Sociolinguistics in Japanese Contexts

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

11. The age structure of the speech community

0. Introductory notes by the editors

In this paper, written several years after the Second World War, the author deals with linguistic differences among age groups. Age differences had often been accepted rather naively as direct reflections of linguistic change. Labov’ s distinction between apparent-time change and real-time change was useful in alerting scholars to the importance of age differences. Here Dr. Sibata shows quite clearly through concrete examples that age differences do not necessarily parallel linguistic change. In many kinds of linguistic surveys, it has been observed that socially active age groups often lead in change. Social and psychological mechanisms may explain this. We can add the concept of the gengo-keisei-ki’ language formation period’ (the critical period, usually during the elementary and junior high school years, in which a person’s linguistic systems form) to this paradigm of the universal sociolinguistic tendencies of age.

The age structure of Standard Language pronunciation usage was found to have changed when a second investigation in Tsuruoka city was carried out 20 years later, thus showing language change in real time. But it still held true that the youngest children were not always the users of the newest linguistic forms. The distinction of linguistic change from below and from above should shed even more light on this kind of research, but there is still a need to study the effects of age in many language situations throughout the world.

The Tsuruoka survey was repeated for the third time in 1991 (Yoneda 1997). Comparative studies on the age structures revealed in these three surveys will undoubtedly lead to the formation of an improved model of language change.


1. Differentiation of linguistic behavior by the age of members of
speech communities

The title of this paper, “the age structure of the speech community”, refers to differences in linguistic behavior as reflected in the age of the members of a speech community. Strictly speaking, it is thought that differences in linguistic behavior in a community are dependent on combinations of various socialenvironmental conditions, but what can be said when such differences are looked at from the viewpoint of age? Here we will be concerned with over-all patterns in a community, not with differences among individual members.

The term “speech community” may sound unfamiliar. It refers to a community from the point of view of linguistic behavior. Note the similarities with the term “language life”, a term which is becoming popular in Japan, meaning life from the viewpoint of linguistic behavior. The Japanese term gengo-chiiki-shakai corre

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