SOAS University of London

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

Identity and social relations in Japanese (PG)

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Term 1

The complex linguistic system serving the marking of social relations in Japanese is examined in this course through studies in the sociolinguistic, pragmatic and indexical traditions. Students are guided to go beyond a superficial reading of linguistic meanings and appreciate the broad sociocultural significance of keigo (honorifics) and other ‘politeness’, identity and relational markers.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will:

  1. appreciate the linguistic features of the system of honorification in Japanese
  2. appreciate its sociocultural significance, and its relation to extralinguistic factors
  3. appreciate the constitutive relation between language and society, and the extent to which individual speakers can exercise agency
  4. frame their own language learning in terms of the sociocultural identities it enables them to index
  5. appreciate better the features of their own mother tongue that index social relations and identities
  6. develop an informed and critical attitude to the study and the use of a foreign 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

The following syllabus is for guidance only and is subject to alteration at the discretion of the module convenor.

  • Japanese language and society
  • sociolinguistic approaches
  • pragmatic approaches
  • critique of traditional approaches
  • constructivist, indexical approaches
  • gender and other language ideologies 
  • cross-modal iconicity

Method of assessment

An essay of 1500 words to be submitted on day 5, week 8, in the term of teaching (30%); an essay of 2500 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1, in the term following teaching (40%); an essay (comparative data analysis exercise) of 1500 words to be submitted on day 5, week 1, in the term following teaching (30%).

Suggested reading

Selected papers from:

  • Kádár, D. Z., & Mills, S. (2011). Politeness in East Asia. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press
  • Okamoto, S., & Shibamoto-Smith, J. S. (2016). The social life of the Japanese language: Cultural discourses and situated practice. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wetzel, P. J. (2004). Keigo in modern Japan: Polite language from Meiji to the present. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
  • Pizziconi Barbara & Miriam Locher eds (2015). Teaching and learning (im)politeness. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules