Identity and social relations in Japanese (PG)

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

The module examines how social relations, identities, and many other social meanings are expressed through the language - focusing on Japanese, but with an eye to English and other languages as well.

We consider the repertoire of linguistic structures available in different languages to conmmunicate such personal and interpersonal meanings, as well as the social contexts in which such structures are used, and which contribute to these meanings.

Our analysis will try to go beyond a superficial reading of linguistic meanings, and to appreciate the broad sociocultural significance of keigo (honorifics), (im)polite registers, and other identity and relational markers.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

By completing this module you will be able to:

  • appreciate the relation between language and society
  • appreciate the linguistic features of the system of honorification in Japanese
  • appreciate its sociocultural significance, and its relation to extralinguistic factors
  • appreciate better the features of your own mother tongue that index social relations and identities
  • develop an informed and critical attitude to the study and the use of a foreign language
  • frame your own language learning in terms of the sociocultural idenitities you can take on by using another 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 syllabus will address the themes above as well as methodological issues arising in the study of language and society; the list below is for guidance only and is subject to alteration at the discretion of the module convenor.

  • Japanese language and society
  • sociolinguistic and pragmatic approaches to the study of linguistic '(im)politeness'
  • critique of traditional approaches
  • constructivist, indexical approaches
  • gender and other language ideologies
  • cross-modal iconicity

Method of assessment

  • An essay of 1500 words (30%)
  • An essay of 2500 words (70%)

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.
  • Culpeper, J., Haugh, M., & Kadar, D.Z. (2017). The Palgrave Handbook of Linguistic (Im)politeness. [New York]: Palgrave Macmillan.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules