Discovering voices, discovering selves: English language, intercultural communication, and Japanese queer sexualities
A 1928 manuscript in The English Journal declared, “English has become so much a part of the Japanese people in the last 50 years that it has rightly been called the second language of the empire” (Crocker, p. 288). Fast forward to 2005 as Torikai reflects in her analysis of national language policies in Japan:
On the surface, English language seems to dominate the Japanese society at present…To be sure, globalism is the key term in today’s Japan, leading the people toward a global society where English as a global language is a prerequisite – hence the emphasis on English language education. (p. 253)
As English has been such a strong presence in Japan over the last hundred years, it should be possible to investigate the social significance of its usage in various settings such as specific geographic regions or communities of practice. For example, Jackie Hogan’s 2003 study, “The Social Significance of English Usage in Japan,” does just this by focusing on the uses of English loanwords in a specific, rural community in Northern Japan. Hogan explains, “A key argument of this paper is that lexical choices are shaped by both macro- and micro-level social conditions. Thus different patterns of English-derived vocabulary use would be expected under different social conditions” (p. 56). The purpose then of this research is to examine the semiotic acts (how and what types of language are used) and spaces (situations and locations) where English language use exists within specific communities of practice – in this case, Japanese queer communities – and the social conditions (e.g. climates of hostility/acceptance towards queer sexuality) that encourage such use. The word “queer” is being used here to include any form of sexuality (desire or expression) that is not a hetero-sexuality (Cameron & Kulick, 2003; Curran, 2006; Kopelson, 2002; Nelson, 1999).
The following proposed research comes about as a result of this writer’s four–year experience living and teaching in Western Japan and the relationships formed with self-identified, queer, Japanese individuals. For example, English-language interactions with such individuals have included statements (spoken in English) from Japanese such as “I’m gay in English, but not in Japanese,” and “Only my English-speaking friends know I am a lesbian,” statements that reflect the attitudes and beliefs about identity construction within these two linguistic communities (English and Japanese), and how the uses of English allow both access to other communities (real or imagined) and expressions of identity. Such phenomena, with regard to the uses of English language, may be a reflection of the aforementioned prevalence of English-language education, offering insight into a) what other ideas/concepts are transmitted through such teaching (Gee, 1994), and b) the larger influence of English-language culture present in Japan. For example, a Japanese youth of the early 21st century may be exposed to English language education in all of the following spaces/modes: the school system, at a private cram school for university preparation, at a private English conversation school, with a private tutor, and through television or radio. Additionally, the prevalence of English language and cultural ideology in Japan has been well-documented as noted above, but little literature exists that addresses how the global spread of English affects how specific communities of practice such as the Japanese queer community, use, or don’t use English or intercultural interactions to construct identities, and specifically what types of language are used and in which spaces.