Sociolinguistics in Japanese Contexts

By Tetsuya Kunihiro; Fumio Inoue et al. | Go to book overview

9. Honorifics in a community

0. Introductory notes by the editors

This article is concerned with the usage of address terms in Japanese society. The field is again the Noto peninsula, which is famed for the retention of old folk customs. This field is also treated in Chapters 8 and 21 of this book. Dr. Sibata, in collaboration with students of Tokyo University, collected data on address terms (and self-reference terms) from all available residents of a community who were familiar with each other.

In this paper the whole matrix of usage from addressers to addressees is not shown, but informants displaying exceptional usages are pointed out and analyzed. Certain members appear again and again. The causes of their exceptional behavior are explained socially and psychologically. Certain members of the community were found to be isolated from others on the basis of language use. This shows how informative linguistic usage can be if a researcher is careful enough.

The method used here is similar to what was later called the “league match” survey (following the usage in sports; in contrast to a tournament), and has been found useful in investigating the structure of usage of linguistic forms. Several scholars now follow this methodology. It is reflective of the microscopic, meticulous and perfectionistic study of Dr. Sibata. Other reflections come from a settlement survey in linguistic geographical research, an all-residents survey in sociolinguistics, and a 24 hour survey of language usage.


1. The local community, the family and the individual

In language study, we define a community as the smallest group speaking the same language. This is because we adopted the hypothesis that all members of the same community have a Common Language system (kingue) and must be participants in a Common Language behavior (langage). If this hypothesis is true, researching the system of honorific forms of a single member and his/her behavior would be enough to understand honorifics in the community.

That this hypothesis is, however, fictitious is clear from the existence of language differences observable according to the age and gender of the members of a community. Linguistic geography imposes limits on the age and sex of informants in order to reasonably collect varieties in each of the smallest regional communities. This idea is based on another hypothesis that there are no other factors which cause language variation in a community. This is also fictitious. It means that there exist differences in language among members of the same community. When we speak of honorifics in a community, it implies a focus on the differences in honorifics within that community.

Language differences among members refer to the language differences of an

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