Japan as a multilingual society

Authored by: Hiroshi Shoji

Routledge Handbook of Japanese Sociolinguistics

Print publication date:  June  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9780415790277
eBook ISBN: 9781315213378
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter presents a frame for examining the degree of multilingual aptitude of present Japan from four viewpoints, i.e., (1) multilingual situation, (2) multilingual competence and multilingual activities, (3) multilingual ideology and policy and (4) multilingual mind. A particular concern is devoted to examining to what extent Japan has attained a multilingual aptitude on the level of the multilingual mind in the last three decades. The multilingual mind, which could be conceived as a counter-notion to the monolingual mind, i.e., an attitude that allows only one language to representing oneself and one’s community seems to be the most salient and central in the concept of multilingualism. In the course of this study we distinguished the multilingual situation introduced by immigrants from that traditionally made up by regional languages, in that the former strongly stipulates ideology and policies in favor of the coexistence of languages in the same area as well as the linguistic interactions between speech communities. Certain progress has already been made along these lines in Japan. Furthermore, the examination of recent linguistic behaviors of Japanese towards foreigners and foreign languages indicates a general tendency that a multilingual mind also seems to be gradually gaining a foothold in Japanese society, which until quite recently was almost under the control of monolingualism.

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