SOAS University of London

Japan & Korea Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Culture

Japanese Language Ideologies

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Final Year
Taught in:
Term 2

The module approaches the study of Japanese culture and society through the study of ideologies around the Japanese language, that is sets of conscious or unconscious beliefs about the language articulated as justifications for structures or uses, serving particular argumentative or political interests and feeding discourses of identity. The module tackles the study of ideologies through the study of a number of different domains, all of which reveal social concerns with power and social distinction / discrimination, and invites the students to develop a critical appreciation of the social processes involved in their creation, maintenance or challenge.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  1. demonstrate an understanding of the role of the Japanese language in various discourses pervasive in Japanese society regarding the nation, ethnic, gendered, sexual or class identity, and their political implications
  2. demonstrate the knowledge of the broad historical and social contexts in which such ideologies operate
  3. develop a reflexive and critical attitude to the use of a language
  4. develop a sensitivity to the instrumental purposes of the ideologies surrounding a language


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture and a 1 hour tutorial.

Scope and syllabus

  • introducing ‘ideology’: terminology: ideology; discourses; beliefs; group membership indexicality; power
  • language and the nation: language imperialism and language nationalism; kokugo; Japanese spirit; keigo; japan as a monolingual country; languages and dialects
  • language and gender: women’s language (onnakotoba); language and sexuality;
  • language and nativeness: native and non-native speakerhood; attitudes to bilingualism
  • language and culturedness: command of keigo and the ‘manners’ industry

Method of assessment

Identify instances of language ideology in English (or a language other than Japanese, agreed by convenor); produce a 1000 word commentary for submission to a class database, which will be used as a comparison with the Japanese ideologies discussed in the course, in the last week of the module (20%); an essay of 1500 words to be submitted in week 5 in the term of teaching (30%); an essay of 2500 words to be submitted in week 1 of the term following teadhing (40%); each week from week 3, students give presentations about either a research article assigned by the convenor, or a linguistic phenomenon or linguistic incident of their choice (in Japanese), which in their view can be taken to reflect language ideology (10%).

Suggested reading

  • Blommaert, J.(1999) Language ideological debates – Language, Power, and Social Processes. Berlin; New York: Mouton de Gruyter
  • Burgess Chris (2011) It’s better if they speak broken Japanese. In Language and Citizenship in Japan, Nanette Gottlieb (ed.), Taylor and Francis, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central,
  • Garrett, P., Coupland, N. & Williams, A. (2003). Investigating Language Attitudes: Social Meanings of Dialect, Ethnicity and Performance. University of Wales Press
  • Heinrich, Patrick. 2012 Making of Monolingual Japan : Language Ideology and Japanese Modernity, Channel View Publications. ProQuest Ebook Central,
  • Okamoto, Shigeko, and Smith, Janet S. Shibamoto. (2004) Japanese Language, Gender, and Ideology : Cultural Models and Real People, edited by Shigeko Okamoto, Oxford University Press. ProQuest Ebook Central,
  • Okamoto, Shigeko, and Janet S. Shibamoto-Smith. (2016) The Social Life of the Japanese Language : Cultural Discourse and Situated Practice, Cambridge University Press.  ProQuest Ebook Central,
  • Sanada, S. (2005) Gengo Ishiki. In: S. Sanada and H. Shouji, ed., Jiten – Nihon no Tagengoshakai. Iwanami Shoten, p.348


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules