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The Ideology of Kokugo

Nationalizing Language in Modern Japan

Lee Yeounsuk and translated by Maki Hirano Hubbard

Publication Year: 2010

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 of kokugo (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 over genbun 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 of kokugo and moves us one step closer to understanding how the ideology of kokugo cast 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 of kokugo uncovers a strain of cultural nationalism that has been long nurtured in Japan’s education system and academic traditions. The ideology of kokugo, argues Lee, must be recognized both as an academic apparatus and a political concept

The Ideology of Kokugo was 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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-viii

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Translator’s Introduction

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pp. ix-xviii

This is a translation of Lee Yeounsuk’s 1996 book Kokugo 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...

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pp. xix

Ueda Kazutoshi is mentioned in every discussion about kokugo. However, Hoshina Kōichi, who attempted to introduce the term and concept of kokka-go (a state language) into Japanese, deserves the same recognition. Dr. Tanaka Katsuhiko, my graduate adviser at Hitotsubashi University, once told me that Dr. Kamei....

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Prologue: Language and the Imagined Community

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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....

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Introduction: The Japanese Language before Kokugo: Views of Mori Arinori and Baba Tatsui

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pp. 7-20

In debates about kokugo and 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 of kokugo, but as an unpardonable traitor to the nation’s language. When he was the chargé...

PART I: Kokugo Issues in Early Meiji

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Chapter 1 Perspectives on Kokuji, the National Script

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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...

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Chapter 2 Genbun Itchi and Kokugo

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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...

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Chapter 3 The Creation of Kokugo

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pp. 54-70

The debates about genbun itchi and 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..

PART II: Ueda Kazutoshi and His Ideas about Language

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Chapter 4 The Early Period of Ueda Kazutoshi

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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 on wagakusha (scholars of the Japanese classics). In his 1890 (Meiji 23) essay “Ōbeijin no Nihon gengogaku ni taisuru jiseki no ichi ni” (Examples of Westerners...

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Chapter 5 Kokugo and Kokka

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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...

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Chapter 6 From Kokugo Studies to Kokugo Politics

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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” (About Kokugo Research) after his return, shows the change in the focus of his interest from nihongo to kokugo. As we saw in the case of Ōtsuki, such..

PART III: Kokugogaku and Linguistics

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Chapter 7 Hoshina Koichi—a Forgotten Scholar

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pp. 117-124

In part 2 we saw the effort by Ueda Kazutoshi to build kokugogaku, 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...

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Chapter 8 The History of Kokugogaku

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pp. 125-136

Hoshina loyally followed Ueda’s plan to establish kokugogaku on 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...

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Chapter 9 Tradition and Reformin Kokugo

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pp. 137-152

Saussure’s posthumous Cours 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...

PART IV: Hoshina Koichi and His Language Policies

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Chapter 10 The Ideology of Hyojungo

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pp. 155-159

The term hyōjungo seems to carry a special emotional connotation. The institution of hyōjungo before 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...

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Chapter 11 Korea and Poland

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pp. 160-169

On his return two years later (1913; Taishō 2), he was disappointed to find that Kokugo Chōsa Iinkai had been disbanded. Nonetheless, Hoshina began energetically to marshal the committee’s documents and to report on the language problems and language...

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Chapter 12 What Is Assimilation?

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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...

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Chapter 13 Manchukuo and the State Language

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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...

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Chapter 14 Language for the Co-Prosperity Sphere and the Internationalization of the Japanese Language

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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 for kokugo reform....

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Chapter 15 Conclusion

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pp. 212-216

The coerciveness of kokugo policy in modern Japan was a sign not of the strength of kokugo but 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...


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pp. 217-226


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pp. 227-244


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pp. 245-258


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pp. 259

About the Author and Translator, Production Notes, Back Cover

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pp. 263

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837617
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824833053

Publication Year: 2010