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Hello!Hgen!
The!Commodification!of!Dialect!and!Changing!Ideologies!in!Japan!
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Alessandro!Antonio!Pianetta!
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A!thesis!submitted!in!partial!fulfillment!!
of!the!requirements!for!the!!
Bachelor!of!Arts!degree!
Department!of!Japanese!Studies!
Earlham!College!
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February!15,!2012!
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Committee!Members!
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Dr.!Susan!W.!Furukawa,!Ph.D.!
Visiting!Assistant!Professor,!Japanese!Studies!
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Dr.!Yasumi!Kuriya,!Ph.D.!
Associate!Professor!of!Japanese!Languages!&!Literatures!
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Dr.!Aletha!Stahl,!Ph.D.!
Professor!of!French!and!Francophone!Studies,!Languages!&!Literatures!!

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Table&of&Contents&
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Introduction!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Terms!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !
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The!Difference!Between!a!Language!and!a!Dialect!!
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Definition!of!Language!and!Dialect!Used!in!this!Paper!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Linguistic!Prestige! !
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Language!Ideology! !
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Modern!Language!Ideology!in!Japan!
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The!Creation!of!Standardized!Japanese!! !
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Language!and!Nationalism!! !
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Proliferation!of!Standard!Japanese!!!
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Eradication!of!Ryukyuan!in!Okinawa!!
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Contemporary!Language!Ideology!in!Japan!
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Television!and!the!Manzai*Boom! !
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Creating!Cultural!Change! !
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Hgen!Boom!! !
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Hgen!Cosplay!!
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The!Accessorization!of!Dialect!!
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Dialect!as!a!Commodity!!
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Selling!Cuteness!!
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Finding!Words!!
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Conclusion!! !
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Introduction
I first became aware of the term dialect when I was very young; my father would use it to
describe the language he and his parents spoke, in contrast with the Italian language. Hearing and
seeing examples of his dialect, I was always surprised how different it was from the Italian in
various books that my parents and grandmother had given me, almost like a different language. It
was not until recently that I discovered that dialect was, in fact, a different language: Lombard,
to be precise, is a Gallo-Italic language, while Italian is in another grouping.1 As I began to
further study relationships between languages, I came to see just how arbitrary the term was: the
mutually intelligible tongues of Croatian and Serbian were called separate languages, while
spoken dialects of Chinese like Mandarin were completely unintelligible to a monolingual
Cantonese speaker.
Speech patterns do not exist in a void; they are constantly being pushed and pulled by
outside forces, such as socio-political ideologies, ethno-social prejudices, and by the borrowing
and generation of new vocabulary. Linguistic standardization was used in tandem with various
nation-building ideologies in the past several hundred years, which has created various
dichotomies of linguistic prestige in many different communities: Standard American English
and African-American Vernacular English, French and Provenal, and finally, in Japanese,
hyjungo and hgen.
Much of the current scholarship in the field of Japanese linguistics focuses on studying
the English language and globalizations effect on the Japanese language, particularly in regard
to topics like loan words and English as a Second Language teaching in Japanese schools.
Scholars also study how Japanese is being taught as foreign language, and how to most
effectively teach students. Even in the sphere of Japanese dialectology, scholars have written
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1

Ethnologue, Languages of Italy, SIL International, http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=IT

many articles in the field theoretical linguistics, focusing on a dialects phonological, syntactical,
or morphological differences from standard Japanese. However, there is a sizable pool of articles
written about dialects in the field of Sociolinguistics, the study of the relationship between
languages and societies.
I first took a class on Sociolinguistics when I was studying abroad at Waseda University
in Tokyo, Japan. Various students in that class would talk about how they used hyjungo
(standard Japanese) rather than their hgen (dialect) because they felt embarrassed to speak
hgen in Tokyo, something that is similar to how some African-Americans will change speech
varieties from African American Vernacular English to Standard American English depending
on the setting, as the latter is often maligned as incorrect and improper English.2 It was in this
discussion of linguistic prestige that the topic of hgen kosupure came up.
Hgen kosupure, or Hgen Cosplay, refers to a speech act where a person uses a dialect
of a different region in Japan in order to convey certain feelings and images associated with that
speech pattern. The motivations for using this form of speech and purposely appropriating
linguistic differences to make a statement differ from the ideology in Meiji-era Japan (18681912) and its focus on promoting national unity via using one pattern of speech. This begs the
question: are attitudes towards language changing in Japan?
Beginning with the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese government used language as a tool
to promote the unification of the many fragmented feudal domains into a modern, cohesive
nation-state. It stigmatized regional dialects in favor of a single standard language, based on the
variety spoken in Tokyo. The general stigmatization of dialects actively promoted the switch to
the newly standardized Japanese language, causing the use of certain speech varieties, such as
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2

John W. Fountain, Talking rights not talking white, Chicago Sun-Times, July 6, 2011,
http://www.suntimes.com/news/fountain/6372598-452/talking-rights-not-talking-white.html (accessed December
1, 2012).

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Ryukyuan, to decline sharply. Dialects no longer were simply forms of speech; they represented
backwardness, and only speakers of the standard could successfully join the modern age.
The speech act of Hgen Cosplay and the use of dialect in the mass media of Japan show
that attitudes toward dialects are changing. Hyjungo has become boring, and the freshness of
dialects has endeared them to the populace. Dialects are now being used on television, books
teaching how to use dialects are being published right and left, and blogs are rating how kawaii,
or cute, they sound. One constant in this equation is cuteness; dialects are not only marketed as
being an item that can enhance ones cuteness, they themselves market cuteness by letting a
product stand out in a sea of pretty women selling the newest gadgets. Dialects and their new,
positive associations have become accessories that people take on and off to break the monotony
of speaking Standard Japanese.

The Difference between a Language and Dialect


Linguists have long debated what the concrete differences between the terms language
and dialect really are. The National Science Foundation notes that there are no universally
accepted criteria for distinguishing [dialects from languages], and the difference is often a matter
of degree rather than of kind.3 Due to this lack of consensus, I first want to describe commonly
held notions of what separates a language from a dialect.
First off is the question of what a language even is. This might appear like a silly question
to some, as the answer seems to be obvious: English is a language, as is French, German,
Chinese, etc. However, when one refers to one of those languages, they are generally referring to
an artificially codified, standard form. These languages are, in reality, not neat, monolithic
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3

Elizabeth Malone, Language and Linguistics: Dialects, National Science Foundation,


http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/linguistics/dialects.jsp (accessed October 15, 2012).

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entities, but fluid amalgams of varieties.4 They refer to groups of regional languages, also
known as dialects, represented by a standardized variety known by the moniker of Japanese or
Russian.
In many parts of the world, including Japan, these groups of regional languages often
form something called a dialect continuum. This means that as one moves between varieties of
speech, one finds that the neighboring languages are mutually intelligible, but as one moves
farther away from a starting point, the differences in lexicon and grammar will become greater
and greater.5
In general, the difference between dialect and language is arbitrary at best. French and
Italian, for example, could technically be considered one of many dialects of Vulgar Latin, as
both are regional varieties of that tongue.6 Furthermore, their lexical similarity stands at 89%,7
while languages are usually considered distinct from each other at 85%.8
However, because the standardized form is often used as the benchmark to which one
compares languages, the argument can be made that French and Italian are two distinct varieties
based on the standard of mutual intelligibility.9 American English and British English are
considered dialects of English for this reason; aside from changes in accent and lexicon, a
speaker of the other variation can easily understand a speaker of another variety. Standardized
French and Italian are not mutually intelligible, and therefore via this criterion they would be
considered as distinct languages rather than dialects.
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4

R. Anthony Lodge, French: From Dialect to Standard (Florence: Routledge, 1993), 13.
Patrick Heinrich, Language Loss and Revitalization in the Ryukyu Islands, The Asia-Pacific Journal (2005),
http://www.japanfocus.org/-Patrick-Heinrich/1596 (accessed October 11, 2012).
6
Malone, Language and Linguistics: Dialects.
7
Ethnologue, French: A Language of France, SIL International,
http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=fra (accessed 10/16/2012).
8
Ethnologue, Introduction to the Printed Volume, SIL International,
http://www.ethnologue.com/ethno_docs/introduction.asp (accessed 10/16/2012).
9
Edward J. Vajda, Dialectology, Western Washington University,
http://pandora.cii.wwu.edu/vajda/ling201/test3materials/dialectology.htm (accessed 10/16/2012).
5

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Still, what are commonly identified as languages tend to be simply another dialect in the
same language family, which have been given a level of prestige higher than the others. This
level of prestige leads that dialect to be more accepted within society. In Japans case, the
middle-class dialect from Tokyo was standardized, becoming hyjungo. It gained enough
prestige that it became viewed as more correct than other regional varieties due to various
nationalist and nation-building ideologies.10 This nationalist impulse leads to a final distinction, a
matter of politics. While there are many different examples of how politics influences the
distinction between language and dialect, I will focus on an example that shows up later in this
paper.
The languages of the Ryukyuan family were referred to as dialects of Japanese in the
Meiji period11, even though they are (by the criterion of mutual intelligibility as well as lexical
similarity) separate, distinct languages12; unlike French and Italians dialect continuum that is
only interrupted by political boundaries,13 the chain of mutual intelligibility within the Ryukyu
Islands and between it and Japan is interrupted multiple times, making Japanese and Ryukyuan
mutually unintelligible.14 The declaration that Ryukyuan was a part of the Japanese language was
used to artificially lower the prestige of Ryukyuan in order to encourage language shift to
Japanese,15 because calling it a dialect implied that it was a deviation from the standardized
variety.

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10

Patrick Heinrich, The Making of Monolingual Japan: Language Ideology and Japanese Modernity (Bristol:
Multilingual Matters, 2012), 3.
11
Fija Bairon, et al., "The Ryukyus and the New, But Endangered, Languages of Japan," The Asia-Pacific Journal
(2009). http://www.japanfocus.org/-Matthias-Brenzinger/3138 (accessed October 13, 2012).
12
Heinrich, Language Loss and Revitalization in the Ryukyu Islands.
13
Bernard Spolsky, Sociolinguistics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 29.
14
Heinrich, Language Loss and Revitalization in the Ryukyu Islands.
15
Mary Goebel Noguchi, Introduction: The Crumbling of a Myth, in Studies in Japanese Bilingualism, ed. Mary
Goebel Noguchi and Sandra Fotos (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2001), 7.

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Definition of Language and Dialect Used in this Paper


Due to the ephemeral nature of the distinction between language and dialect, I will be
using the term language to describe a greater family of dialects. For example, references to the
Japanese language refer to the greater dialect continuum that makes up the Japanese branch of
the Japonic family. However, there are also certain circumstances where the term dialect will be
used to refer to the contemporary codified variety, which will be called standard Japanese or
hyjungo.
The term dialect will refer to regional varieties of a greater language. For example,
hyjungo is the idealized standardized dialect of Japanese, while a dialect would refer to a
regional variety like Osaka dialect or Izumo dialect. Often there are multiple strata of dialects,
based on regional characteristics (Kansai dialect) as well as specific localized dialects (Osaka
dialect). The term dialect can carry a certain stigma with it, implying that it is a deviation from
the real language, double quotations will be used when referring to other interpretations of the
term. However, as the term hgen is used to describe all speech varieties outside the standard in
modern Japanese, this paper will employ the term dialect when mentioning non-standard
Japanese languages.

Linguistic Prestige
The dichotomy between a language and a dialect is often one of prestige. As was stated in
the previous section, the politics of language can make this distinction. For example, Ryukyuan
was demoted to dialect status in favor of the dominant hyjungo, or standard Japanese,16 making
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16

Fija, et al., "The Ryukyus and the New, But Endangered, Languages of Japan

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it unfit as a viable form of speech, because it represented the past while hyjungo represented the
future of the Japanese nation.
Almost every language is affected by this system of power, putting one group of people
whose speech patterns are close to the standard ahead of those of another, with the non-prestige
variety (L) being nearly universally attached to minorities, rural people, and the less well
educated17 by speakers of the prestige variety (H) who assert that their speech patterns are
standard,18 and thus stereotype speakers of L.
Various dialects in Japan still have certain images attached to them; Kyoto dialect is
cute,19 Kansai dialect is funny, Tohoku dialect is warm, and Kyushu dialect is manly, etc.20
While these associations seem innocent and almost positive, stereotypes are like coins, having
two sides. For example, in the Japanese dub of Gone with the Wind, characters that originally
spoke in Southern English were dubbed in a pseudo-Tohoku dialect, a dialect often linked to
negative stereotypes regarding provinciality and intelligence, which is used to emphasize the
characters non-standardness.21 This non-standardness cemented the speakers status as
second-class citizens; their language was that of an opaque, underdeveloped and uncivilized
populace.22 Therefore, if people were unable to speak hyjungo, they would be seen by others as

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17

Dennis R. Preston, They Speak Really Bad English Down South and in New York City, Public Broadcasting
Service, http://www.pbs.org/speak/speech/prejudice/attitudes/ (accessed October 16, 2012).
18
Ibid.
19
Watanabe Yukichi, Otoko ga kyunkyun moemakuru saiky no motehgen besuto san, Menjoi!, May 13, 2012,
http://www.men-joy.jp/archives/40367 (accessed October 9, 2012).
20
japan.internet.com Editorial Department, Daredemo muishiki ni tsukatteiru hgen cosupure to wa nanika
Nihongogakusha Tanaka Yukari-shi ni kiku, japan.internet.com,
http://japan.internet.com/wmnews/20120309/3.html (accessed October 9, 2012).
21
Mie Hiramoto, Slaves Speak Pseudo-Toohoku-ben: The Representation of Minorities in the Japanese Translation
of Gone with the Wind, Journal of Sociolinguistics 13, no. 2 (2009),
http://profile.nus.edu.sg/fass/ellmh/Hiramoto%202009_Slaves%20speak%20pseudo-Toohoku-ben.pdf (accessed
October 9, 2012), 249-53.
22
http://www.dlib.si/preview/URN:NBN:SI:DOC-DK1IFCZA/e5854487-7e38-4301-bdd3e3e44db04c5e?&language=eng#hit1

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being unfit for any sort of work that needed a civilized mind, and would be unable to better their
position until they were able to conform to the standard set by those in power.
.

Language Ideology
The terminology language ideology or language beliefs can be described anywhere from
simply beliefs about language and language use,23 to ingrained, unquestioned beliefs about
the way the world is, the way it should be, and the way it has to be with respect to language.24
In that respect, ones beliefs about language can cause a number of possible interpretations
ranging from trivial to extreme. A trivial example could be a speaker of Californian English
hearing a person from Minnesota pronounce the word bag (/b/ in Californian English) as
/be/ and innocently thinking that the Minnesotan is pronouncing the word strangely, and a
more extreme example could involve the judgment of a persons character solely based on how
they speak.25
In this paper, the term language ideology will describe attitudes that have affected the
greater Japanese language. These views are not always solely based in language. In the Meiji
period, for example, these beliefs were often tied to nationalist rhetoric, such as the belief that
speakers of the same language are like siblings, united in their mother tongue, and the claim that
the only way to build a strong nation was with a unified language.26

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23

Bernard Spolsky, Language Policy, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 5.


Walt Wolfram and Natalie Schilling-Estes, American English: Dialects and Variation, (Malden: Blackwell
Publishers, 2006), 9.
25
Rosina Lippi-Green, Accent, Standard Language Ideology, and Discriminatory Pretext in the Courts, Language
in Society 23, vol.2 (1994), http://www.rosinalippi.com/write/portfolio/ideologycourts.pdf, (accessed October 17,
2012), 164.
26
Lee Yeounsuk, The Ideology of Kokugo: Nationalizing Language in Modern Japan, trans. Maki Hirano Hubbard
(Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2010), 63.
24

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Modern Language Ideology in Japan


Before the Meiji Period, the Japanese archipelago was a collection of feudal domains
under the rule of a warlord called the shogun. Both geographic constraints and legal prohibitions
reduced the ability to travel. Thus, a number of very distinct regional variations of the Japanese
language developed independently from each other due to lack of contact.27
These regional variations formed something known as a dialect continuum; a chain of
dialects whose intelligibility decreases the farther one travels geographically. For example,
villagers from a small town in the northernmost Tohoku region would have an easy time
communicating with people from surrounding villages, but would be unable to easily speak with
people who come from places like Kyushu or Shikoku in the south.28
This diversity creates a problem for the authorities in the Meiji government. In order to
compete with modern nations such as the United States, Great Britain, France, or Germany,
Japan had to become a modern nation itself; and one thing that these nations shared was a
national identity. However, prior to to the Meiji Period, a common notion of Japanese identity
had quite simply not existed.29 The system of domains in feudal Japan caused identities and
loyalties to be fragmented between realms,30 and it was this same fragmentation led to the
Japanese governments need to create an artificial national identity.
In his book Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson writes how members of even the
smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them,
yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.31 One way to create this identity
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27

Twine, Nanette, "Standardizing Written Japanese: A Factor in Modernization," Monumenta Nipponica 43, no. 4
(1988), http://www.jstor.org/stable/2384796 (accessed October 11, 2012).
28
Heinrich, Language Loss and Revitalization in the Ryukyu Islands.
29
Heinrich, The Making of Monolingual Japan: Language Ideology and Japanese Modernity, 3.
30
Ibid.
31
Anderson, Benedict R. O'G., Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism
(London: Verso, 1983), 15.

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was through language. National languages themselves are artificial, making them a perfect
resource to connect diverse communities all over Japan.32 If one were to downplay domestic
linguistic differences while highlighting how different Japan was from the outside world, the
government could create a new national community, the idea of a Japanese nation.33
In the field of linguistics, the term speech community, as defined by Bernard Spolsky,
refers to a group of people who speak the same language and share similar ideas of what sounds
right and wrong grammatically and phonetically. This term encompasses both local
communities, whose members have every-day interaction with each other, as well as Andersons
imagined community.34 Therefore, it is reasonable to say that language provides the modern-day
link between the city-dweller in Tokyo and the farmer in Tottori prefecture, while at the same
time separating those two from a businessman in London or a farmer in Nebraska. In her book
The Ideology of Kokugo, Lee Yeounsuk argues that when Andersons political community and
the idea of a linguistic community are combined that the result is the creation of a national
language.35

The Creation of Standardized Japanese


The national language of Japan is called kokugo. This term has two meanings within the
modern Japanese language. The first is fairly innocent, defined as simply a language of a
country 36 by tsuki Fumihiko (1847-1928), a Japanese linguist. The second meaning is much
more charged. Kokugo acts as a symbol of the imagined Japanese community,37 as it has the
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32

Heinrich, The Making of Monolingual Japan: Language Ideology and Japanese Modernity, 4.
Ibid., 3.
34
Spolsky, Sociolinguistics, 24.
35
Lee, The Ideology of Kokugo: Nationalizing Language in Modern Japan, 2.
36
Lee, The Ideology of Kokugo: Nationalizing Language in Modern Japan, 62.
37
Heinrich, The Making of Monolingual Japan: Language Ideology and Japanese Modernity, 69.
33

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connotation of our [the Japanese peoples] language,38 one symbolic of kokka, the nationstate.39 It indicates the uniqueness of the Japanese language, and serves to break down the
emotional barriers between the people and the state.
The creation of kokugo was a result of the genbun itchi movement to standardize written
Japanese by uniting it with spoken Japanese.40 Prior to the Meiji period, written Japanese had
consisted of multiple styles that were based on classical Japanese, Chinese, and Sino-Japanese
hybrids, or used grammatical features not found in speech.41 Learning how to read these forms
took a long time and considerable effort, placing them very much in the domain of the learned
elite because poor commoners just did not have the time or money to learn them.
Lee notes several prominent academics who influenced this movement, the most relevant
being Basil Hall Chamberlain who asserted that in every advanced nation [European nations],
people wrote in the way they spoke.42 European versions of genbun itchi, Chamberlain (18501935) argued, had freed knowledge from the hands of the elite and laid it in the hands of the
people. 43 Thus, to advance Japans development as a modern nation, it needed to mimic
European nations and simplify language for the education of its citizens and its own age of
enlightenment.44
Genbun itchi had another lasting effect besides abolishing the traditional system of
written Japanese; it also set the dialect of prestige for the modern Japanese language. The Tokyo
dialect was chosen for this purpose for fairly utilitarian reasons, which have been partially stated
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38

Ibid., xv.
Ibid., xv.
40
M. Hattori, "National and Colonial Language Discourses in Japan and its Colonies, 1868-1945" (MA thesis,
University of British Columbia, 2011), 9.
41
Twine, Nanette, "The Genbunitchi Movement: Its Origin, Development, and Conclusion," Monumenta Nipponica
33, no. 3 (1978), http://www.jstor.org/stable/2383995 (accessed October 11, 2012).
42
Lee, The Ideology of Kokugo: Nationalizing Language in Modern Japan, 43.
43
Ibid., 43.
44
Heinrich, The Making of Monolingual Japan: Language Ideology and Japanese Modernity, 52.
39

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above: there was no formal Japanese language, just a continuum of regional dialects. If everyone
wrote the way they spoke, writings from Tohoku would be illegible to readers in Kysh.
Therefore, a lingua franca was needed. This lingua franca ended up being the Tokyo dialect.45
Tokyo/Edo had, for the past 250 years, been the center of the government; samurai and
merchants would travel to Edo, making it a linguistic melting pot. Books printed in the Edo
dialect were also widely disseminated in the various domains, allowing them to learn the speech
patterns of the capital.46 With the establishment of Tokyo as the official capital in 1868, the
Tokyo dialect gained even more prominence as the standard. In the words of author Yamada
Bimy (1868-1910), a proponent of a Tokyo-dialect standard for genbun itchi, there is hardly
any place where Tokyo language is not at all understood,47 which made it the logical choice for
a unified/standardized Japanese language.

Language and Nationalism


Kokugo connected to the genbun itchi movement due to its focus on standardization.
Even in the name, by choosing the Tokyo dialect as the form of speech to which written Japanese
had to conform, genbun itchi also completed the first step in the process of language
modernization: it set one type of Japanese as the standard, and thus began to create a common,
clear understanding of what language ought to be.48
One man who defined this idea of what language ought to be was Ueda Kazutoshi
(1867-1937).49 Ueda was a linguist who studied in Germany, and using the knowledge he gained
there, was instrumental in the standardization of Japanese. In a major speech, Kokugo to kokka
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45

Lee, The Ideology of Kokugo: Nationalizing Language in Modern Japan, 47.


Ibid., 47.
47
Ibid., 46.
48
Heinrich, The Making of Monolingual Japan: Language Ideology and Japanese Modernity, 59.
49
Hattori, "National and Colonial Language Discourses in Japan and its Colonies, 1868-1945," 8.
46

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to (National Language and the Nation-State), Ueda first claimed that the Japanese language was
the spiritual blood that bound the nation together.50 Later, this belief came to be shared by
other figures, such as tsuki, who wrote:
[The] kokugo of a country is the symbol of the race towards the outside, and it
strengthens the public sense of brethren inside. Therefore, the unification of
kokugo is the foundation for independence and the mark of independence [of
the country]. The rise and fall of kokugo goes with that of the country; whether
kokugo is pure or impure, correct or incorrect, affects the teaching or morality,
peoples vitality, and the nations prestige.51
Japanese linguists had studied language standardization efforts in other countries, and saw how
language could be used as a tool for nationalist sentiment as an outward representation of a group
identity. If everyone spoke the same tongue, it would be easier to unify the nation because a
major external indicator of individual culture would be erased.52
Ueda also purposefully downplayed Japans linguistic diversity in his speeches. He
explicitly denied the existence53 of not just other regional languages, but of non-Japanese
ethnic groups living in Japan in order to argue an unbreakable bond between the language, state,
and people of the nation of Japan.54
Thus, the link between language, nation, and race was created within Meiji-era discourse.
However, the problem still remained: how could the government claim that Japan was an
independent, modern nation if its people still spoke differently? Even though people were
familiar with the Tokyo dialect, it did not mean that they would speak in it. It was due to this
issue that Ueda set out to standardize kokugo.
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50

Gottlieb, Nanette, Language Policy in Japan: The Challenge of Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2012), 9.
51
Lee, The Ideology of Kokugo: Nationalizing Language in Modern Japan, 63.
52
Ibid, 93.
53
Heinrich, The Making of Monolingual Japan: Language Ideology and Japanese Modernity, 65.
54
Ibid.

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Proliferation of Standard Japanese


In 1895, Ueda presented a lecture called Hyjungo ni tsukite (About the Standard
Language) regarding a language that would be understood throughout the nation, regardless of
where one was raised. Like Yamada, he also thought that the form of the Tokyo dialect spoken
by the middle class was the form of Japanese best fit to become spoken nationwide,55 but did not
believe that the Japanese people would change their language voluntarily.56 Therefore, he needed
to use his new position in the Ministry of Education to change that from the top down.
One method that Ueda helped to implement was educational reform. These reforms
included the teaching of a new subject, kokugo, in schools nationwide.57 These classes taught not
only written Japanese, but spoken Japanese as well, in an effort to disseminate hyjungo.58 His
aim was to purge [the Japanese language] of its dialect odor,59 which he did via pronunciation
training in textbooks (all based on the middle-class Tokyo dialect). The words selected in the
book were specifically chosen because they were often different pronunciation in certain regions;
/shi/ and /su/ in Tokyo was pronounced /su/ and /zu/ in Tohoku, so Ueda designed the textbook
to introduce words like suzume (sparrow) and ishi (rock) first.60 These efforts were put in place
to close the phonological gap between varieties of Japanese, moving them closer to the standard
with the ultimate intention of having hyjungo eclipse them.

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55

Lee, The Ideology of Kokugo: Nationalizing Language in Modern Japan, 107.


Ibid., 101-2.
57
Heinrich, The Making of Monolingual Japan: Language Ideology and Japanese Modernity, 67.
58
Lee, The Ideology of Kokugo: Nationalizing Language in Modern Japan, 107.
59
Heinrich, The Making of Monolingual Japan: Language Ideology and Japanese Modernity, 69.
60
Lee, The Ideology of Kokugo: Nationalizing Language in Modern Japan, 107.
56

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Eradication of Ryukyuan in Okinawa


This obliteration of dialect was particularly thorough in the Ryukyu Islands, the very
southernmost area in Japan. The reason that measures to encourage the use of hyjungo were so
thorough in Okinawa was due to the fact that Japanese was not native to the island chain; a group
of regional languages collectively called Ryukyuan were indigenously spoken there. Ryukyuan
and Japanese are both genetically related as Japonic languages, having split from the ProtoJaponic language between the third and seventh century AD.61 However, Ryukyuan and Japanese
both developed into distinct languages, and none of the Ryukyuan dialects are mutually
intelligible with any of the Japanese dialects.62
The Ryukyu Islands, stretching from the Amami Islands in modern-day Kagoshima
Prefecture to Yonaguni Island in Okinawa Prefecture, used to be its own independent kingdom,
the Kingdom of Ryukyu. In the year 1609, the Kingdom of Ryukyu was invaded by the Satsuma
clan and allowed to exist semi-independently from Japan until 1879, when it was formally
annexed by the Meiji government, who incorporated part of it into Japan as Okinawa
Prefecture.63 They were a separate people, culturally and linguistically distinct from Japan.
Despite this fact, Ryukyuan languages like Okinawan were declared hgen, or dialects of
Japanese.64 This provided the Japanese government the ability to declare the people who spoke
those languages as Japanese, as they shared the same linguistic spiritual blood.65 They were

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61

Patrick Heinrich, What Leaves a Mark Should No Longer Stain: Progressive Erasure and Reversing Language
Shift Activities in the Ryukyu Islands (paper presented at the 1st international Small Island Cultures conference,
Kagoshima, Japan, February 7-10, 2005), 61.
62
Ibid., 62.
63
Gavin McCormack, Okinawas Turbulent 400 Years, The Asia-Pacific Journal (2009),
http://www.japanfocus.org/-Gavan-McCormack/3011 (accessed October 12, 2012).
64
Fija, et al., "The Ryukyus and the New, But Endangered, Languages of Japan."
65
Gottlieb, Language Policy in Japan: The Challenge of Change, 9.

15!

just speakers of incorrect, bad, and old-fashioned66 Japanese, contrasted with good and
correct67 hyjungo.68
The Ministry of Education and prefectural government used a variety of techniques to
discourage the use of nonstandard language, like the use of hgen fuda, or dialect cards. They
hoped that their efforts would correct their language and promote modernization via the
speakers assimilation into the Japanese nation-state.69 These cards were hung on the necks of
students who were caught communicating in Ryukyuan by their classmates in order to shame
them, a system likened to the dunce cap used in Western schools.70 The only way to get rid of
the hgen fuda was to catch someone else speaking in dialect.71 Teachers would reprimand
children who were caught wearing the hgen fuda at the end of the day72 and lowered their grade
as a punishment.73 Often parents were also called in, in order to encourage [their children] to
cooperate more closely with language education efforts.74
The use of hgen fuda to punish the use of Ryukyuan stigmatized the act of speaking as
something shameful, an embarrassing symbol of provincialism75 and occasionally even
unpatriotic. In contrast, hyjungo was put on a pedestal, an example of progress and modernity.76
The stigmatization of Ryukyuan was further compounded due to discrimination of Okinawans

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66

Heinrich, The Making of Monolingual Japan: Language Ideology and Japanese Modernity, 69.
Ibid., 69.
68
Fija et al., "The Ryukyus and the New, But Endangered, Languages of Japan."
69
Ayako Mie, 40 Years After Reversion: Okinawans Push to Preserve Unique Language, The Japan Times, May
19, 2012. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20120519f1.html (Accessed October 13, 2012).
70
Nanette Gottlieb, Language and Society in Japan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 25.
71
The Hawaii Nisei Project, Youth in Okinawa, University of Hawaii,
http://nisei.hawaii.edu/object/io_1149310864593.html (accessed October 14, 2012).
72
Osumi Midori, Language and Identity in Okinawa Today, in Studies in Japanese Bilingualism, ed. Mary Goebel
Noguchi and Sandra Fotos (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2001), 72.
73
Steve Rabson, Assimilation Policy in Okinawa: Promotion, Resistance, and Reconstruction, JPRI Occasional
Paper, no. 8 (1996), http://www.jpri.org/publications/occasionalpapers/op8.html (Accessed October 12, 2012).
74
Heinrich, The Making of Monolingual Japan: Language Ideology and Japanese Modernity, 90.
75
Mary Goebel Noguchi, Introduction: The Crumbling of a Myth, 7.
76
Ibid., 90-2.
67

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living in mainland Japan, who willingly gave up their language in favor of hyjungo. They held
the belief that doing so might bring fairer treatment and better life chances77 for their futures.
Language Ideology in Pre-War Japan involved so much more than just language. It was
used as a tool to unify the new Japanese nation, by linking language, race, and the state. The
linguistic diversity that had existed in the Japanese archipelago was swept under the rug, seen as
a symbol of disorder unbecoming for modern nations, and speakers of the non-prestige dialect
were stigmatized in school and in society until they too spoke hyjungo. All of this was done in
order to claim a constructed monolithic identity: that the state of Japan was the nation of only the
Japanese people, who spoke only standard Japanese.
However, Japan is not a nation of only the Japanese anymore. Granted, it was never truly
monoethnic, as distinct groups like the Ainu and Okinawans are both native to the archipelago,
but the ideology of monoethnicity is changing as minority groups like the Ainu, Koreans, or
Japanese Brazilians become more visible within Japanese society. These ethnically non-Japanese
peoples have come to speak Japanese, which contradicts the view of the Japanese language being
intrinsically connected to the Japanese people. Coupled with the fact that Japan has been a
unified nation-state for over one hundred years now, I would like to examine how the modern
language ideology described above fits with contemporary attitudes towards Japanese dialects.

Television and the Manzai Boom


Just as Japans demographics are changing, so are the publics views towards speech
varieties other than hyjungo. From the pre-war period up until the 1960s, the general populace
considered speaking ones dialect a shameful act, with many people choosing to shift their
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77

Naomi Noiri, Schooling and Identity in Okinawa: Okinawans and Amerasians in Okinawa, in Minorities and
Education in Multicultural Japan: An Interactive Perspective, ed. Ryoko Tsuneyoshi, Kaori H. Okada, and Sarane
Spence Boocock (New York: Routledge, 2001), 81.

17!

language away from their dialect.78 However, in the 1970s and 80s, something changed in regard
to how language was viewed; people started seeing hgen as equal to hyjungo, just for use in
different situations.79
A vector that could have affected attitudes towards the use of nonstandard dialects is the
television. Television broadcasts in Japan began in 1925, but ceased in 1941 due to the outbreak
of hostilities between the Empire of Japan and the Allied Powers. Television broadcasting
resumed after the war, with a major event being the Japan Broadcasting Corporations (NHK)
decision to expand from radio to television in 1953.80
As television was still a fairly new medium, new television channels needed
programming to fill the air, that need being filled by comedy programs.81 Manzai is a form of
Japanese comedy where two performers perform a dialogue on stage, one performer often acting
dim-witted (the boke) and the other (tsukkomi), the smarter of the two, pointing out the bokes
flaws. 82 Performers of manzai are often from Osaka, and frequently use the Kansai dialect in
their routines.83
One reason why people from Osaka are more likely to use their own dialect rather than
standard Japanese is due to the historical prestige held by the region. It holds more power than
other dialects because for a millennium before the Edo Period (1600-1868), the capital of Japan

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78

Masataka Jinnouchi, Dialect Boom in Japan, The Journal of the German Institute for Dialectologia et
Geolinguistica 15 (2007), http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/dig.2007.15.issue1/dialect.2007.003/dialect.2007.003.xml (accessed November 16, 2012), 51.
79
Ibid., 48.
80
Japan Broadcasting Corporation, 50 Years of NHK Television, Japan Broadcasting Corporation,
http://www.nhk.or.jp/digitalmuseum/nhk50years_en/history/p06/index.html (accessed February 10, 2013).
81
Xavier Benjamin Bensky, Commodified Comedians and Mediatized Manzai: Osakan Comic Duos and their
Audience, Asian Studies on the Pacific Coast, http://mcel.pacificu.edu/aspac/papers/scholars/bensky/#004
(accessed February 10, 2013).
82
Lee Adams, Manzai: The Comedic Duo, Axiom Magazine, December 7, 2011,
http://www.axiommagazine.jp/2011/12/07/manzai-the-comedic-duo/ (accessed February 10, 2013).
83
Jinnouchi, Dialect Boom in Japan, 45.

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had been in the Kansai region, located in the cities of Nara and Kyoto. Osaka was also important
to the region, historically being one of Japans economic centers.84, 85
People from the Kansai region also have a marked group identity that is very separate
from Tokyo. Television shows in the Kansai dialect are more popular among those from that
region, and there is a strong rivalry between Tokyo and Kansai. Many jokes used in manzai
comedy are also tied culturally to the Osaka region, and therefore would not have the same effect
if told in standard Japanese.86
Manzai theaters in Osaka were converted into studios from where these comedy routines
were broadcast all over the country. This gave audiences all over the country the ability to hear
Kansai Japanese regularly. Manzai became incredibly popular, its popularity peaking with the
1980s Manzai Boom. Manzai shows at this time gained up to 33% of the ratings share.87 This
popularity, coupled with the fact that Japan has, for at least the last 30 years, had a high adoption
rate for television; from 1990 to 1997, Japan constantly ranked from fifth to seventh place in the
world for most television receivers per person,88 and had the third highest number of television
sets in the world in 2003.89
The popularity of programming performed in the Kansai dialect, coupled with its
historical prestige and the high rate of television access, could have helped influence opinions in

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84

Osaka Prefectural Government, Industry of Osaka, Osaka Prefectural Government,


http://www.pref.osaka.jp/en/introduction/industry.html (accessed February 12, 2013).
85
Ikue Shingu, The Standard Japanese vs the Kansai Dialect, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
http://web.mit.edu/kansai/1.Characteristics/1.Standardvskansai/2Standardvskansai.html (accessed February 10,
2013).
86
Ibid.
87
Bensky, Commodified Comedians and Mediatized Manzai: Osakan Comic Duos and their Audience.
88
nationmaster.com, Televisions (most recent) by country, Nationmaster.com,
http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/med_tel-media-televisions (accessed February 10, 2013).
89
nationmaster.com, Television receivers (most recent) by country, Nationmaster.com,
http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/med_tel_rec-media-television-receivers (accessed February 10, 2013).

19!

favor of dialect use. If one applies cultivation theory to these conditions, it seems likely that
television could have helped accelerate a shift in attitudes towards non-standard speech.

Cultivating Cultural Change


Cultivation theory states television has the power to shape our perceptions of reality and
the world around us by affecting our attitudes and certain ways of thinking.90 Essentially, the
more a person watches television, especially if the message on television resonates with them,
the more likely they are to accept that message as truth.91 In the case of the Kansai dialect, which
has been on the air for decades in the form of manzai (and other kinds of television shows), a
relatively small but pervasive influence can make a crucial difference in attitudes, because the
size of an effect is far less critical than the direction of its steady contribution.92
The small but repetitive exposure to the Kansai dialect on television could easily have
been a factor in the change of attitudes towards dialects in Japan. People would have been
getting exposure to it multiple times a week, either via manzai or variety shows. Considering the
medium in which the language was being used (for lighthearted entertainment and comedy), it
would most likely have been viewed in a positive light.
Television, in tandem with the growing number of those who could speak Standard
Japanese, provided many opportunities for a resurgence of interest in non-standard Japanese
dialects. Television provided people from Hokkaido to Okinawa the opportunity to hear different
varieties of Japanese and allowed dialectical words to disseminate into the everyday speech of its
viewers.
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90

Lindsay Gulisano, Cultivation Theory: Creating Perceptions of Life from Reality Television, University of
Colorado at Boulder, http://www.colorado.edu/communication/meta-discourses/Papers/App_Papers/Gulisano.htm
(accessed February 10, 2013).
91
Ibid.
92
George Gerbner, et al., The Mainstreaming of America: Violence Profile (New York: Wiley, 1980), 29.

20!

The Hogen Boom


It was in the 1990s that the Dialect Boom began. During this time, the popularity of
Kansai dialect increased sharply amongst teenagers,93 an event possibly triggered by the Manzai
Boom of the 1980s. Over the next decade, more main characters began speaking in dialects on
television, changing their image from undesirable and embarrassing to flavorful and
merit-worthy.94
Another event that could have instigated the initial change in thought is the change in
Japans economy. One theory for why this has happened looks to Japans economic shift from
producer to consumer, causing the Japanese to re-evaluate what is important to them; specifically,
individualism, leisure, enjoyment, and amusement, with a reduction in the importance of
diligence and seriousness,95 factors associated with snobbish96 and polite hyjungo.97
Monolingual speakers of Standard Japanese have become jealous of other Japanese people who
are bilingual in both Standard Japanese and their regional dialect,98 and want to find away to add
that certain je ne sais quoi to their own language.
The novelty of dialect has continued on to this day.99 To those who are monolingual in
standard Japanese, their speech is stale and boring while dialects are fresh and interesting
because of their ability to convey certain images and emotions, such as fellowship and
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93

Jinnouchi, Dialect Boom in Japan, 45.


At Home Co., Ltd., Hgen kosupure to wa, hgen wo mochiita kotoba no kosuchmu pur no koto desu.
Genzai shakai no komyunikshon tsru hgen kosupure, at-home kyju taidan shirzu kadowari akadem,
http://www.athome-academy.jp/archive/literature_language/0000001076_all.html (accessed November 20, 2012).
95
Jinnouchi, Dialect Boom in Japan, 49.
96
Ibid., 50.
97
Aripu. Onna no ko ga shaberu to kawaii hgen rankingu. Mynavi News.
http://news.mynavi.jp/news/2012/07/26/032/index.html (accessed November 17, 2012).
98
Jinnouchi, Dialect Boom in Japan, 50.
99
National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics, Hgen bmu to hgen kankei no tosho, Kokuritsu
kokugo kenkysho, http://www.ninjal.ac.jp/nihongo_bt/2006/doukou/tosyo/topic04/ (accessed November 20,
2012).
94

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camaraderie, at times when normal speech is unable to do so.100 In order to help convey those
images and emotions, speakers of Standard Japanese will often pepper nonstandard vocabulary
into their speech, using those words like make-up to embellish their speech. When this make-up
is applied to speech, speakers are able to adopt certain identities based on the variety of speech
that they are emulating,101 using dialect as a form of cosplay.

Hgen Cosplay
Costume play, often shortened to cosplay, refers to a practice where people dress up as
characters from television shows, movies, and/or video games. The person adopts the personality
of the character that most appeals to them and plays the role of that character. Cosplay usually
happens at events like Japanese animation or comic conventions. Just like cosplay transcends
national borders due to its worldwide popularity, Hgen Cosplay transcends regional boundaries
within Japan. It is a speech act performed not only by people from inside Tokyo, but by people
outside the capital as well.102
Hgen Cosplay, a term coined by Yukari Tanaka, the author of The Era of Hgen
Cosplay: From Phony Kansai Dialect to the Language of the Samurai, describes a situation
where a person, orally or via text, uses speech patterns of a dialect of which they are not a native
speaker.103 Take, for example, the following text message:

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100

Sankei Shimbun, Hgen bmu to desu. Hibiki shinsen, sz suru tanoshimi (Sankei shimbun Namara
sekarashika to iu Hokkaido-Kyushu kong mo, asyura2.com,
http://www.asyura2.com/0502/social1/msg/651.html (accessed November 20, 2012).
101
National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics, Hgen bmu to hgen kankei no tosho.
102
Sankei Shimbun, Hgen bmu to desu. Hibiki shinsen, sz suru tanoshimi (Sankei shimbun Namara
sekarashika to iu Hokkaido-Kyushu kong mo.
103
Tanaka, Hgen kospure no jidai: Nise Kansai-ben kara Ryma-go made (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2011), 14.

22!

Nichiyo ni, miru eiga dousuppe? Nani mitai to? Uchi wa nandemo kimahen yo.
On Sunday, what do you think about seeing a movie? What do you want to see? I dont
really care what.
104

(Emoticon) henji matterusaa~


Im waiting for your reply.

This text contains the use of a number of different dialects, specifically varieties from
Tohoku, Kyushu, Kansai, and Okinawa, respectively. The writer of this text message, however,
is not a native speaker of any of these dialects, but is using them due to a shift in public
perception of nonstandard speech. Nonstandard speech varieties are now being seen as
something interesting, rather than embarrassing. In the 1960s, someone might have used another
dialect to make fun of its speakers, but since then certain dialects have come to be seen as cool,
cute, and fashionable.105
Tanaka refers to Hgen Cosplay as such because she views it as a form of yakuwari-go,
meaning role language.106 This refers to how Hgen Cosplayers use non-standard language for
the purpose of temporarily adopting a different persona in order to express themselves in ways
that they are unable to using only standardized speech patterns. Hgen Cosplay plays off of
dialect stereotypes that already exist in the Japanese mass media,107 such as the warmth of
Tohoku dialect, the manliness of Kyushu dialect, or the wittiness of Kansai dialect.108
However, despite being based on stereotypes, Hgen Cosplay does represent a change in
the way people view dialects. First and foremost, an obvious change is that rather than only
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104

Yomiuri Junior Press, Joshiksei hgen bmu: Asobi kankaku de atatakami motome, Yomiuri Shimbun,
October 27, 2005, http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/junior/articles_2005/051027.htm.
105
Jinnouchi, Dialect Boom in Japan.
106
Tanaka, Hgen kosupure no jidai: Nise Kansai-ben kara Ryma-go made, 6.
107
Tanaka, Hgen kosupure no jidai: Nise Kansai-ben kara Ryma-go made, 7.
108
japan.internet.com Editorial Department, Daredemo muishiki ni tsukatteiru hgen cosupure to wa nanika
Nihongogakusha Tanaka Yukari-shi ni kiku.

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expressing how backwards and provincial the speaker of the dialect was, the new stereotypes are
much more positive, something modern scholarship likes to focus on.
Although positive stereotypes seem beneficial at first glance, such as the American idea
of people of Asian descent being intelligent and hard working, they also negatively affect the
same people they are supposed to praise, in this case creating for Asian-Americans
overwhelming pressure to succeed [academically].109 Nevertheless, the current state of positive
dialect stereotypes is a drastic difference from how they were viewed before World War II, when
dialects were likened to a distasteful odor afflicting the Japanese language.110 Thus, when
someone wants to express warmth towards a friend, they might affix a word from the Tohoku to
their message, decorating and accessorizing their communiqu.

The Accessorization of Dialect


Dialects can also be used like a cosplayers costume due to the fact that the
overwhelming majority of Japanese people can speak hyjungo, due to its extensive use in
schools since before World War II. This has rendered the people who live outside of primarily
monolingual regions (speaking only standard Japanese) able to become bilingual in both standard
Japanese and their local dialect(s) or familiar with their local speech patterns. These bilingual
speakers are able to equip different languages to fit different situations, much like a costume or
accessory.111
This brings up another point that Tanaka wrote about: the idea of hgen akusesar-ka and
hgen omocha-ka. These terms are derived from the Japanese words for accessory and toy
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109

Dave Munger, The negative impact of positive stereotypes, ScienceBlogs,


http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily/2005/12/16/the-negative-impact-of-positiv/ (accessed November 14, 2012).
110
Heinrich, The Making of Monolingual Japan: Language Ideology and Japanese Modernity, 69.
111
Tanaka, Hgen kosupure no jidai: Nise Kansai-ben kara Ryma-go made, 10.

24!

respectively, with the suffix ka, analogous to the English suffix -ize or -ify. She relates
how some people will play with their identity by adopting and playing with words from other
Japanese dialects like accessories or toys to how cosplayers use their costumes and makeup to
play the role of the character they choose to emulate.112 By playing off the chosen dialects
associated stereotypes, such as manliness or warmth, speakers are able to temporarily adopt a
role to add another layer to their utterance, something difficult to do with uncool113 standard
Japanese.
Certain dialects are considered cute, and thus like accessories and toys, can be marketed
to enhance the speakers cuteness. Many websites have articles ranking the perceived cuteness of
certain dialects, expressing the opinions of both Japanese men and women. One website in
particular that lists Kyoto dialect as the cutest dialect also lists one of the reasons as it sounds
refined,114 indicating that certain dialects have multiple sentiments associated with them.115
This desire to add cuteness and individuality to ones language has led to the propagation
of products that sell themselves through their use of dialect. Some products, books being one
example, teach consumers how to use vocabulary from various dialects, and others, like
commercials, use dialect to attract attention. Not only do the products sell themselves through
their use of dialect, they combine the associated cuteness and interestingness of dialects with the
already well-established practice of using cuteness in advertising in order to create a more
marketable, appealing product [that is] attractive to both men and women.

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112

Ibid.
Ibid.
114
Aripu, Onna no ko ga shaberu to kawaii hgen rankingu.
115
Ibid.
113

25!

Dialect as a Commodity
Hgen Kanojo (Dialect Girlfriend) is a Japanese television show that began in 2010. It
currently broadcasts on multiple channels all across Japan, usually between the hours of 10 PM
and 2:30 AM. It features an all-female ensemble of tarento, television personalities, from all
over Japan who perform various scenes entirely in their home dialect. Due to the all-female cast,
men do not often appear on screen; after watching over ten episodes and six webisodes, I have
only seen a man on the show three times, and even then only for a few seconds as a still image
rather than as an animate person.
The scenes range from Hgen Date, where a faceless, nameless man goes on a date
with one of the tarento, to the Tsukaeru hgen kza (Usable Dialect Course), where one of the
tarento shows the viewer how to translate a sentence into their dialect. Most of the second season
includes new scenes like Homeroom (similar to Hgen Summit) and Mochimono Kensa
(Belonging Inspection). The scenes are both scripted and unscripted, though the scripted
segments outnumber their counterparts. The scenes do not make caricatures of dialect speakers
because the tarento are depicted as normal women, and sketches like Tsukaeru hgen kza
have the potential to be surprisingly educational.
Common scenes are Hgen Relay, Tsukaeru hgen kza, and Hgen Date. In
Hgen Relay, the tarento each say a phrase in their dialect, followed by a number of other
tarento who do the same in their own dialect. In Tsukaeru hgen kza, the tarento speak fairly
normally while translating the sentence, but use a masculine-sounding announcer voice when
reading the final result, and finish by cutely saying desu, the Japanese copula.
In Hgen Date, the same male voice is featured doing such activities going to the zoo,
to a restaurant, or to an arcade with one of the tarento, who speaks in her dialect despite the fact

26!

that the man is speaking standard Japanese. Some of the tarento speak in a very affected voice,
which can sound very high-pitched, and often act passive and ditzy. However, these features are
fairly common for women in Japanese television shows. One can easily see the resemblance
between the actions of other idols or tarento such as the pop groups Morning Musume116 and
AKB48117 (especially with the schoolgirl motif frequently employed by the group and shared
with the 2012 season of Hgen Kanojo118) or the model Rola (who is also famous for her speech
patterns).119 Both act, by Western standards, awkward and childish in order to appear cuter, yet it
is the norm for Japanese broadcasting.
The segment ends with the tarento being taped silently acting cute and alluring (by
playing with an object, making a face, or just gazing at the camera), with videography similar to
that of how the fetishized image of a gravure (bikini) model is taken, with slow, lingering shots
of the model.120 While Hgen Kanojos focus is not as sexualized as the images of the gravure
models, the cuteness of the girl is definitely played upon to an extreme extent. However, this is
not particularly remarkable, as it is quite common to have saccharinely cute girls featured on
Japanese television.
This leads to the question: what audience are the makers of Hgen Kanojo targeting with
their television show? The answer is obviously primarily men. First, the shows title is, when
translated into English, Dialect Girlfriend. Homosexuality in Japan is still a taboo subject,

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116

UFfanclub, DVD Mningu Musume. Fanclub in Hawaii 2012 Summer, Youtube video, 04:31,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5A9aEibUKM (accessed November 26, 2012).
117
AKBINGOstation, 2011-nen 10-gatsu 26-nichi shiritori de nokosazu tore (2), Youtube video, 10:01,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PI0sbGkvYEg (accessed November 26, 2012).
118
Canned Memory, AKB48.jpg, http://cannedmemory.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/akb48.jpeg (Accessed
November 28, 2012).
119
Mako Mayu, Kichise Michiko & Rra, Youtube video, 18:52,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtrbUymVcKo (accessed November 26, 2012).
120
vertex4. Making of Metal Gear Acid 2 Sano Natsume & Ishii Meguru. Youtube video, 02:43.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYjtAnjri_4 (accessed November 24, 2012).

27!

where societal expectations pressure LGBT Japanese to conform to the heterosexual norm,121
making it unlikely that the show targets primarily women as its main audience. Additionally, the
only man who makes frequent appearances in the show is the Date in the Hgen Date segment,
allowing men watching the show to project their own self into the first-person frame given by the
camera, a technique frequently used in literature122 and video games.
Secondly, the way that the show markets its cuteness is very typical of Japanese
television. Japans love of all things (and people) kawaii, or cute, is embedded in the culture
and manifests itself in social and gender roles,123 with variety shows featuring tarento who
often act silly, affect squeaky voices, pout and stamp their feet when they're angry,124 common
behavior seen in Hgen Kanojo. The attribute of amae, or sweetness connected to
dependence,125 also appears in Hgen Kanojos tarento, with the example of the Hgen Date
who was not good at baseball, but cheers on the male counterpart (who happens to be good at it)
with puppets126 and adopts the appealing role of the cute, submissive female.127
The second season of Hgen Kanojo adopts a high school theme. The show takes place
with the tarento all wearing sra fuku (school uniforms) while performing school-related
segments in a high school setting. The use of the sra fuku imagery of course brings up the
fetishizing of the schoolgirl in all of her innocence, a trope commonly used in pornography. This
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
121

Mark J. McLelland, Interviews with Japanese Gay Men, in Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan: Cultural
Myths and Social Realities, (London: Routledge Curzon, 2000).
122
Jane Lebak, A nameless protagonist, QueryTracker.net Blog, posted May 5, 2011,
http://querytracker.blogspot.com/2011/05/nameless-protagonist.html (accessed November 26, 2012).
123
Brian Bremner, In Japan, Cute Conquers All, Bloomberg Businessweek, June 24, 2002,
http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2002-06-24/in-japan-cute-conquers-all (accessed November 26, 2012).
124
Ibid.
125
Anne Allison, Portable monsters and commodity cuteness: Pokmon as Japans new global power, Postcolonial
Studies 6, no. 3 (2003), http://web.mit.edu/condry/Public/cooljapan/Feb23-2006/Allison-03-Postcol-Portble.pdf
(accessed November 26, 2012).
126
team20love, Hgen kanojo. hougen-kanojo 03, Youtube video, 13:01,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lo1YycmqCxY (accessed November 23, 2012).
127
Dina Lowy, Modern Girls, Informed Housewives, and Working Women in Interwar Japan, review of The New
Japanese Woman: Modernity, Media, and Women in Interwar Japan, by Barbara Sato, H-Women, December
2005, http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=10973 (accessed November 26, 2012).

28!

imagery reinforces the cute, juvenile look of the tarento while at the same time unconsciously
sexualizes them.128 The innocent imagery of the cute schoolgirl also appeals to the nurturing
instincts of women, who are already major consumers of cute goods in Japan.129
Finally, there how these Hgen Kanojo are used outside of their program confirms their
target audience. The Panasonic Corporation has been utilizing these tarento in advertisements for
their Lamdash Electric Shaver, which is explicitly marketed to men.130 They are featured in 27
videos specifically created to market this shaver, in which all of the videos use the previously
mentioned school-theme. These videos are in the same vein as various segments in the television
show, such as Hgen Relay, Hgen Recitation, Hgen Presentation (a segment similar to
Tsukaeru hgen kza), while at the same time introducing other new segments, such as
Hgen Coach, Hgen Intimidation, and Hgen Pestering.131 The advertisers use the
cuteness of the tarento in order to make their product more visible and appealing to the male
audience.132 The combined cuteness of both the kanojo and hgen makes it an obvious choice for
the task.
Selling Cuteness
Cuteness has been a key for marketing anything in Japan for the past several decades. Its
commodification began in the 1970s, with Hello Kitty as its trigger. Hello Kitty, which the

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
128

Mary Grigsby, Sailormoon: Manga (Comics) and Anime (Cartoon) Superheroine Meets Barbie: Global
Entertainment Commodity Comes to the United States, The Journal of Popular Culture 32, no. 1 (1998),
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.0022-3840.1998.3201_59.x (Accessed November 24, 2012).
129
Sara Kovarovic, Hello Kitty: A Brand Made of Cuteness, Women 4, no. 1 (2011),
http://wwwstaging.library.drexel.edu/publications/dsmr/kovarovic%20final.pdf (accessed December 5, 2012), 1.
130
Panasonic Lamdash, Otoko hada no himitsu, Panasonic Corporation.
http://panasonic.jp/lamdash/lineup/mechanism/ (accessed November 27, 2012).
131
Panasonic Corporation, Kamisori shb de sube hada danshi ni chenji jyaken ne , Kamisori shb Lamdash,
http://panasonic.jp/lamdash/products/edge_3/hougen/ (accessed November 27, 2012).
132
Brian Bremner, In Japan, Cute Conquers All.

29!

Sanrio Company relies on for 80% of overseas licensing revenue,133 became a huge success
overnight, and the image of Hello Kitty began to be reproduced on a wide variety of products,
propelling Sanrios sales, which reached 74.9 billion (roughly $909 million) in 2012.134
The use of this cute motif spread, being used from using the slogan Hello Work to
advertise the new friendlier image of the Public Employment Security Office135 to its use in a
logo featuring a carton giraffe with markedly large round eyes136 by the branch of the Japanese
Communist Party in Nagoya in order to promote themselves.137 Now, character goods have
become everyday staples in Japan, reaching from folders branded with Toei Buss mascot
Minkuru to a solar battery for iPhones branded with San-Xs character Rilakkumas face.138 The
one thing that all of these products have in common, though, is that they are using cuteness to
convey a certain image of friendliness in order to appeal to the consumers who buy the product,
use the service, or vote for the political party.
The cuteness of hgen is also used to sell products to not only men, but women as well.
Multiple books about speaking with an accent or in dialect have been printed, such as Tsukaeru
hgen no asobi mru de kaiwa de asonjyae! (Playing with Usable Dialect Play by e-mail or
speech!), Chikappa menkoi hgen renshch (Very Cute Dialect Workbook), and Kawaii hgen
hon (The Cute Dialect Book), and are marketed towards girls who want to make their speech
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
133

Naoko Fujimura and Emi Urabe, Sanrio to Cut Reliance on Hello Kitty by Buying Character, Bloomberg, July
13, 2011, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-07-12/sanrio-to-cut-reliance-on-hello-kitty-by-buying-newcharacter.html (accessed November 26, 2012).
134
Sanrio Co. Ltd, FY3/2013 Results Breifing, Sanrio Company, http://navigator.eirparts.net/EIRNavi/DocumentNavigator/ENavigatorBody.aspx?cat=ir_material&sid=15521&code=8136&ln=en
&tlang=en&tcat=ir_material7&disp=simple&groupsid=3403 (accessed November 26, 2012).
135
Leila Madge, Capitalizing on Cuteness: The Aesthetics of Social Relations in a New Postwar Japanese Order,
The Journal of the German Institute for Japanese Studies 9 (1997),
http://www.dijtokyo.org/articles/JS9_Madge.pdf (accessed November 26, 2012), 156.
136
Ibid.
137
Ibid,
138
StrapyaNext Co. Ltd., San-X Rilakkuma Solar Charge eco for iPhone 4S/4/3GS/3/iPod (Rilakkuma),
StrapyaWorld, http://www.strapya-world.com/products/41248.html (accessed November 26, 2012).

30!

sound cuter. In the case of Chikappa menkoi hgen renshch, the cute design of the cover was
explicitly made with a female audience in mind.139
The use of cuteness in selling hgen helps foster the transformation of dialect into
something that can be bought and sold. While the cuteness of the Hgen Kanojo definitely plays
a part in their use as advertising tools, the fact that they use dialects instead of standard Japanese
helps them stand out in a sea of cute girls advertising all kinds of products; hgen becomes a
commodity that enables them to be of use in the products commercials. Their use of dialect also
helps their show stand out from other programs, attracting viewers and therefore more money
from advertisers. TV shows make dialect a commodity due to the fact that they use it as a
gimmick to draw in viewers, done successfully with Matthews Best Hit TV Plus, a television
show partially conducted in dialect which despite its late-night slot, still managed to have a 15%
share of ratings.140
Dialects also become a commodity when they are reduced to book or dictionary form;
people buy the book in order to learn the words in it. As the use of dialect becomes more popular,
an increasing number of people might be inclined to buy the books (or products advertised with
dialects), giving dialects more power as moneymaking tools and causing the market for books
and other products to increase. Cuteness and hgen work in tandem, drawing in potential buyers
with their aesthetic and exoticness, and playing off each others unique properties in order to sell
more products.
Finding Words
So how does the use of dialect to sell books and other products connect to Hgen
Cosplay? Well, those who engage in this form of linguistic cosplay have to find the words
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
139
140

Yomiuri Junior Press, Joshiksei hgen bmu: Asobi kankaku de atatakami motome.
Sankei Shimbun, Hgen bmu to desu. Hibiki shinsen, sz suru tanoshimi (Sankei shimbun Namara
sekarashika to iu Hokkaido-Kyushu kong mo.

31!

somewhere. They are influenced by words they read in magazines and in books, by words they
hear in television, movies, and from others, and in turn, they start to use them as well. It allows
the speakers to not only express emotions and feelings that they would have difficulty doing
solely via standard Japanese, but to convey a sense of warmth and camaraderie amongst their
social group.
Hgen Cosplay also shows why dialects are being used in the media, and why so many
books that teach them are being printed. Due to the Hgen Boom, the coolness of dialects is
increasing. At the same time, standard Japanese is changing from something patriotic to be proud
of into an overly formal, stuffy language meant for the classroom or office and unfit for
communication at an izakaya, a Japanese pub, or between club members. It has its own time and
place for use, just as dialect has come to have. The value of nonstandard language is increasing,
and people, especially the younger generations,141 are starting to see dialects as not shameful, but
cool, fun, and fashionable in comparison to the hulking grey monolith of hyjungo.

Conclusion
Japan is a nation of great linguistic diversity. However, for the purpose of uniting,
modernizing, and creating a cohesive nation-state that was able to compete with European
powers, the Meiji-era Japanese government enacted policies aimed at creating a cohesive
Japanese identity through the standardization of the Japanese language, like the genbun ichi
reform of written Japanese. These policies changed the balance of linguistic power: if one did not
speak hyjungo they could be discriminated against if they moved outside their home region.
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
141

Daniel Long, Mapping Nonlinguists Evaluations of Japanese Language Variation, in Handbook of Perceptual
Dialectology, edited by Dennis R. Preston, vol. 1 (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing, 2003),
http://web.mit.edu/condry/Public/cooljapan/Feb23-2006/Allison-03-Postcol-Portble.pdf (accessed November 26,
2012), 226.

32!

As Standard Japanese was based on a dialect spoken in Tokyo, this put people from
outside the capital at an automatic disadvantage, as they were not native speakers of that dialect
or a similar one. If they retained their language, it turned into a statement directly challenging the
power of the government and their ability to unify the nation. It was viewed as a subversive
action, showing that the speaker was unpatriotic and backwards, unable to look towards Japans
future as a nation on par with global powers like the United States, the United Kingdom, France,
or Germany. Therefore, in order to unify the nation, the government decided to eliminate all
nonstandard forms of speech to the best of their ability. They did this through education,
teaching the children in standard Japanese and punishing them if they spoke in dialect.
However, as time went on, a greater number of people began to speak the idealized
standard Japanese language as well as use the language from their home region. They became
able to effortlessly change their language depending on the situation, like how one would switch
between plain and polite forms in standard Japanese. These bilinguals, due to kokugo education
in schools and exposure to standard Japanese in the mass media, were able to blend into society
at large, no longer automatic targets for discrimination. Due to almost the entire populaces
fluency in standard Japanese,142 its merit of being the language of the privileged few began to
wane. Due to its immense amount of speakers, hyjungo became watered down, stuffy, and
boring, and people started to get tired of using it.
The use of Japans dialects was a break from the norm, beginning with a boom that
propelled Kansai comedians to fame with the use of dialect in their broadcasted shows. Just as
the mass media once spread standard Japanese to the nation, it now propagated dialects. Thus,

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
142

Jinnouchi, Dialect Boom in Japan, 50.

33!

interest in dialects rose. Code switching, or changing speech varieties between dialects in
speakers daily conversations, became something interesting and fun rather than shameful.143
The media eventually began to notice this shift in perception towards dialects, and
quickly acted upon it. Television shows began to use dialects to stand out from a crowd of people
who only spoke standard Japanese. Books began to be written teaching people how to
incorporate dialects in their everyday speech. Websites, magazines, and blogs began to survey
which part of Japan had the cutest dialects. This new attention changed the discussion regarding
dialects: rather than something to eradicate, they became something to sell.
As dialects become commodities, and successful ones at that, they became fashionable.
People began to buy products to teach themselves dialects, peppering them in their speech like
accessories, changing vocabulary to convey different sentiments. For example, if one wanted to
be funny, one might use a word from Osaka dialect, and if one wanted to express manliness, they
could use Kyushu Dialect. Dialects are played with like toys when people play with the images
they want to convey during speech.
The linguistic game has been changed in Japan. Attitudes towards dialects have changed;
the ability to speak a dialect became something for monolingual speakers of standard Japanese to
be jealous of,144 as they have come to view their own language as something colorless and
transparent, like water.145 Speakers of dialects are being praised as kawaii and being asked to
speak it as an example for monolingual speakers of the standardized tongue to hear and consume
the dialect. This approach, however, is not as common as forms of Hgen Cosplay are, which
occurs by both people from within and outside the capitol.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
143

Ibid., 51.
Tanaka, Hgen kosupure no jidai: Nise Kansai-ben kara Ryma-go made, 11.
145
Long, Mapping Nonlinguists Evaluations of Japanese Language Variation, 214.
144

34!

Future scholarship could research exactly how widespread the use of Hgen Cosplay-like
speech acts are, as currently very little is written about the matter. Available sources tend to list
general stereotypes associated with dialects or opinions of cuteness, rather than any tangible data,
such as a comprehensive study of feelings toward hearing or speaking dialects from research
subjects in Japan. It would also be helpful if more information about the demographics of Hgen
Cosplayers were found, as it would help form a bigger picture of who does it, when they do it,
where they do it, etc. A more thorough study of Consumption Theory in regard to televisions
effect on opinions towards dialects would also be interesting to see in the future. It would be
interesting to see the mass medias influence over Japanese culture, considering how easily the
mass media influences American culture.
Some regional dialects, particularly ones from the Kansai region, traditionally
experienced a higher level of prestige due to the regions one thousand-year history as the sociopolitical capital of Japan. Certain dialects are still sometimes the objects of derision, specifically
the Zu-Zu dialect, a derogatory name for the Tohoku dialect, called so due to its use of voiced
consonants (a consonant that, when spoken, causes ones vocal cords to vibrate; i.e. the syllable
/ka/ becomes /ga/, /sa/ becomes /za/, etc.).146 As such, the positions mentioned in the paragraph
above are not completely widespread and are more common viewpoints amongst urban youth
who have more experience with speaking in a dialect.147
To conclude, the authority that hyjungo once held is being eroded by the mass media,
consumerism and desire for group identity among the Japanese youth. The audacity of the
resurgence of dialect as not only a functional tool of communication but as a way to, even

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
146
147

Long, Mapping Nonlinguists Evaluations of Japanese Language Variation, 225.


Ibid., 226.

35!

unconsciously, challenge the dominance of hyjungo is indicative of the rapidly shifting attitudes
towards linguistic structures of power in 21st century Japan.

36!

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