The Fall of Language in the Age of English

The Fall of Language in the Age of English

MINAE MIZUMURA
MARI YOSHIHARA
JULIET WINTERS CARPENTER
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/mizu16302
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  • Book Info
    The Fall of Language in the Age of English
    Book Description:

    Winner of the Kobayashi Hideo Award,The Fall of Language in the Age of Englishlays bare the struggle to retain the brilliance of one's own language in this period of English-language dominance. Born in Tokyo but also raised and educated in the United States, Minae Mizumura acknowledges the value of a universal language in the pursuit of knowledge, yet also embraces the different ways of understanding offered by multiple tongues. She warns against losing this precious diversity.

    Universal languages have always played a pivotal role in advancing human societies, Mizumura shows, but in the globalized world of the Internet, English is fast becoming the sole common language of humanity. The process is unstoppable, and striving for total language equality is delusional--and yet, particular kinds of knowledge can be gained only through writings in specific languages.

    Mizumura calls these writings "texts" and their ultimate form "literature." Only through literature, and more fundamentally through the diverse languages that give birth to a variety of literatures, can we nurture and enrich humanity. Incorporating her own experiences as a writer and a lover of language, and embedding a parallel history of Japanese, Mizumura offers an intimate look at the phenomena of individual and national expression.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53854-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Linguistics, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. PREFACE TO THE ENGLISH EDITION
    (pp. IX-XIV)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-10)
    MARI YOSHIHARA and JULIET WINTERS CARPENTER

    The Fall of Language in the Age of English(Nihongo ga horobiru toki: Eigo no seiki no naka de) by Minae Mizumura caused a sensation when it came out in Japan in 2008. Not only did the book achieve high critical acclaim, winning the Kobayashi Hideo Award for the year’s outstanding work of nonfiction, but also it was a surprising commercial success: soon after being published, it ranked number one on Amazon Japan, an almost unheard-of feat for a work of such intellectual substance. As of April 2014, sixty-five thousand hardcover copies had been sold.

    Controversy spurred the book’s success....

  5. 1. UNDER THE BLUE SKY OF IOWA: THOSE WHO WRITE IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE
    (pp. 11-46)

    September mornings in Iowa City get pretty chilly.

    Stepping out of the hotel, I saw a scattering of writers waiting for the minibuses, standing stooped with mugs of steamy Starbucks coffee in hand. Writers tend to be stooped specimens to begin with, and these looked particularly so in the cold morning air. At their feet was a variety of luggage in all shapes and sizes.

    Before I left Japan, I had gone to the Web site of the International Writing Program, or IWP, and printed out the list of writers participating in this Fall Residency. Intent on familiarizing myself with...

  6. 2. FROM PAR AVION TO VIA AIR MAIL: THE FALL OF FRENCH
    (pp. 47-71)

    The language that gained dominance in the modern era, from the eighteenth century onward, is of course English. However, during much of this time, English was not the world’s most revered language.Mais non!It was French.

    Let us begin by taking a look atA Little Princess, a children’s story written by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1905. Now a classic, it has continued to be read all over the world as well as adapted into films, television programs, musicals, and, naturally, anime. Its heroine, Sara Crewe, is an English girl born in India whose father is a very rich...

  7. 3. PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD WRITING IN EXTERNAL LANGUAGES
    (pp. 72-102)

    How people understand the history of their language varies greatly. Some populations are less naïve than others. Whether through foreign domination or ethnic conflicts, their history has taught them to be less naïve. Others are relatively more naïve—including the Japanese, islanders whose language has never been threatened from either within or without. Ask them how they as a nation came to read and write, and they will most likely give a short and simple answer like this: “Since time immemorial, we Japanese have always spoken Japanese. One day, some people from the nearby Korean Peninsula brought over Chinese characters,...

  8. 4. THE BIRTH OF JAPANESE AS A NATIONAL LANGUAGE
    (pp. 103-133)

    “‘Foreigners are beautiful, aren’t they?’ he said.”

    This line occurs toward the beginning ofSanshirō(1909),¹ a novel by Natsume Sōseki, modern Japan’s greatest novelist. Sanshirō, a young man from the sleepy southern island of Kyushu, is riding a train to the capital where, to his great pride, he will become a student at Tokyo Imperial University. A bearded and rather unimpressively attired passenger is sitting diagonally across from him, and they start a conversation. As the train comes to a stop, they see a Western couple on the platform, whereupon the man makes the observation about foreigners:

    Sanshirō could...

  9. 5. THE MIRACLE OF MODERN JAPANESE LITERATURE
    (pp. 134-156)

    Universities and creative geniuses may seem strange bedfellows when it comes to art, including literature. Of course, plenty of universities nowadays offer courses on creative writing that are taught by acclaimed writers. Yet the romantic in us wants to believe in geniuses who dwarf the annoyingly erudite in their ivory towers. That romantic belief harks back to the golden age of national literature, an age when literature was separated from academic disciplines and transcended them as a source of knowledge. But in non-Western countries, universities had to play a crucial role in creating a national literature—however unromantic the fact...

  10. 6. ENGLISH AND NATIONAL LANGUAGES IN THE INTERNET AGE
    (pp. 157-174)

    The phrase “the end of literature” is now a cliché. And it has been a cliché, not only in Japan but all over the world, for half a century if not longer. Yet in recent years, voices bewailing the end of literature are gaining new urgency. Fewer and fewer people read literature deserving of the name; even the classics, novels once considered must-reads, are increasingly shunned. In this chapter I will start by departing from Japan to examine what the end of literature might mean for all concerned.

    Laments about the end of literature can no longer be dismissed as...

  11. 7. THE FUTURE OF NATIONAL LANGUAGES
    (pp. 175-204)

    What will become of all the national languages that are not English?

    This is our ultimate question. And the answer depends ultimately on what each population—and the government of that population—wants to do with its language in this age of English. Theoretically, the optimal solution for a nation to survive and thrive in this age might be to turn every citizen into a bilingual. This new bilingualism would have to differ from premodern bilingualism in two essential ways. Before, only a limited number of the cultural elite were bilingual, and only the universal language was taken seriously. Now...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 205-208)
  13. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 209-210)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 211-222)