Sociolinguistics in Japanese Contexts

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

18. Fad words and language bosses

0. Introductory notes by the editors

In this paper processes of language diffusion are observed utilizing methods from experimental psycholinguistics. We also see the first application of “sociometry” in the analyses here. This line of thinking is similar to the “social network” approach advocated recently by Milroy. The idea of artificially planting fad words was equally innovative. This methodology was found useful but cannot easily be repeated because of the difficulties involved in the actual application of the methods.

The importance of socio-psychological factors is clearly shown in this paper. What is more, the concept of a “Language Boss” has become a useful and popular term since this paper was published. This concept is connected with the idea of “experts”, “opinion leaders” or “innovators” in the study of flow of communication, as well as the notion of “prestige” in urban language diffusion in linguistic geography. The study analyzed here was done in 1958 but the results are fresh even today.


1. Fad words in fashion

Not all forms of fad words which are spread by the mass media become popular within a certain group. Some become popular but some do not. And one word may become popular in one group but not in other groups. A certain word may spread in a group but the form may not be exactly the same as has been used in the mass media.

Considering these facts there must be an intermediary person who chooses fad words and changes the form of the word. Actually we have a related experience. A child who had picked up a certain fad word from TV one night tried to use this word in the classroom the next day. But because nobody paid attention to him, this fad word was used only by this one child and eventually disappeared. However, the same word used by a different child spread quickly throughout the class. For the time being, we will refer to a child who is the leader in the process of spreading a fad word within a group as a “language boss”. In this paper, we will attempt a methodology for the identification of language bosses. If we succeed, we will not only be able to see more easily the processes involved in spreading fad words, but also obtain information which can be used in education, by studying the personality of the language boss.

We had the opportunity to do research for this purpose with 3rd and 5th grade children of three primary schools in Tokyo in 1958. In the end we were not able to distinguish completely between a boss and a non-boss, but we were able to get some rough ideas about language bosses.

Some readers, after reading the results here, may feel that this kind of research was unnecessary; that nothing new was found and that the results could have been

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