Sociolinguistics in Japanese Contexts

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

16. Group language

0. Introductory notes by the editors

In this section Dr. Sibata examines the notion of “group language” through numerous concrete and familiar examples. Group language is one aspect of the social differentiation of language. It can be conceived of as a type of social class dialect. The classification introduced here of group language into argot, occupational language and slang is important and was influential to later studies in Japan. The distinction drawn here between nickname (adana) and term of endearment (aishô) has also proved very useful. The concept of “language boss” which Sibata introduces here is similar to the “innovator” of diffusion theory, or the “opinion leader” of social psychology.

The author deals with many concrete examples of group language here, and although some of these seem old-fashioned now, they still give us a vivid impression of the topic. Moreover, in spite of the changes in the life of the Japanese which have occurred in the half century since this paper was written, the deep insights into the psychology of users, and the revelations about many aspects of language users themselves gained from language usage studies are still of relevance today.

The methodology of reading between the lines of linguistic usage employed here is used also in Chapters 9, 18, 20 in this volume. This paper may be seen as a forerunner to later studies in the field of the social psychology of language.

The original version was a revision of a script for a radio broadcast, which explains the use of the first person pronoun T in this English translation.


1. Properties of group language

This may be the first time for some of readers to encounter the term “group language”, but the notion itself is one with which everyone is familiar. It has often been called “jargon” or “social dialect”, and is exemplified by thieves’ parlance and student slang. In order to emphasize that this type of language is created within a group and serves to strengthen the ties within the group, the author has decided to use the term “group language”.

It is often said that group language is bad language and should not be used. But there must be a reason why group languages come into being, for the fact that they are used implies a necessity for their usage. Here we would like to take an objective look into the reasons for its use, and the causes of its creation.

Note that group language is very much a man-made object. With the truncation of words or the metathesis of sounds, the manner of altering word forms seems to be unrestricted. In fact one could say that all the ways in which Japanese could possibly change are used in producing new words in group language. We therefore believe that close observation of group language would not only help us

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