Accepted Paper:

Multilingualism in religious/migrant community: debunking the myth of Japanese as an out-group language  


Rika Yamashita (the University of Tokyo)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses the language use and language attitude of South Asians in a Muslim community in Japan, challenging the current monolingual view on one-to-one mapping of language and ethnicity.

Paper long abstract:

Standard Japanese is often considered an important symbol of Japanese national/ethnic/cultural identity. This monolingual ideology leads people to think that foreign residents in Japan regard their ethnic language as a symbol of their distinct identity, and a counter-identity towards the idea of 'monolingual and monoethnic Japan'. According to this view, codeswitching among standard Japanese, second language varieties of Japanese ('foreigner's Japanese'), and non-Japanese languages is regarded as a site of power struggles, conflicts, and contestations of ethnicities and cultural values. Based on ethnography and micro-level analysis of community interaction, this paper challenges such 'mirrored view' of other ethnic groups.

In this paper, I will first give an overview the language choice and language attitudes of the South Asian Muslims in Japan vis-à-vis current global and local issues that they face, followed by analyses of examples of codeswitching in community school teacher-pupil interaction. They do not consider teaching their ethnic language as important as teaching the socioeconomically important language (English) and their religious language (Quranic Arabic). The religious practices that they more fervently maintain, propagate, and reproduce, also influence their attitude towards the Japanese language. Meanwhile, neoliberalism and the history of South Asia as an ex-colony also play an important part in constructing their group identity without the ethnolinguistic identity, calling to attention the complexity of the association between language and power in migrant communities.

Panel P095
Exploring and theorizing the working of language and power in multilingual Japan (CLOSED - 6)