The Ideology of Kokugo

The Ideology of Kokugo: Nationalizing Language in Modern Japan

Lee Yeounsuk
Translated by Maki Hirano Hubbard
Copyright Date: 1996
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    The Ideology of Kokugo
    Book Description:

    Available for the first time in English,The Ideology of Kokugo: Nationalizing Language in Modern Japan(1996) is Lee Yeounsuk's award-winning look at the history and ideology behind the construction ofkokugo(national language). Prior to the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the idea of a single, unified Japanese language did not exist. Only as Japan was establishing itself as a modern nation-state and an empire with expanding colonies did there arise the need for a national language to construct and sustain its national identity.

    Re-examining debates and controversies overgenbun itchi(unification of written and spoken languages) and other language reform movements, Lee discusses the contributions of Ueda Kazutoshi (1867-1937) and Hoshina Koichi (1872-1955) in the creation ofkokugoand moves us one step closer to understanding how the ideology ofkokugocast a spell over linguistic identity in modern Japan. She examines the notion of the unshakable homogeneity of the Japanese language-a belief born of the political climate of early-twentieth-century Japan and its colonization of other East Asian countries-urging us to pay attention to the linguistic consciousness that underlies "scientific" scholarship and language policies. Her critical discussion of the construction ofkokugouncovers a strain of cultural nationalism that has been long nurtured in Japan's education system and academic traditions. The ideology ofkokugo,argues Lee, must be recognized both as an academic apparatus and a political concept

    The Ideology of Kokugowas the first work to explore Japan's linguistic consciousness at the dawn of its modernization. It will therefore be of interest to not only linguists, but also historians, anthropologists, political scientists, and scholars in the fields of education and cultural studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3761-7
    Subjects: Linguistics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Translatorʹs Introduction
    (pp. ix-xviii)
    Maki Hirano Hubbard

    This is a translation of Lee Yeounsuk’s 1996 bookKokugo to iu shisō: Kindai Nihon no gengo ninshiki(literally,The Idea of Kokugo: Perceptions of Language in Modern Japan). In this book Lee Yeounsuk powerfully demonstrates the political nature of language. She details the history of the construction of an ideology of “the Japanese language” through a careful and meticulous reexamination of primary source materials, many of which have been neglected by mainstream scholars. She begins by questioning the very possibility of such an entity as “the Japanese language” at the beginning of Japan’s modernization—the notion of such a...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
    Yeounsuk Lee
  5. Prologue: Language and the Imagined Community
    (pp. 1-6)

    Language is the most basic evidence of being human. Ordinary people speak their mother tongue without being conscious of what language they are speaking and without referring to the rules of the language as grammarians do. Moreover, even the recognition that they are speaking a particular “language” is itself alien to them. In that sense, the moment they are made aware that they are speaking a certain kind of language or a national language, a new history of their language begins—a history of alienation from it.

    When the critical consciousness does not interfere, we simply speak without any notion...

  6. Introduction: The Japanese Language before Kokugo: Views of Mori Arinori and Baba Tatsui
    (pp. 7-20)

    In debates aboutkokugoand its merits as the national language in post-Meiji Japan, one person never fails to be mentioned: Mori Arinori, the first minister of education for the Meiji government. He is remembered, however, not as a model devotee ofkokugo, but as an unpardonable traitor to the nation’s language.

    When he was the chargé d’affaires for the United States, Mori proposed what was afterwards called “the abolition of the Japanese language” and “the adoption of English.” He did so in the introduction to his book (written in English)Education in Japan(1873; Meiji 6), and also in...

  7. PART I: Kokugo Issues in Early Meiji
    • CHAPTER 1 Perspectives on Kokuji, the National Script
      (pp. 23-37)

      From the viewpoint of modern linguistics, the substance of language consists of sound whereas script is the mere outer covering of language. Just as cosmetics and clothing do not affect the human body itself, the choice of script is an external element irrelevant to the substance of language. Thus, the object of linguistics research has been sounds and the relationship among sounds at each level of phonology, morphology, and syntax.

      Why, then, do people become so passionate about the choice of script? If the problems of script are a secondary matter in language, then organizations such as l’Académie Française in...

    • CHAPTER 2 Genbun Itchi and Kokugo
      (pp. 38-53)

      Anyone who set his face towards language reform at the dawn of modern Japan was aware of the extraordinary distance between the spoken and written language. However, people became aware of such distance only when the social order started to disintegrate, the social order that had supported and allowed these two languages to coexist without conflict.

      Kanbun kundoku¹ orkanbun-style language was the language for cultural and administrative matters among intellectuals and the samurai class throughout the Edo era, but as the Meiji era started, it suddenly became relevant to common people. This was the context:

      Since the Meiji Reform,...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Creation of Kokugo
      (pp. 54-70)

      The debates aboutgenbun itchiand national script and the linguistic turbulence in the Meiji era became closely tied to consciousness of the “nation-state” and the “empire,” triggered by the Sino-Japanese War. The rallying point of these debates was the ideology ofkokugo, and the central person who promoted it was Ueda Kazutoshi. Before discussing Ueda’s philosophy of language in part 2, we will investigate in this chapter how the concept ofkokugohad developed before his time.

      The wordkokugoitself existed before Meiji. However,kokugowith a modern connotation, used in opposition tokangoin its modern sense,...

  8. Part II: Ueda Kazutoshi and His Ideas about Language
    • CHAPTER 4 The Early Period of Ueda Kazutoshi
      (pp. 73-86)

      Ueda Kazutoshi (1867–1937), though a graduate of the Department of Classical Japanese Literature (wabun-ka) at Tokyo Imperial University, began his career with a harsh attack onwagakusha(scholars of the Japanese classics). In his 1890 (Meiji 23) essay “Ōbeijin no Nihon gengogaku ni taisuru jiseki no ichi ni” (Examples of Westerners’ Views about Japanese Linguistics in the Past), which he wrote based on a lecture that he gave right before his departure for Germany at the age of twenty-four, Ueda recognized that more and more people had come to understand recently thatkokugoandkokubunwere “vital for maintaining...

    • CHAPTER 5 Kokugo and Kokka
      (pp. 87-95)

      In June 1894, on his return from three and a half years of study in Europe, Ueda was appointed professor of linguistics at the Imperial University. It was only two months before the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War.¹ During that year, Ueda gave two public lectures, “Kokugo to kokka to” (The National Language and the Nation-State) in October and “Kokugo kenkyū ni tsuite” (AboutKokugoResearch) in November, that powerfully impressed the audience. Unlike his essays before his study abroad, which were directed to limited groups of scholars of language and literature, these two lectures were meant to appeal to...

    • CHAPTER 6 From Kokugo Studies to Kokugo Politics
      (pp. 96-114)

      The changed language in the titles of Ueda’s lectures, from “Nihon gengo kenkyūhō” (Research Methods for the Japanese Language) before his study abroad to “Kokugo kenkyū ni tsuite” (AboutKokugoResearch) after his return, shows the change in the focus of his interest fromnihongotokokugo. As we saw in the case of Ōtsuki, such a transition indicated a fundamental and critical change in the views of language at that time. The major objective of his lecture “Kokugo kenkyū ni tsuite,” which followed “Kokugo to kokka to,” was to outline the mission ofkokugogaku, the field ofkokugostudies....

  9. Part III: Kokugogaku and Linguistics
    • CHAPTER 7 Hoshina Kōichi—a Forgotten Scholar
      (pp. 117-124)

      In part 2 we saw the effort by Ueda Kazutoshi to buildkokugogaku, a new academic discipline based on ideas from linguistics, the modern science of language. Ueda’s passion and determination produced many brilliant scholars, such as Shinmura Izuru, Ogura Shinpei, Kindaichi Kyōsuke, Hashimoto Shinkichi, Fujioka Katsuji, and Okakura Yoshisaburō. Among them, however, Hoshina Kōichi has been almost forgotten today, in spite of his loyal devotion to carrying on Ueda’s achievements in language policy and education.

      Let me begin this chapter with a brief chronology of Hoshina’s life.

      Hoshina may be remembered today only as someone who proposedkokugoreform...

    • CHAPTER 8 The History of Kokugogaku
      (pp. 125-136)

      Hoshina loyally followed Ueda’s plan to establishkokugogakuon the foundation of modern linguistics theories and to apply it in shaping language policy. Though his work in his later years was focused almost solely on practical aspects of education and policy, this came from his desire to realize his earlier ambition for systematic organization ofkokugogaku. His language policies, though not necessarily elaborate but faithful to Ueda’s intention, were based on his understanding of the theoretical framework ofkokugo. Therefore, before discussing hiskokugopolitics, his strong suit, we will look into the way Hoshina envisionedkokugogakuas a field...

    • CHAPTER 9 Tradition and Reform in Kokugo
      (pp. 137-152)

      Saussure’s posthumousCours de linguistique générale(1916) is widely regarded as providing the revolutionary basis for the science of language in the early twentieth century. Saussure began by surveying the history of linguistics, distinguishing three stages: first, the study to construct “prescriptive grammar” to teach “correct” language; then philology for deciphering documents and interpreting the literature of the past; and finally, nineteenth-century comparative linguistics, which dealt with languages as they are. He proposed, furthermore, advancing linguistics to the study oflangue, the synchronic state of language, which is free from history and norms. Though it is clear to scientific linguists...

  10. Part IV: Hoshina Kōichi and His Language Policies
    • CHAPTER 10 The Ideology of Hyōjungo
      (pp. 155-159)

      The termhyōjungoseems to carry a special emotional connotation. The institution ofhyōjungobefore the end of the war degraded dialect and afflicted its speakers with a sense of inferiority. Dialect was severely suppressed in schools through “penalty” rules, which mandated hanging a humiliating placard around the neck of a student who used dialect.¹

      The wordhyōjungoimplied a crusade against dialect. Its dark connotations lingered even after the war, and even academic discussions abouthyōjungotoday have to be careful not to summon up the public’s neurosis about their experience (Sanada 1987, 203–205). Thus the termhyōjungo...

    • CHAPTER 11 Korea and Poland
      (pp. 160-169)

      Hoshina was unique among those who were sent to Europe by the Ministry of Education at that time, as he recalled later:

      The ministry’s bylaws did not grant study abroad for those in the fields ofkokugogaku, Chinese literature, and Japanese history, so I was not supposed to be qualified for this. However, in recognition of my earnest effort inkokugoresearch, they granted me a scholarship as a researcher of linguistics and language pedagogy. (Hoshina 1949b, 58)

      On his return two years later (1913; Taishō 2), he was disappointed to find that Kokugo Chōsa Iinkai had been disbanded. Nonetheless,...

    • CHAPTER 12 What Is Assimilation?
      (pp. 170-181)

      We saw in the previous chapter that Hoshina testified to the need for assimilation, especially linguistic assimilation, as the key to colonial policy. However, what exactly did he mean by “assimilation”? Why was language expected to play a central role in assimilation policy? Hoshina did not offer answers to these questions. His writings, while easy to follow, tend to leap to application of a theory, avoiding important questions. In that sense, Hoshina was not a very good theorist. In this chapter, therefore, we will leave Hoshina for a moment and will examine the meaning of “assimilation” in modern Japan.


    • CHAPTER 13 Manchukuo and the State Language
      (pp. 182-192)

      Hoshina had made concrete suggestions for Japan’s language policy when the March First Independence Movement shook the government-general of Korea. About ten years later, Hoshina had another opportunity to contribute to the empire’s language policy when the Manchurian Incident of 1931¹ was followed by the establishment of Manchukuo (the Manchurian nation) the next year.

      In September 1931 (Showa 6), the Japanese Kwantung army (Kantōgun) staged the so-called Ryōjōko Incident and quickly occupied the northeastern part of China, hastily creating a nation, Manchukuo, in March 1932 (Shōwa 7), only six months after the incident. To justify this fabricated nation, the authorities...

    • CHAPTER 14 Language for the Co-Prosperity Sphere and the Internationalization of the Japanese Language
      (pp. 193-211)

      As discussed in the previous chapter, Hoshina tried to make Japanese the state language,kokka-go, of Manchukuo, or at least to accord Japanese a status superior to that of other languages. However, it was not that he tried to transplant the Japanese language just as it was. Hoshina persisted again in his determination forkokugoreform. He maintained that the most important agenda in building Manchukuo was the dissemination of education, but that “it would be extremely difficult to reeducate the people there inkanji,” and therefore “a different strategy must be used, quickly departing from the troublesomekanji, in...

  11. CHAPTER 15 Conclusion
    (pp. 212-216)

    The coerciveness ofkokugopolicy in modern Japan was a sign not of the strength ofkokugobut of its weakness, just as the coercion of the Great Japanese Empire indicated Japan’s tenuous modernity. Japan was not able to establish a consistent language policy for its colonies, or even for itself. Mori Arinori was not the only one who despaired of the plight ofkokugo. Shiga Naoya, for example, is also well known for his suggestion after World War II that French be adopted as the national language. And there was Kita Ikki, who had even more radical ideas than...

  12. Chronology Major Events and Publications Cited in the Book (provided by translator)
    (pp. 217-226)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 227-244)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-258)
  15. Index
    (pp. 259-262)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 263-267)