Foreign Language As the Medium: How Japanese People See English Language and How This Relates to Globalization

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Ichiro OKANO, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Japan
Ryoko UNO, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Japan
In the age of globalization, English has become an indispensable common language across the world. This has led many people to worry about cultural, or linguistic, imperialism. Do we have to speak English just like native English speakers? Or is Google translation enough for global conversation? A common language of the world should acknowledge and embrace every local culture, thought and language, but how can we do this? To answer these questions, it is necessary to regard foreign languages not just as transparent means of communication, but as "media," which have their own depth and influence communication and the people involved.
Many media, such as written language, money, telephone and the Internet, once existed outside our life and then gradually permeated into our society, where they shape up how we communicate with each other. Media are, however, not the mighty driving force of social change. Their function depends on how people recognize and use them. Foreign languages are no exception. They penetrate into societies through certain social configurations but, at the same time, transform themselves through negotiation between local people and political and economic power structure.
After Marshall McLuhan's famous saying "The medium is a message," we can say "English is a message." So what is that message? In Japan, one such dominant message is "individualization." English language in movies, textbooks and songs tacitly requires audience to be an autonomous and independent person suitable for globalization. English language education has been a controversial issue for decades, but oppositional codes (Stuart Hall) against such message are not clearly seen in Japan. One possibility would be that people keep distance from English and separate their mind from the message. The sense of distance may play an important role in the negotiation process of encoding/decoding of the message English language delivers.