Sociolinguistics in Japanese Contexts

Sociolinguistics in Japanese Contexts

Sociolinguistics in Japanese Contexts

Sociolinguistics in Japanese Contexts


This text presents a collection of papers by Takesi Sibata, one of the leading linguists in Japan. The book provides an introduction to Japanese sociolinguistics, and shows how it has developed largely independently from the Western tradition.


Tetsuya Kunihiro

Fumio Inoue

Daniel Long

This book is a collection of socio linguistics papers written by Dr. Takesi Sibata. Most of the papers were selected from his book “Topics in Sociolinguistics [Shakai Gengogaku no Kadai]” published in 1978, and during the translation process, several recent papers were added.

As all the papers were written based upon fieldwork carried out on Japanese, translators’ explanations were occasionally deemed necessary. These appear in the form of “Introductory notes by the editors” which precede each chapter, and in some cases in the form of clarifications in the translations of the original text. Certain portions of the original texts have been omitted due to an overlap in the content of the papers. Other portions have been omitted because the discussion centers around the notoriously complicated Japanese writing system.

There were numerous problems which arose during our work on the translation which we will discuss briefly. These can be divided into problems of transcription, problems of translating technical terms, and problems of background information.

(1) Choosing a romanization system for the Japanese language was at first a great problem. The Revised Hepburn system which is based on English orthography is extensively used in this book, the only exception being the author’s name itself. Dr. Sibata was active in the romanization movement during and after the Second World War. Sibata himself expressed the desire that all the Japanese words and names in this book be spelled in the “Nipponsiki” (“Kunreisiki” or “ISO 3602”) system which is based on phonemic analysis of the Japanese language, and used mainly among linguists. In spite of this hope, the Revised Hepburn system was basically adopted for this book, because it is becoming more prevalent domestically and internationally. In fact most books in English or the other languages use this system. The main differences between these systems lie in spellings of the following syllables (Nipponsiki / Hepburn system, phonetic alphabet in [ ]):

SI/SHI [∫i] JI/ZI [Ʒi] TI/CHI [t∫i] TU/TSU [tsu].

In this book, vowels of two syllable (mora) length are shown by macrons (â, ê, ô, û) as in bôto ‘boat’. Long ‘i’, however, is shown by double’ i’ s as in chiisai ‘small’, because of printing difficulties.

(2) As the first drafts of the translations was performed by various people, various English expressions were used for the same Japanese term, and so technical terms had to be uniformed later. For example, ‘language life’ was used for gengo seikatsu throughout this book because this term is retrievable for the readers who know Japanese, and the meaning is self-explaining from the context. Similarly ‘commonization’ was coined to translate kyôtsûgo-ka. This was necessary because ‘Common Language’ kyôtsûgo is differentiated from ‘Standard Language’ hyôjungo in Japanese dialectological terminology. As for nontechnical terms, these were translated freely according to the context, as Sibata has . . .

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