On being a gaijin : language and identity in the Japanese workplace

Moody, Stephen Joseph
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [December 2014]
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This dissertation investigates the construction and utilization of 'outsider' identities in an intercultural workplace setting. The participants are American university students employed as summer interns in companies in Japan where the primary language spoken was Japanese. The data come from roughly 50 hours of audio recordings taken during observations of the daily work routines of six interns in four different locations, as well as supplemental field notes and interviews. This study takes an Interactional Sociolinguistics approach which ties macro-level structures to micro-level interaction by analyzing the use of contextualization cues which index sociocultural knowledge. This allows moment-to-moment discursive practice to be understood within various contextual frames in an investigation of 'outsider' identity in professional environments. The central questions of this study are twofold: 1) How are interns linguistically constructed as gaijin 'foreigners' by themselves and others and 2) In what ways is the notion of gaijin used in the accomplishment of goal-oriented social interaction. In answering these questions, the theoretical framework of this study draws from a social constructionist perspective of language and social identity. Identities are seen not as pre-existing monolithic entities but as objects which can be dynamically performed, negotiated, and transformed within interaction. Discursive work is a central tool in accomplishing such activities. The investigation focuses on identity work accomplished through the use of three particularly prominent contextualization cues: 1) names and other forms of reference 2) addressee honorifics and items associated with ideologies of politeness and 3) the use of English in an otherwise Japanese environment. This study has implications for sociolinguistic work on intercultural communication in which the notion of 'identity' has been fruitful for understanding how differences in sociocultural backgrounds lead to different interpretations of linguistic cues and cause misunderstanding. This study expands knowledge in this area by also considering how identities are used as a tool in the accomplishment of local activities. It finds that the embodiment of stereotypes can actually be effective for both challenging outsider positions as well as strengthen intercultural relationships by providing an opportunity for shared experience.
Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2014.
Includes bibliographical references.
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Theses for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (University of Hawaii at Manoa). East Asian Languages and Literatures (Japanese).
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