From standardized identities to language aesthetics

Authored by: John C. Maher

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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Metroethnicity is an alternative way of “ethnic” belonging involving a reconfiguration of essentialist identity, a movement away from obligatory “ethnic” conformity and walled language orthodoxies (Japanese, “foreign”, Ainu, Korean) toward hybridity. Language identity is forming new cultural alliances like the semiotic shift from the nationalism-burdened world of yakyū (baseball) to postmodern cosmopolitan sakka (soccer, football). Metroethnicity involves the jouissance of play and choice, the new cultural transmigrations of popular culture in Asia that continues the process of intertwining borders. There is the intervention of the personal in lifestyle idiolects and group lects, in spontaneous language innovation and “new dialects” – dynamic mixes of standard forms in and out of the city. As Japan in the 1990s was curating alternative forms of “being Japanese” – shinjinrui – the linguistic anthropology of these identities – gradually evolving, not drastic – is now characterized by hybrid affiliation. There are new explorations of oldcomer and newcomer immigrant ethnolects. If dialects were risible, lower class and for old people in the countryside, now they are cool. Everybody wants one. Young Japanese intentionally use regional dialects – not their own – as a cool accessory. The role of language is crucial in the formulation of metroethnicity. Properly speaking, we do not “have” a language. We live a language – borrowed from the environment and social circumstances. It invites contradictions. In the emerging world of cultural hybridity and (post-)ethnic mix, perceptions of the Japanese language and Japanese identity are being radically reshaped and changed.

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