Stigmatization of dialects

« previous post | next post »

[This is a guest post by Krista Ryu]

I was reading the book, Language Change in East Asia, and one of the articles, "Dialects versus the Standard Language in Japan," talked about the standardization of Japanese and its consequence on the many "hougen” (方言) of Japan. I thought it was very interesting and related to what we talked about in class regarding the various Chinese languages (topolects).

While there was no real designated common language in Japan, the "variety based on the dialect of the upper-middle class inhabitants of Tokyo" was functioning as the de facto common language from approximately the 17th century (pg 7). Increased mobility of people with the lift of travel ban and abolition of shogunate domains, as well as the establishment of universal education in the late 1800s, allowed the spread of this common language across the country (pg 8). However, only after formal approval from the Japanese Ministry of Education in the early 1900s, an official standard form of Japanese, or "hyojungo” (標準語), was established.

What is interesting is how the creation of this "standard" form of language gives it a certain "halo," while it stigmatizes other local dialects. The author states:

Dialects were characterised as slovenly (kitanai, 汚い), bad , incorrect, and inferior. In extreme cases, sensitivity on the part of non-standard dialect speakers was manifested in severe linguistic insecurity, for which Shibata Takeshi coined the term hōgen konpurekkusu (dialect complex). People from the provinces who moved to Tokyo were mocked about the way they spoke, resulting in depression and even suicide. (pg 8)

This reminded me of how pyojuneo (표준어, 標準語) in Korean is also considered the "correct way" of speaking on many occasions, forcing speakers of other Korean dialects to change their way of speaking and be ashamed of having an accent. Many times, on TV shows like soap operas, characters that are supposed to be "crude" or "uncultured" will be using some sort of "bangeon" (방언, 方言).

However, the article also does say that recent trends show that people in Japan started seeing dialects as "warm," "authentic," and as part of a unique local culture that needs to be preserved. This is also the case in Korea in recent years. Young generations have started being more proud of using their local dialects. Such phenomena seem closely related to the one seen in China where popular culture using local language has gained favor among young people (e.g., rap music in nonstandard topolects).



  1. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 12:09 pm

    wikipedia says this about the beginnings of Japan's move toward a Western-style universal/compulsory public education system in the Meiji Era: "In 1871, the Ministry of Education was established, with a school system based closely on the American model, which promoted a utilitarian curriculum, but with the centrally-controlled school administration system copied from France." Now, using the new universal/compulsory education system to promote a standard/prestige dialect while stigmatizing traditional regional variants is a very common theme in Western nations of that era, but the French may have been above-average in their devotion to that theme.

  2. John Rohsenow said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 1:53 pm

    As I recall, in the Japanese adaptation of the musical MY FAIR LADY,
    'zuzuben' (from Kagoshima?) was used to represent London's cockney

  3. JHH said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 2:22 pm

    "Zuzuben" (the "zuzu" dialect) primarily refers to the dialects of northern Japan, the area called Tohoku. It is used in performance to color the speaker as uneducated.ズーズー弁

  4. AntC said,

    September 26, 2017 @ 4:32 am

    recent trends show that people in Japan started seeing dialects as "warm," "authentic,"

    Yes, similar happened with UK regional dialects through the second half of C20th. In the 1950's it was all 'BBC English' seen as prestige.

    Nowadays it's pretty much reversed: 'public school accents' [by which I mean the accents of those from private schools] are seen as deeply untrustworthy; regional accents as authentic.

  5. julie lee said,

    September 26, 2017 @ 11:02 am

    When I was in London about ten years ago I was in a hurry to get some information from the airport. Although English is my first language (as is Chinese) I simply couldn't understand the airport representative's English. I knew it was some kind of dialect, Scottish, Irish, or something, or it was English with a dialectal accent, but I simply couldn't understand the rep's English. I'm all for respecting and accepting dialects, but please, have the information people at the airport speak standard English.

RSS feed for comments on this post