Sociolinguistics in Japanese Contexts

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

23. Standards of pronunciation

0. Introductory notes by the editors

Problems of language standards are discussed in this chapter, paying special attention to pronunciation. Theoretical issues are treated first. The distinction drawn here between internal and external standards is noteworthy. The relation between levels of language and “proper pronunciation” is also conveniently outlined.

The author deals extensively with phenomena related to pronunciation. He pays particular attention to variant word forms. Phonetic and phonological problems which may seem to be the central problem of pronunciation are dealt with only briefly here, perhaps because this work was originally written as an introductory chapter for a series named A Course on Correct Japanese in which many examples of variant word forms were discussed individually by different scholars. We see an interesting tendency for informants to identify the word forms which they themselves use as being the “correct” forms. This type of egocentrism on the part of intellectuals seems to be a fundamental problem in determining standards of language.

This chapter is related to language planning and language policy, but Japan is a relatively simple society from the standpoint of the sociology of language. Although in the 1990’s increasing numbers of foreign workers in Japan have caused attention to be focused on new types of linguistic problems, conflict between languages was not seen as a significant linguistic problem when this paper was written. Related problems are discussed in chapter 22.


1. Standards of language and standards of pronunciation

In language there are forces which work to unify and stabilize internal structure. These forces are evidenced by such phenomena as sound assimilation and word form analogy, processes which are caused by the internal pressures of the structure of language. On the other hand, there are forces external to the structure of language, which are also striving to bring about uniformity and stability. An example of this is the uniformity and stability called for in the language of the media and school textbooks. Although we say these are forces which originate within the structure of language, they are fundamentally related to the human needs of the language user(s). They work to overcome anything that may interfere with successful communication. The external force is, in Japan, related to the grand plan of unifying the state, especially since the beginning of Japan’s modernization in 1868. The Japanese are fond of uniformity, and to leave things in a state of disunity irritates them. The same applies to the Japanese language.

If language were always in a state of internal uniformity and stability, there would be no need to work towards such a state, but instability and disunity do

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