Sociolinguistics in Japanese Contexts

By Tetsuya Kunihiro; Fumio Inoue et al. | Go to book overview
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8. The language life of Machino The social psychology
of honorifics

0. Introductory notes by the editors
This work is the first serious and pragmatic attempt at a sociolinguistic study of honorifics. The fieldwork was carried out in 1952 on the tip of the Noto peninsula on the northern coast of central Honshu Island.The method used here of recording actual discourse still seems fresh even today. We should remember that this work was done just after the War, at a time when tape-recorders (which had just become available) were not easily transported. Even tapes were costly. The methodology employed here for selecting informants (speakers) was a systematic one, as is customary today in social psychology.This area was surveyed again 20 years later, and sociolinguistic principles for the usage of honorific forms were investigated by questioning all the inhabitants on their usage of certain expressions as chapter 9 shows. Still more recent studies have shown these sociolinguistic principles to have changed: from household status (power) to familiarity (solidarity). Similar changes are said to have occurred in Europe. This may be a reflection of universal tendencies in honorifics.The importance of this paper lies in the methodology one very innovative in this early period of sociolinguistics in which the actual usage of linguistic forms was recorded and tabulated.
1. Introduction
In this paper, the author attempts to shed some light on the subject of honorifics from a “language life” approach, using the town of Machino (specifically, the Tanagai area of the Kawanishi district) in Fugeshi County, Ishikawa Prefecture. We will focus on the following problems:
1. Some kinship terms have an honorific usage and others do not. (This will be called “honorific differentiation”). We want to know whether this differentiation is governed more by modern social strata (hereafter called “social stratification”) or by the traditional standing of a household (called “household status” below).
2. In cases of one-on-one discourse (conversation), we wish to determine which of the following factors sex, age, household standing, degree of familiarity plays the greatest role in governing honorific behavior.

The hamlet of Tanagai is a small farming community on the Noto peninsula which (at the time of the survey in 1952) had 27 households, with a population of 96 (excluding those under 15 years old). We had planned to survey all 96 residents of the area, but in the end we were only able to obtain data from 82 people (26 households). The dialect is one representative of the Inner Noto

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