“I prefer mianhae, not gomen nor sorry”: Translocal linguistic practices among youth and public space in contemporary Japan

Authors: Ayumi Inouchi (University of Tsukuba, Japan)
Speakers: Ayumi Inouchi
Strand: Language and Spatiotemporal Frames
Session Type: General Session


The advancement of globalization has shaken up the social boundaries which have constituted traditional society, exposing their interplay. Accelerated media developments have opened up a communication space fusing the on/offline and have driven the rapid emergence of complex practices shaped by the flow of translocal communication resources (Blommaert & Rampton, 2016). How do youth growing up in this age of individualization create communal space through interaction? This study explores how a public space emerges within the discursive practices among youth with various linguistic backgrounds in globalizing Japan. The field site is a linguistically and ethnically diverse private high school in a suburban city near Tokyo, which actively promotes internationalization; over 20% of the student body consists of Japanese returnees, students with multi-ethnic backgrounds, and international students predominantly from other Asian countries. Taking an ethnographic perspective combining participation observation, interviews, and the analysis of recorded interactions, this paper highlights the usage of Korean among students. In my field, some female students, especially those regarded as the “queen bees” of the school, display language crossing (Rampton, 1995) by using elements of the Korean language influenced by K-pop, such as “graphic metaphors of Hangul” (Harkness, 2015, p. 502) as pictograms. The analysis reveals that they did not think they were using “Korean,” but rather used it as “my language” holding special meanings, such as “the language that brings me closer to my favorite idol” or “the language that allows me to reside inside of K-dramas.” Additionally, their playful usage of Korean not only functions as an emblem of subcultural identities and the evocation of phatic communion, but also relates to the creation of communicational space that people “do not understand each other too much” within the school setting, where English and Japanese have dominant economic values. By examining the multi-layered meanings of Korean, this study shows how communication resources, social-indexical meanings in local/global sociocultural contexts, and the space of being together interconnectedly emerge within the discursive performances of youth, and portrays a form of public space in contemporary Japan. ・Blommaert, J. and Rampton, B. (2016) ‘Language and Superdiversity,’ in Arnaut, K., Blommaert, J., Rampton, B., and Spotti, M. (eds.) Language and Superdiversity. New York: Routledge, pp. 21-48. ・Harkness, N. (2015) ‘Linguistic Emblems of South Korean Society,’ in Brown, L. and Yeon, J. (eds.) The Handbook of Korean Linguistics. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 492-508. ・Rampton, B. (1995) Crossing: Language and Ethnicity Among Adolescents. London: Longman.

Keywords: Youth, Globalization, Japan, Crossing, Translocal linguistic practice, Korean language, Public space, Play, Pathic communion, School