Sociolinguistics in Japanese Contexts

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

21. The microtoponymy of a limited area considered as
part of the vocabulary of an idiolect

0. Introductory notes by the editors

This paper is concerned with place names, a topic which is one of Dr. Sibata’ s main concerns. Proper names are often treated as a phenomenon of “langue” in Saussurean terms. Dr. Sibata however treats proper names as evidence for idiolectal differences in vocabulary. Individual differences can thus be treated from a sociolinguistic point of view.

The author attempts a complete description of the place names employed by individuals, and compares the results. Individual characteristics were explicable by the extra-linguistic behavior of informants. He also draws upon the extra-linguistic behavior of informants to explain individual characteristics in place name usage.

This paper was prepared in collaboration with Fumio Inoue and was read at the Melbourne Linguistic Circle, May 30, 1973.


1. Introduction

Place names can be divided into two classes, namely, “small area” place names and “large area” place names, according to whether they refer to an area which is finely partitioned or not. Thus Nippon ‘Japan’ is a “large area” place name, and Tanagai, a subsection of the Kawanishi section in the Machino-machi area, Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture certainly is a “small area” place name. However, compared with Ajia ‘Asia’, Nippon ‘Japan’ is a “small area” place name. Moreover, Tanagai itself is further subdivided into three hamlets. Compared with Shimo-ji, one of the three hamlets, Tanagai is a “large area” place name. Thus, since fineness of distinction is relative, whether a place name is a “large area” place name or a “small area” place name cannot be determined until the standard of measurement is determined.

Nevertheless, as there are such things as the “largest area” place names and the “smallest area” place names, the relative fineness of distinction is delimited by these two extremes. Therefore, taking the “smallest area” place names as our starting point, we propose to consider as “micro-place names” all place names up to a certain degree of fineness of distinction. Irrespective of the degree of fineness with which one chooses to delimit the concept of micro-place name, one characteristic which comes to light when such place names are compared with other place names is that most of them are not recorded on general purpose maps (i.e., they are “unrecorded place names”). Another characteristic is that they are much more numerous than other place names. In addition, micro-place names are very close to the individuals’ living in the area in question; they constitute an important pail of their vocabulary, and are indispensable in everyday life. It is considerations of this kind which have led us to single out micro-place names

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