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Argument Culture and Harmony Culture -- a study of phatic communication in Japanese

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Title:Argument Culture and Harmony Culture -- a study of phatic communication in Japanese
Authors:れいのるず秋葉, かつえ
Reynolds, Katsue A.
channeling particles
inferred meanings
vowel fillers, demonstrative fillers, lexical fillers
Date Issued:22 Feb 2012
Abstract:Bronislaw Malinowski (1923) wrote that people talk not only to convey reflected thoughts and ideas but also to create ties of union between speaker and hearer. He viewed this function of language as "an indispensable element of concerted human action" (316). The present study assumes that the importance of phatic communication varies from culture to culture and demonstrates that the Japanese language is a hyper-phatic one, i.e., a language that abounds with linguistic devices for phatic purposes indicating that the phatic communication has been given more significance in the Japanese culture than in other cultures, especially, American culture, which D. Tannen (1998) described as an "argument culture." I analyzed taperecorded and transcribed conversations with particular focus on interactional features, such as, turn taking, back-channeling, interruption, conversational control and co-construction, (or joint production) and hearer involvement (e.g., Sacks et. al. 1974, Sacks 1992 and Tannen 1997), which are all related to phatic communication. Placing Japanese conversations in this perspective, we will finally come to grips not only with uniquely Japanese linguistic forms but also with the cultural order ruling the actual use of such forms.
The first section reviews characterizations of Japanese language/culture referring to indirectness, avoidance of confrontation, politeness and emphasis of vertical relationships, and proposes an explanation which does not contradict them drawing upon recent theories of discourse analysis (e.g., M. Foucaul 1984 and Fairclough, 1992). In section 2, I present the findings of a quantitative analysis of major conversational particles "ne", "sa" and "yo" in 15 university student conversations, (5 male-male, 5 female-female and 5 male-female conversations, 30 minutes each), which show a high degree of hearer involvement. These particles, which Japanese scholars have categorized as sentence final particles or interjections indicating the speaker's attitude towards the hearer, are more meaningfully and consistently understood as speaker's phatic behavior; various forms of backchanneling are then viewed as the phatic work on the part of hearer. An analysis of co-constructions in the same data also strongly indicates collaborative work of speaker and hearer in the effort of discursive formation. In section 3, I examine the speech levels of these conversations. There is a clear indication that speakers are affected by the slightest gap within the social hierarchy, especially between two males. In conclusion, I suggest that there has in fact been a strong tendency towards phatic communication throughout the history of Japanese culture (e.g., Itsue Takamure, 1972) although the principle of verticality has dominated Japanese communication during the past several centuries, and that the Japanese culture is becoming a more democratically oriented one. Such a direction of change is consistent with the change in the west as observed by researchers of sociolinguistics and discourse (e.g., Brown and Gilman 1960 and Fairclough 1992).
Description:Three sociolinguists, Ehara Yumiko, Yoshii Hiroaki and Yamazaki Keiichi, recorded and transcribed 32 sets of conversations (10 male-male pairs, 10 female-female pairs and 12 male-female pairs), of which I obtained copies of 26 sets during my fieldwork in Japan in 1997 for the purpose of ethnomethodological study of conversational control of particular focus on gender. I am grateful to these researchers for their generous permission for the use of their transcripts for my analysis. The data methodically gathered controlling variables without losing the naturalness of the setting gave me much confidence in my findings. Without their data, I would not have been able to develop my ideas about Japanese conversations.
Pages/Duration:13 pages
Appears in Collections: Reynolds, Katsue A.

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