Dialects and Homogeneity

9 Jun

The following raises the issues of subjecthood and belonging in the nation-state. How are nations made? Who are they composed of? Citizens, people who feel they truly belong? Or are there fissures in the process of interpellation? Are there people who outright refuse belonging to the nation-state, whether because of discrimination, subalternity, or other factors?

“In 1990 (29 October, p. 2) the Asahi Shimbun evening edition ran an article about a man in northern Honshu who has been making determined efforts to have the local language, Kesen, recognised in its own right, not as some corrupted and second-rate dialect of standard Japanese. Harutsugu Yamaura describes his efforts as ‘a declaration of independence designed to wipe out the unfounded discrimination towards the Tohoku dialect.’ Yamaura argues:

“In Japan there is no democracy for languages. Although it is claimed that the Japanese are a homogeneous race, there are the Ryukyu and Ainu peoples. We are originally the Emishi of Tohoku, yet our language has been looked down on by the Yamato conquerers since the Manyo period as an inferior and dirty dialect.”

(Quoted in Gaynor Macdonald, “The Politics of Diversity in the Nation-State.” In Diversity in Japanese Culture and Language. Eds. John C. Maher and Gaynor Madcdonald. London and NY: Kegan Paul International, 1995, 307; 291-315.

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