The Impact of Second Language Acquisition on Foreign and Japanese Identities

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 14:39
Location: Hörsaal 24 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Paul CAPOBIANCO, University of Iowa, USA
Scholarship from communication studies and applied linguistics have shown that engaging in second language study often alters one’s perception of the world and can induce changes in the way learners conceptualize their self-identity. The context of Japan provides an intriguing opportunity to examine the material effects of these identity changes. Japan has experienced intensified diversification in recent decades and foreigners are rapidly comprising larger portions of Japan’s population. These foreigners come from diverse ethno-national and socioeconomic backgrounds and many embark on efforts to learn or improve their Japanese language skills. Concomitantly, English education remains popular amongst the Japanese population and the EFL industry has experienced considerable diversification in recent years. These linguistic pursuits are occurring in the context of a rapidly changing Japan where status quo constructions of identity are becoming difficult to uphold. Previously Japanese collectivity had been established upon characteristics that emphasized ethnic homogeneity, linguistic and cultural uniqueness, and psychological exceptionality. The presence of increasing numbers of foreigners in Japan destabilizes such notions and raises questions concerning the future of Japanese identity and the relationships that develop between foreigners and Japanese citizens.

Drawing on ethnographic data, this presentation shows how intercultural communication and relationships that develop between foreigners and Japanese induce identity reconstructions in both parties. These interactions provide a means through which formerly exclusivist ideas about Japanese identity can be tangibly renegotiated. Mutual linguistic and cultural interests within this particular context provide a platform for these changes to occur. Situated within a changing Japan, these reconstructions have considerable implications for the nature of foreigner-Japanese relations in ways that may permit greater recognition of foreigners within Japanese society. However, this paper also explicates how these identity reconstructions are not always utopian in nature and in addition to embracing diversity can also engender new forms of marginalization.