, with the Japanese language as the topic.

Although the media is not a part of the technical governmental structure that creates the language policies, it is of significant influence in many ways. The NHK is a widely known Japanese public broadcasting station that has considerable impact on language policy. The production of textbooks is another industry that successfully propagates ideas on language planning. It is particularly important to note that the Ministry of Education must approve all textbooks used in schools (Carroll 95). And finally there are some private script reform groups that may not have as widespread an influence as the media establishments, but that still work to impact Japanese language planning. Japanese language planning relies to a great extent on these sources for implementation of policies:

"My impression is that all these questions of 'language policy' (gengo-seisaku) tent to be decided more by the relative 'political' strengths of pressure-groups, led by activists and representing a limited number of prejudged opinions, than by a consideration of the relevant arguments in the light of the all-round needs of society" (Daniels 68).

Current Language Issues in Japan

The modern age has brought about a new set of language concerns and some persistent older issues for the governing body in Japan. Some of today's language topics include the sharp increase in gairaigo (loanwords), English imperialism, the "young people's language," feminine speech, and honorific language. In general terms, people discuss the idea of disorder in language, and under this heading follow the above listed more specific considerations.


One of the largest issues in Japanese language planning today is that of gairaigo, or loanwords. In Japanese, there are several different categories to distinguish between the different origins of Japanese vocabulary. These types include kango (Chinese derived), wago (ancient Japanese derived), konshugo (hybrid), and gairaigo (other than Chinese loaned). Japan has borrowed heavily from other languages and the areas of borrowing have shifted over the centuries. In the beginning, Chinese, Sanskrit and Korean were of a prime influence on Japanese. This moved to Portuguese, Spanish, Latin and Dutch and then finally to German, English, French and Russian in the nineteenth century (Tomoda 231).

In recent years, Japan has seen a substantial influx in the number of loanwords entering Japanese society, most of which are English derived. Naturally, this has raised concern from many authorities and citizens alike. Takako Tomoda outlines the five main arguments against the incorporation of such a large number of loan words: 1) the Japanese language is in danger of eventual extinction, 2) the loan words are confusing and therefore a communication hindrance, 3) the loan words are creating social division, 4) the use of loan words supports American dominance, and 5) the loan words are creating a shallow society (233).

While these are arguments against allowing so many gairaigo, others hold different views. Supporters of the usage of gairaigo tend to prefer a hands-off method to language planning. Others view the trend "as part of the inevitable process of internationalization" (Tomoda 233). Those who prefer the hands-off approach believe that the language should and will develop naturally. In the same vein, loan words are seen as valuable for introducing new concepts and useful rather than dangerous insofar as those that fail to serve a significant function in society will eventually fade out of existence anyway (Tomoda 233).

From the government, the public receives conflicting signs about the use of gairaigo. Although the government expresses concern over the sharp increase in gairaigo and the ensuing confusion this causes in public comprehension, the government still utilizes gairaigo regularly in official documents for everything from project names to concepts (Tomoda 244). This apparent contradiction appears to materialize in the government desire to make written and official language more accessible to the masses and the simultaneous desire for encouraging cultural appreciation and uniqueness:

"So, even though there has been a simplification in the language used in government documents, with fewer archaic forms being used, resulting in greater accessibility to the average reader, this has been accompanied by an increase in the amount of new gairaigo being used. Consequently, despite reform in official language use in some areas, the problem of public comprehension remains" (Tomoda 247).

English in Japan

Yuko Kawai investigates the proposition of English as an official language of Japan in January 2000. This was and remains a controversial topic, but the proposal unsurprisingly did not pass. The debate centers around the need for a nation to remain modern in order to compete within the global market and the simultaneous fear of losing a strong national identity. Particularly with English, the primary source of gairaigo today, the fear is of English linguistic imperialism (Kawai 38). This is not specific to the situation in Japan but is rather a growing global fear extending from Europe to the Middle East. It is a fear of English imperialism in some cases and also of American cultural, political and economic imperialism depending upon the country. Obviously, there is often significant overlap between these fears.

For Japan, the issue of promoting English takes on another dimension. While the teaching of English can be portrayed as necessary for the Japanese to engage in global capitalism and politics, it is also a means of promoting Japanese culture (Kawai 44). In Kayoko Hashimoto's article, as well, the author initiates a discussion on the distinction between internationalization and Japanization:

"the domestic motivations behind 'internationalisation' make it different from the Western 'globalisation'... despite the shift in the rhetoric of justification for the necessity of English teaching, from ideas such as colonialism through third-world development aid or internationalization, there has been a consistent, but hidden, cultural politics of English associated with the spread and maintenance of the culture of the language. This indicates that Japan's internationalization, in which TEFL [teaching English as a foreign language] is located as a key element, should be looked at in terms of resistance to English language imperialism" (Hashimoto 39-40).

Some teachers, for example, believe that by teaching English as a culturally bound language Japaneseness can be reasserted. This theory functions on the basis of the idea of "us" versus "them" which has prevailed in Japanese culture and history.

Young People's Language

Another popular discussion of today involving the Japanese language is the problem now labeled the "young people's language." Katakanago is a form of Japanese "used by teenagers and university students as 'in-group' language" (Carroll 103). Kougyarugo refers to the language of high school girls. The phenomenon of kougyarugo gained particular attention during the late 1990s. Though it was initially seen as problematic by elders and authorities, it is more commonly explained now as a fad that has already peaked but not completely passed (Carroll 103). It was also suggested that the language was acceptable because it was used almost exclusively among peers. The language did not pass boundaries into school, work or with elders, meaning that the roles of Japanese society were still being upheld successfully.

Likely, the language of young people produced so much concern initially due to the fact that the language was nearly or completely incomprehensible to adults not immersed in this culture. Linguistically, the young people's language involves an intricate mixture of English and Japanese. Perhaps in this sense, the young people's language of Japan mirrors to an extent the situation in America today of Ebonics, which also is said to show a unique and systematic combination of English and African roots. Carroll, however, suggests that the young people's language in Japan was created by the younger generation to intentionally alienate themselves from the adult world (Carroll 103). She explains that "the fear is not simply that the generation gap is becoming wider or that society is changing, but that young people are becoming 'un-Japanese,' and in a society that prides itself on its homogeneity, that idea is a threatening one" (103). As we have seen, the construct of national homogeneity in Japan and the value of Japanese uniqueness have repeatedly directed the path of language planning. Although in some ways fear about young people's language has settled, Carroll points out that the incorporation of more spoken language in kokugo classes for school children is partially an attempt to dissuade possible negative consequences to further development of this young people's language (Carroll 103).

Feminine Language

Although the topic of kougyarugo may have settled down to an extent, feminine language presents another area of concern today. There have been many studies done of the differences between male and female language in Japan. Similar conclusions have been drawn in comparative studies showing that although languages and cultures such as English show different speech patterns in male and female language, Japanese is unique insofar as the differences between male and female speech extend beyond the scope of gestures, intonation, and other more peripheral or behavioral aspects of language usage to include very ingrained, identifiable grammatical structures and vocabulary. Women tend to use more polite speech than men and often use more mutually respectful terms in conversations. There are other differences such as particles that change in frequency depending on gender, such as "ne" and "yo." More recently, there has been an increased trend for females to use more masculine or less feminine speech depending on an individual's perspective. Some concern has been raised about feminine language becoming too rough. As previously discussed, the spreading trend of the use boku is perhaps another example of changing perceptions of the female role and therefore of female language use:

"Concern that young women are using male language reflects fear over shifting role boundaries... Praise for the speech of Sacred Heart students reflects fears about moral decadence and the loss of clear boundaries both between Japan and the outside world and between women and men (Fair 1996: dissertation abstract). According to such views, if men and women were to speak alike, the boundaries of gender identity would blur, and social life would become chaotic" (Carroll 106).


Recently, keigo has again become an area of language concern in both the government and public domain. The 1990s saw the introduction of the idea of language disorder which significantly affected the keigo language as well. In 1998 the Language Council decided a reexamination of the 1952 guidelines, kore kara no keigo, and keigo in general, was in order and conducted this reexamination via a set of discussions among the Council (Carroll 97). The Council reported several conclusions, but none that were very definite or that would encourage action. Carroll describes the end result: "The overall picture, of respect combined with appropriateness and flexibility, is far richer than that given by Kore kara no keigo, despite the latter's promotion of democracy- a reflection of the complexities of contemporary society" (99).

French and Japanese

The Japanese and the French language both show a deep rooted tie between language and identity, on a national and individual level. Their history of attributing strong value to their own language comes from different sources and historical contexts. The Japanese bond their language intimately to the upholding of cultural values, such as respect and social hierarchy, among others. The French have come to view their language as the staple of French identity linked undeniably to Revolutionary ideals such as equality and a strong centralized nation. Here I will begin a discussion of language developments as they have occurred in France, beginning with the language situation during early time of absolute monarchs.

In many early countries, language was not yet viewed as an essential marker of the nation. Language was highly divided and diverse in both early Japan and France:

"Before the age of nationalism, states were based not on ethnicity and common ethnic languages but on dynastic loyalties and religion, and it did not much concern the ordinary citizen, or subject, of the states concerned whether he spoke the language of the bureaucracy that governed him, because he tended to avoid direct contact with it" (Safran 398).

Language was separate in terms of both region and class. The need for a centralized language was not recognized and in the same vein, ethnicity was not tied to language. This was the case for the Ainu in Japan before assimilation became important for the goals of the Meiji regime, where although the Ainu were under the ultimate rule of the government in mainland Japan, they possessed everything from a distinct language to a somewhat autonomous government ruler, and this did not cause problems during certain periods prior to the Meiji rule.


Language and culture have long been discussed as deeply connected. In some ways, the language and culture debate can mirror sayings such as, "Which came first the chicken or the egg?" or perhaps can mirror the debate of nature versus nurture. In short, language and culture intertwine and engage in a constant process of influencing and being influenced by one another, but the role of language in personal and national identity is a more recent construction. As seen in both France and Japan's history, language has not always been tied so consciously to our identity as it is today. Globalization and the subsequent growing awareness of other languages and cultures often leads us to understand ourselves in contrast to the other and this, in turn, gives us a sense of identity.

Language in France and Japan has followed a similar trend. In the beginning stages of the developing countries, linguistic and political unity were virtually non-existent. Over time unity became desirable to increase national strength (economic, political, cultural, linguistic). This, in general, led to moves towards language standardization which inherently involved attempts at language assimilation. Homogenization was the goal. After linguistic unity has been achieved to a great extent (though of course not completely), new motivations have led to preservation attempts in Japan and promotion of dialect tolerance in France.

Globalization has led to the need for language unity in a nation. Language is used as a tool by governments to successfully mobilize and engage in the world economy. Although languages and cultures begin of an organic birth with a slow initial development, as the state develops, language becomes a non-neutral and powerful force. Efforts are taken to manipulate the language and indirectly the people through this. The extent to which an external force can alter the course of a language is debatable. As one political theorist explains,

"The role of a common language in constituting the modern nation does not refer to a process whereby the State takes over a language, causing it to suffer purely instrumental distortions; it denotes the very re-creation of language by the State. The linguistic imperialism peculiar to the officialese of a modern nation does not result merely from the forms of its employment; it is already present in its structuring" (Poulantzas 115).

In this view, language becomes completely restructured by the governing body. If we view the way the government has altered a language over the course of history we can gain significant insights into the values of the culture (such as French equality) and the motives of the government, which are likely economic or political. Historical language analysis provides a framework both to understand the present language and gain further insight into the nature of a culture and the nation's history.
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