Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Japanese Communication

Japanese Communication: Language and Thought in Context

Senko K. Maynard
Copyright Date: 1997
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Japanese Communication
    Book Description:

    In an accessible and original study of the Japanese language in relation to Japanese society and culture, Senko Maynard characterizes the ways of communicating in Japanese and explores Japanese language-associated modes of thinking and feeling. Japanese Communication: Language and Thought in Context opens with a comparison of basic American and Japanese values via cultural icons--the cowboy and the samurai--before leading the reader to the key concept in her study: rationality. Japanese Communication: Language and Thought in Context opens with a comparison of basic American and Japanese values via cultural icons--the cowboy and the samurai--before leading the reader to the key concept in her study: rationality.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6307-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Japanese Communication
    (pp. 1-6)

    Japanese is spoken by some 124 million people, most of whom reside in Japan. It has little in common with the major European language families, Romance and Germanic, and has no linguistic link to Chinese. Some have suggested that Japanese is distantly related to the Altaic languages (e.g., Turkish). Word order in Japanese is usually subject-object-verb, and sentence structure is dominated by the topic-comment relationship, where the topic, what is being talked about, is followed by the speaker’s comment on it. Although in the structure of a Japanese sentence the agent is grammatically functional, other elements (such as topic) are...

  5. 1 The Context of Japanese Communication

    • 1 Cultural Myth, Self, and Society
      (pp. 9-16)

      In this introductory guide to Japanese ways of communication, a few words about the cultural context are now in order. Language is the source of culture; no artifact, custom, ritual, or rite can truly have value or meaning without being expressed in language. Though language, culture, and society form a seamless web of identity, language is the most fundamental. So let us think, for a moment, of the word “samurai.” It is one of the most familiar Japanese words to people inside and outside Japan, and it evokes one of the stereotypical Japanese cultural myths. What does it mean? What...

    • 2 Relationality and Communication
      (pp. 17-24)

      Discussion of the samurai and the American cowboy, who are part myth and part reality, offers a background from which to work toward an initial understanding of language and thought in Japan. The ambivalent feelings the samurai and the cowboy hold toward self and society can be sorted out by understanding the kind of relationality adopted in the two societies. “Relationality” refers to the reciprocal influence exerted by two different elements that are reflexively characterized by each other. More specifically, it refers to the mutual relationship that language—as well as thought—comes into contact with in sociocultural and situational...

    • 3 Competing Orientations within Relationality
      (pp. 25-28)

      Typological differences exist across cultures in the concept of relationality. But how are the opposing forces between society and self within and across cultures dealt with psychologically? As our task is to understand language and thought across cultures, we should ask whether it is possible to shift one’s orientation of relationality. To answer this question, let us turn once again to our mythical images of Japan and the United States, the samurai and the cowboy.

      In this regard Philip Slater’s insight offers special significance. Slater (1970, 8–9) recognizes “three human desires that are deeply and uniquely frustrated by American...

    • 4 Relationality Cues in the Sociocultural Context of Japan
      (pp. 29-36)

      Language is never spoken in a vacuum, and its potential meanings are realized only when their interpretations are endorsed by social conventions. These social conventions, which are imposed on our communities, thrive because they are continuously reaffirmed. We derive much of what we know and believe from these socially constructed conventions. At their root lies society’s collective point of view toward itself and its members. The key Japanese concepts that I review are based on the society-relational orientation in Japan. They can be viewed as specific relationality cues that influence how participants in Japanese communication behave.

      Many observers characterize Japan...

    • 5 Relationality and the Concept of Self
      (pp. 37-44)

      The concepts of self and society shape all other sociocultural concepts. For this reason we cannot ignore how these notions are understood in Japan. But before we begin, let me quote from an American anthropologist, Clifford Geertz, because what he has to say is relevant to my position on self and society.

      The concept of person is, in fact, an excellent vehicle by means of which to examine this whole question of how to go about poking into another people’s turn of mind…. The Western conception of the person as a bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and cognitive...

  6. 2 Japanese Language in Context

    • 6 Styles and Varieties of the Japanese Language: Responding to Social Needs
      (pp. 49-82)

      In part 2 we examine the Japanese language in detail in four areas: (1) styles and elements, (2) phrases, (3) sentences, and (4) communication strategies. All languages provide different styles, for example, regional dialects, occupation-based jargons, formality levels, gender-based varieties, and so on. Japanese is no exception. In comparison to American English, Japanese offers more varieties that are explicitly different in their linguistic forms. These include varieties based on genres, speech situations, relative social statuses of speakers, foreign influence, and gender-based style.

      The availability of variation built into the Japanese language system points to its society-relational orientation. A Japanese speaker...

    • 7 Japanese Phrases: Expressing Emotion and Speakerʹs Attitude
      (pp. 83-102)

      Japanese has much in common with other languages in its vocabulary and phrases, but we can also find subtle, yet important, differences. I have chosen phrases that contrast sharply with English to illustrate the semantic characteristics of Japanese phrases.

      One of the consequences of being society-relational is that language does not place importance on propositional information alone (that is, the logical relations in a sentence, such as who-does-what-to-whom). Nonpropositional information (various levels of feelings and the speaker’s attitude) is also very important. Human emotions find expression through various strategies, both verbal and nonverbal. Japanese is, compared to American English, richer...

    • 8 Japanese Sentence Structure: Grammar in Context
      (pp. 103-132)

      Japanese sentences differ from English in word order and in structural axis. The subject-object-verb word order and the prominence of the topic-comment relation are two obvious ways in which Japanese speakers organize information differently from speakers of English. The Japanese preference for nominal predicates, which is related to the topic-comment structure, is significant. Another noteworthy point is that the Japanese speaker frequently adds, especially at the end of an utterance, a variety of “extras,” manipulative devices that qualify an utterance by responding to needs arising from the conversational context. Although American English also uses extras, they are more restricted.


    • 9 Japanese Communication Strategies: Collaboration toward Persuasion
      (pp. 133-162)

      Six different strategies show how the Japanese work toward collaboration in communication. Negotiating with someone across cultures raises a question as to the effectiveness of one’s strategies. It has been suggested that Japanese and American negotiating styles differ, and it is worth dicussing these differences. Conversation cannot take place without listener participation. Listener behavior in Japanese casual conversation contrasts with that in American conversation. A nonverbal sign pervasive in Japanese talk, that is, head movement, is one example of the contrast. Head movement performs what I call an “interactional dance.” Both listener response and head movement in Japanese conversation illustrate...

  7. 3 Japanese Thought in Context

    • 10 Relationality and Language-Associated Thought
      (pp. 165-170)

      The characteristics of the Japanese language depicted in part 2 point to the importance of the underlying dynamic of relationality proposed in part 1 and mentioned repeatedly. Although it is natural to assume that individual differences exist in interpretation of and response to relationality cues, broad cross-cultural differences in understanding relationality also exist. Japan tends to be society-relational; America, self-relational. The Japanese language contains many built-in mechanisms for expressing messages cued by relationality.

      Every language operates on the basis of some kind of relationality, and within the boundaries of a single language, different degrees of importance are placed on relationality....

    • 11 Centrality of Scene: The World as a Relational Place
      (pp. 171-174)

      In Japanese the scene often assumes primacy when describing an encounter, event, or phenomenon. This contrasts with English, where the focus is on an agent, an actor or doer who initiates some action within the scene. In order to explore this line of thinking further, let us try an example.

      Picture the plains of Nebraska, where a farmer hears a distant cry of birds and looks up to the sky. He or she notices sandhill cranes flying in formation over the gray autumnal prairie. How will he or she express this scene? For Yamabe no Akahito in eighth-century Japan, the...

    • 12 Nonagent Orientation: The World as ʺBecomingʺ
      (pp. 175-178)

      Closely related to the Japanese sense of “scene” is the Japanese language’s preference for using verbs equivalent to English “be” and “become.” While English prefers to express an agent, Japanese has several strategies for suppressing the notion of agency. One strategy privileges locative expressions over agents. Verbs likearu‘there is/are’ andnaru‘become’ are preferred. Observe the following expressions.

      [1] Sano-san ni wa musuko ga futariaru. Mr. Sano at T son S two there are (lit., There are two sons at Mr. Sano’s.) Mr. Sano has two sons.

      [2] Watashitachi wa kono tabi kekkonsuru koto ninarimashita. we...

    • 13 More than Words: A World beyond Description
      (pp. 179-182)

      Communication in any society transcends the exchange of verbal expression, but in Japanese, there is a marked tendency to mistrust the persuasive potential of words. According to Dean C. Barnlund:

      To the Western argument the self-expression is valuable, the Japanese might reply that this is true only if there is first sufficient inner reflection: The quality of outer dialogue can rise no higher than the quality of an inner monologue…. The introspectionist emphasis found in Eastern religions is more highly regarded by and seems more congenial to the Japanese than the expressionist emphasis found in Western religions and philosophy…. Linked...

    • 14 Echoing ʺVoices from the Heartʺ: A World of Things and Emotions
      (pp. 183-184)

      The language-as-event view is attested to by the traditional scholar’s understanding of the Japanese language. The historical background of language studies again shows that the Japanese language places importance on emotional expression and personal attitude, and that these are related to a preoccupation with society-based relationality. The thought processes associated with this view include the assumption that much of what constitutes the reality of everyday life comes into focus only when placed in the context of human subjectivity. That is, many things in the world do not exist in and of themselves; the subjective human experience is what gives them...

    • 15 Manipulation of Textual Voices: A World of Shifting Points of View
      (pp. 185-190)

      The world created in part by linguistic expressions reflecting multiple voices is a relational place defined by fluid and shifting points of view. Quotation is a device through which one expresses multiple voices. In self-quotation, where the quoter and the quotee are the same person, one would not expect to find such multiple voices. Partly because it is unexpected, however, the phenomenon of multiple textual voices reveals itself in its most crystallized form in self-quotation.

      Although it is ordinary for a speaker to quote him or herself in conversation in what Deborah Tannen (1991) calls “constructed dialogue,” in Japanese, self-quotation...

    • 16 Speaking as Self-Narrative: The World as a Subjective and Interpersonal Place
      (pp. 191-196)

      Tokieda’s theory of language as process emphasizes the speaker’s subjectivity. In his theory, Tokieda makes a triangle of the three necessary elements for the existence of language. These are (1)shutai‘the speaker, the speaking self,’ (2)bamen‘place, situation inclusive of the addressee,’ and (3)sozai‘material.’ Tokieda states, “Language exists when someone (speaking self) tells someone (situation) about something (material)” (1941, 40–41).

      Tokieda’s notion of the “speaking self” is the core of his view of language. In a sentence likeWatashi wa yonda‘I have read,’ Tokieda explains, one must recognize that the “I” is not the...

  8. 4 Japanese Communication in Global Context

    • 17 Japanese Text and Talk in Contrast
      (pp. 199-210)

      In a 1932 book calledRemembering, British psychologist Sir Frederick C. Bartlett proposed the idea that remembering is not simply recovering some fixed factual information but is itself a process of constructing knowledge. In one of his psychological experiments, he asked his British subjects to recall a North American folktale called “The War of the Ghosts” at different intervals, from fifteen minutes up to two and a half years later. The story went like this.

      One night two young men from Egulac went down to the river to hunt seals, and while they were there it became foggy and calm....

    • 18 Japan–U.S. Intercultural Communication
      (pp. 211-216)

      In discussing intercultural discourse I examine conversation (in English) between Japanese and American college students in the United States. One aspect of the conversation under focus is listener back-channel response. I look at its distribution, context, and functions. Although I investigate only a small part of the conversational interaction, it provides a base from which to speculate on the Japanese and American images of each other.

      When inquiring into an intercultural discourse, one may ask: Will a non-native speaker of English ever be perceived to speak English as naturally as a native English speaker? Will he or she forever be...

    • 19 Misinformation and Media in Global Context
      (pp. 217-220)

      Potential cross-cultural communication problems may be caused not by cultural differences per se, but by the process of information transmission. Consider the powerful role the media play in selecting, manipulating, and reporting information they find newsworthy. A minor mistake in translating from Japanese into English or vice versa, for example, can sometimes cause serious damage to Japan–U.S. public relations. With the near-instantaneous dissemination capabilities of modern information technology, news about Japan spreads like wildfire. And the media play a decisive role in portraying the image of Japan abroad.

      One example of media-manipulated misinformation that contributed negatively to the Japan–...

    • 20 Toward a New Awareness
      (pp. 221-226)

      Given the complexity of cross- and intercultural problems surrounding Japanese ways of communication, what solutions, if any, can we find?

      Relationality, the theme of this book, can help us here. Relationality is not unique to Japan. Recall the samurai and the cowboy: Both are relationally committed to society, although with different emphases. Both are ambivalent in their commitment. The definition and expression of relationality in each language and society differ, yet cultures have much in common when looked at from the perspective of human existence. I would like to make this point clear because discussing differences can give the wrong...

  9. Appendix
    (pp. 227-236)
  10. References
    (pp. 237-246)
  11. Author Index
    (pp. 247-248)
  12. Subject Index
    (pp. 249-253)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 254-254)