Dialects as a nature of Inferiority/Superiority, Minority/Majority?

“Minority or majority?”

This question can be rooted in the sense of difference. However, it seems to be rare to have this type of categorisation on, for example, ethnicity or race in Japan. Of course, as we are taking this class, Japanese Society, at least we have some senses to recognise those categorised groups. Then, is there no consciousness on minority/majority amongst ordinary people in Japan? I would say that it is actually possible to find that sense from what we use everyday. It is language; especially I focus on verbal languages we use with the variety of dialects. As it can be a tool for communication, when people communicate with somebody, they face to their languages. Thus, people meet somebody with their language as a part of themselves.

Then, in what way those languages can connect to the issue of minority/majority?

The answer could be the presence of several ‘accents’.

I’ll point the accents amongst several ‘Japaneses’. There are quite various accents such as Kansai-ben, Kanto-ben, Hiroshima-ben, etc. (‘ben’ is Japanese which means ‘dialect’) For most, especially in university, people respect others regardless their accents from their origins or hometown. Even in some cases, people love to hear accents from their local area as “okuni kotoba”. However, at this moment we should note that there is a presence of predominant language group in each situation when people find someone speak their local accent. It is simply because they speak different one. For example, when a pupil of primary school in Osaka transfers another primary school in Tokyo, s/he finds that everyone speaks different language. Also that pupil would find s/he is different from majority group of people in terms of language. In most of case, the problem is invisible or it does not happen. However, it can actually cause the problem as a nature of difference.

I have a friend who has transferred his primary school in Kanagawa from my primary school in Osaka. Undoubtedly, he spoke Kanto-ben. Then, what happened is some students started mimicking his language as making fun of it. But he did not stop using his Kanto-ben, though he knew he is not “same” as other friends. After a while, that mimic stopped, but it can actually happen in many other similar cases especially amongst those small children. That friend was in same junior high school with me, but different high school.

Then, it happens in his high school. When I met him after 3 months of our entrance of each high school, he told me that the school is quite boring for him. He said it is because:

“It is my first time to see such a annoying condition in the classroom. Many of students point my accent, and they make fun of it, laughing. It is one of my extremely annoying example to be treated in this way on language.”

Absolutely ridiculous, isn’t it??

But this is one of the realities. It can happen. Those “differences” can be a nature of discrimination as like it shows a sort of inferiority/superiority within a group of people, dividing into minority/majority. Look around yourself here in university where embraces variety of students.

Though there are many of students who speak their local accents, there are some of them who hide their own accent. I have some friends who speak “different” accents from me, but hiding them because, they said, it’s embarrassing.

It can be a nature of minority/majority, or inferior/superior even in our daily life. Don’t you think so?

by Jiro Okada

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2 thoughts on “Dialects as a nature of Inferiority/Superiority, Minority/Majority?

  1. Hey, Jiro! I found your topic, focusing on diversity of linguistic differences in Japan, really interesting! If I’m allowed to tell you my personal experience, when I was in elementary school, I transferred more than 5 times. As I spoke Kansai-ben, sometimes I was troubled in communication with other students. It was true that some mimicked my accent like it was fun and at the first time I could not understand what they were talking about if they had completely different accents or words. But it didn’t matter to me. (maybe was I kind of easy-going?)
    Also, you mentioned that we, Japanese, do not feel so much differentiation between majority and minority. Yet, I do not think so. There are so many other dividing categories like sex, urban-local area, or social class as well as ethnicity. Moreover, maybe we cannot really notice the majority/minority difference in our daily life if we are in the mainstreaming group, I guess.

  2. I also want to express my experience in Osaka. When I went to Starbacks and ordered a cup of “java chip frappuccino”, saying that “ジャパチップフラペチーノ1つ下さい”. Contrary to my expectations that the staff would say “Sure” or “To-go or not to-go?”, she said “Where are you from?”. I was so surprised. My pronunciation would be odd for her. However, this did not confused my identity, which means I didn’t recognize myself as a minority. As Wakana said, maybe we seldom find majority/minority unless we “create” them and try to see as what they “should” be.

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