The indexicality of Japanese language practice and underlying linguistic ideologies

sachiko ide

Japan Women's University, Japan

WS132: Cultural Values and Language Behaviour: Focus on Asia

The Japanese language, when compared with European languages, is characterized by rich modal expressions, most of which is obligatory in speech behavior. The modal expressions are found in morphological, lexical, syntactic and discursive levels. Besides, speech formula that serve indexing context also constitutes a part of modal expressions on the conversational level. The modal expressions are those expressions the speaker indexes the feeling, attitude and epistemological status toward the contextual construal. Thus, they carry little propositional meaning, but express the nature of the participants’ relationships and settings, and the speaker’s attitude toward others as well as about oneself.

Let me list some of the modal expressions indexing contextual construal. On the morphological level: (1) Obligatory use (and non use) of honorific indexes the relationship of the participants and the formality of settings. (2) The use of evidentials known as the territory of information (Kamio 1990) index whether the information belongs to the speaker’s territory or not. (3) Sentence final particles index the status of information of the addressee among others. On the lexical level: (4) Rich varieties of personal pronouns index the relation of the speaker, the addressee and the referent. On the discursive level: (5) Frequent use of aizuchi, repetition of the other’s utterances, indeterminate expressions and collaborating conversation. (6) A customary use of cliché at the discourse opening such as ‘O sewa ni nat te masu.’ (O HON sewa ‘under the care of’ ni DAT nat ‘to become’ te ’CONJ’ masu ADD.HON.’ I acknowledge that I am under the care of you.’

In this paper it is discussed that the linguistic ideologies of Japanese ordinary people shared as their everyday common sense ideas are the underlying source of the frequent indexing by modal expressions. The linguistic ideologies relevant to the Japanese practice can be argued that they are based on Buddhism and Confucianism. Both of them assume the existence of a person in relation to others. The key teaching of Buddhism is said to be ‘dependent origination’ and ‘elimination of self’, which sharply contrast to Decartes’ “cogito, ergo sum” ‘I think, therefore I am’, where independent self is seen as the central notion of existence. The pragmatic theories such as Grice’s maxims of conversation, speech act, politeness, which are without doubt based on this notion of existence, are to be challenged when we put our attention to the indexical function of Japanese language practice.

In Japanese language practice it is essential for the speaker to embed oneself and behave as a part of the contextual construal, and index appropriately the speaker’s position in the context by the proper choice of modal expressions at all level of linguistic and conversation.

It is expected to give alternative interpretations of the linguistic, pragmatic and sociolinguistic phenomena in Japanese language practice that has been neglected as long as we presuppose the frameworks established in the international scholarship dominated by the Western doctrines.

Session: Workshop (part 1)
Cultural Values and Language Behaviour: Focus on Asia
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 18