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Review of  The Making of Monolingual Japan

Reviewer: Ken Knight
Book Title: The Making of Monolingual Japan
Book Author: Patrick Heinrich
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Japanese
Issue Number: 24.994

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Heinrich’s monograph examines the philosophical underpinnings of Japanese language policy that grew out of the desire to establish a sense of homogeneity among a set of vastly different dialects and eventually include even mutually incomprehensible languages. He works to deconstruct the myth of linguistic homogeneity in Japan. Heinrich begins by explaining how modernist ideologies arise and goes on to explore various Japanese movements, mainly of the 20th century, and their ultimately devastating effects on autochthonous minority languages and Japanese dialects.

The first chapter describes the isomorphism of language and nation in Europe and other historical models and motivations for modernization in Japan. Heinrich offers an overview of class disparity in language usage in pre-modern Japan. The last half of the chapter gives a very approachable introduction to the evolving study of language ideology by discussing the historical development of ideology as well as various approaches to studying ideology. He focuses on recent sociolinguistic attempts to define language ideology and frameworks by scholars like Woolard and Kroskrity as well as contributions by Japanese linguists related mainly to “Japanese language imperialism” and “the language of Japanese women.” (13) Heinrich describes adapting more general non-linguistic approaches to the study of ideology proposed by a literary theorist (Eagleton) and a historian (Thompson), resulting in “a descriptive approach to ideology which pays attention to power relations and can therefore remain critical … (but which) does not explicitly demand taking sides with any of the parties involved in any ideological struggle.” (17-18) Finally, Heinrich discusses variation within the speech community, which defies the idea of homogenous speech propagated by “language ideology brokers.” (18)

In the second chapter Heinrich examines an early proposal by Mori Arinori for modernization. Mori believed that the Japanese language was inferior to Western languages and proposed to replace the national language of Japan with an artificial English lacking the “exceptions” of American English. (25) Correspondence with Western counterparts reveals Mori’s ignorance of the possibility of increasing class distinctions within Japan and ultimate cultural subjugation by English-speaking nations. Mori’s proposal succeeded in highlighting the problems of diglossia and lowered literacy rates as well as the desire for a unified language of education, quickly leading to “the creation of an empowering ideology linked to language.” (41)

Chapter 3 discusses the ‘genbun itchi’ movement, which strove to unify spoken and written language in Japan by adopting stylistic reform of the written language used largely by elites. Conflict erupted within the pages of the journal Bun as popular writers of the late 19th century began using writing styles more representative of spoken language than those adopted by their contemporaries, who retained Edo-period writing conventions. By the 20th century ‘genbun itchi’ had become the normative style and the language of all classes. In Chapter 4 Heinrich reveals how the ‘genbun itchi’ movement provided substantial published evidence of the ability of Japanese to reform their language and make it accessible to all. Evolving notions about what a national language should be were promoted and perfected by linguist Ueda Kazutoshi and the resulting Standard Japanese was codified by the National Language Research Council that he helped to create.

Chapter 5 describes the political and linguistic domination of the Ryukyuan and Ainu languages by the Japanese from the Meiji period up until WWII and then under the post-war US administration in Okinawa. Although many readers will be familiar with the facts related to this period of language shift, the motivations, especially those arising from within these two broad speaker groups, are at times surprising and yet predictably related to group survival.

In Chapter 6, as we enter the post-WWII period, we find another extreme proposal when Shiga Naoya, the popular author, proposes that Japanese be replaced by French, a language that he did not speak. Heinrich offers the first English translation of Shiga’s seminal article, revealing the significant doubts post-war Japanese intellectuals held regarding the standing of their own language.

Heinrich nimbly synthesizes 18 major works of the 1940 debate over language education policy in Okinawa in Chapter 7, a debate which concluded with internal promotion of the superordinate Standard Japanese dialect. The subsequent fragmentation, marginalization, sublimation and subordination of the Ryukyuan languages as well as the ongoing extinction of other autochthonous languages in Japan (including Hachijo, Japanese Sign Language, Ainu, and Ogasawara English) is discussed in some detail in this chapter. Chapter 8 continues on to look at challenges to this modernist language ideology that seeks to promote linguistic homogeneity by Ainu and Ryukyuan speakers as well as the sociolinguistic effects of the recent history of both forced and voluntary Chinese and Korean migration to Japan and the return of the South American ‘nikkeijin’.

The final chapter summarizes the ‘kokugo’ modernist language ideology and describes its impact on existing language problems, attitudes, and linguistic research. Heinrich proposes a “two-fold strategy” for overcoming the “limitations of modernist ideologies on linguistics”, constraints under which linguistics perpetuates “the confusion between language ideology and language use.” (176-181) Research, he argues, should be directed towards “cultural liberty” (the freedom to make choices in support of diversity, not simply a promotion of inherited diversity) and solidarity with, rather than simple tolerance of, diversity in a multilingual society. He finally stresses that, “There is no neutral position” and thus linguists must be engaged in the struggle “to ensure that choices for language and diversity are as unrestricted as possible.” (182)

Although there is a large body of work on the modernization movement of the Meiji and subsequent periods in Japan and the development of ‘nihonjinron’, a manufactured concept of a unified and unique Japanese identity and language, Heinrich offers a new and deeper level of detail and informed analysis in describing this evolving language policy debate. This book stands as a tribute to Heinrich’s lengthy research on this topic drawing on a large number and broad range of native sources.

Heinrich’s first-hand observations on the current state of language policy in Japan, its effects on language revitalization movements and suggestions in regards to future discussion of and research related to language policy are invaluable resources for researchers who lack the time or resources to pursue this type of in-depth study on their own. He has obviously considered multiple viewpoints and come to logical and well-constructed conclusions in developing his own approach to this complex issue.

Heinrich’s work smoothly carries the reader along a winding chronological storyline. Topics likely unfamiliar to non-linguists and those less well-versed in ideological study are skillfully presented with little ambiguity. Aside from a few typographical errors, this book is perfectly suited to both undergraduate and graduate courses in areas from modern Japanese history, language contact, sociolinguistics, to multilingualism and may even be used in more distant fields of study like anthropology or sociology.
Ken Knight teaches Japanese and Linguistics at the University of Georgia. His research interests include L2 Japanese phonological acquisition as well as minority language revitalization in Japan.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 1847696570
ISBN-13: 9781847696571
Pages: 224
Prices: U.S. $ 139.95
U.K. £ 89.95

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781847696564
Pages: 224
Prices: U.K. £ 29.95
U.S. $ 49.95