Sociolinguistics in Japanese Contexts

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

13. The evolution of Common Language in Hokkaido

0. Introductory notes by the editors

This paper is concerned with language formation (or “new dialect” in recent socio-dialectological terms) in a newly settled territory.

The island of Hokkaido was the northern frontier for the Japanese people. Ainu people seem to have been living there from ancient times. Japanese people, especially fishermen, began to live along the coast lines in medieval times, but inland areas were acclaimed only after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Colonizing militiamen, recruited from various areas of Mainland Japan, lived side by side in forest areas unpopulated by the Ainu.

It is popularly supposed that the language of Hokkaido is very near to the Standard Language, because of the mixing of dialects which occurred there and because of the adoption by settlers of a literary style of speaking. But as this chapter shows us, this is not entirely true. The Inland Hokkaido dialect has some characteristics which reflect influences of the northern Honshu dialects spoken by fishermen along the coastline of Hokkaido.

In this paper Dr. Sibata discusses the formation processes of what has come to be called “Hokkaido Common Language”. This name draws from the fact that although the dialect is in many ways similar to the “Common Language” understood throughout Japan, it has some qualities unique to Hokkaido. Sibata found that the concept of “generations” plays a key role in determining the degree to which speakers retain or lose the dialects brought from the Mainland. The idea of a “language formation period” also plays an important and useful role here. Because there is some variation in the way the terms “first generation” and “second generation” are used in America, we should clarify the way they are used here. Issei’ first generation’ are people who were born outside of Hokkaido and came to the new territory of their own initiative; Nisei’ second generation’ are the first generation of people to be brought up in the new territory.

Sibata also found that some levels of the language system of the new territory’s dialect are likely to be acquired before others. Although such a comparison was beyond the scope of this article when it was written, these findings can be compared with those of studies of immigrants in the United States or other settlement areas.


1. Hokkaido and the development of Common Language

It is only natural to think that the easiest way to become fluent in Standard Language is to live in Tokyo from one’s early childhood. However, many people who have been brought up in regional areas become fluent in Standard Language as a result of traveling around various parts of Japan after reaching adulthood. For those who are not able to live in Tokyo as children or travel, the

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