Is a Multilingual Mind Possible for the Japanese?

Friday, July 18, 2014: 11:10 AM
Room: Booth 62
Oral Presentation
Hiroshi SHOJI , National Museum of Ethnology, Suita-shi, Japan
Japan has been conceived as a highly monolithic and monolingual society by both the Japanese and others.Monolingual policy was strengthened particularly after the WW II, when Japan was forced to abandon all its overseas territories. Ignoring the existence of indigenous Ainu and migrant language speakers, Japan has been devoted, by means of educational and administrative institutions, to integration of its people around the national language, Japanese, and Japanese culture. Mass media played equally important roles. The myth of Japanese homogeneity has probably helped to create and reinforce the national feelings, and was supposedly advantageous for Japan’s economic development in recent decades.

Japan’s monolingual regime was thus brought into being, through political, societal and ideological circumstances. One could get by with Japanese language only in almost all places and situations. No one had to worry whether a customer, authority, employer, employee, neighbor or even stranger on the street might not understand Japanese.

Dark sides of monolingualism began to reveal themselves with growing globalism, particularly since the 1980’s, although some were already recognized before. One of the most familiar examples has beenthe modest English capacity of the Japanese. It was widely believed that with an almost absolute lack of contact with foreign languages, learning foreign languages was not simply realistic. Yet, even now, in the midst of globalization with many contacts with foreigners, and many reasons to communicate with them, the people’s perpetual efforts to learn English have not brought notable results.

The problem perhaps is more deep-rooted. Does a conceptual monolingualism underlay the Japanese mind? In the presentation I will relate Japanese conceptual monolingualism to linguo-behavioristic phenomena, and consider if there are any signs of breakthrough in the present society out of the monolingual cul-de-sac.