Looking to the Future of the Japanese Language: Diversity and Sustainability
The 2000 report by the Prime Minister's Commission on "Japan's Goals in the 21st Century", expressed a strong sense of urgency regarding Japan's predicament. Stating that if Japan continued on its present course it would decline precipitously, it recommended making English the official second language of Japan. The proposal, which elicited strong reactions, was not pursued due to the untimely death of the Prime Minster. This strikingly resembles the situation after the 1868 political reform. Faced with the overwhelming task of catching up with the West, the first Education Minister proposed to adopt English as the national language. In 1889 nationalist assassinated the minister, who was viewed by many as too much a proponent of westernization. The idea was not put into practice. Japan got over the crisis by developing a common language integrating the existing dialects. This paper focuses on the complex and multilateral nature of linguistic globalisation and distinguishes the top-down globalisation manifested in the dominance of English as the world language from the grass-roots global shift towards more equality within language (Brown and Gilman 1960). Japanese reflects the prevailing feudalism of the past, is still dominated by the "power semantic," constantly placing women and younger people in subordinate positions. Japanese is not an exception to the universal shift towards greater linguistic equality although it still lags behind. There have been numerous proposals made to make the language gender-free and younger speakers have innovated new modes of communication to allow for greater democratic interaction. Language researchers can expedite the process by pointing to necessary language changes that will make Japanese more sustainable. Japanese people will find it easier to learn English as a lingua franca, when they become confident in their own language. It is possible to preserve languages and at the same time promote international communication.
Keywords: Top-down Globalisation, Grass-roots Globalisation, Linguistic Democracy, Power and Solidarity Semantic, Gender Free Language
Dr Katsue Reynolds
Professor, East Asian Languages and Literatures, University of Hawaii