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DIJ History & Humanities Study Group


Multilingualism in Tokyo – Reading the Signs

02.02.2005 | 18:30

Peter Backhaus, University of Duisburg-Essen


 When one thinks about multilingualism, Tokyo is usually not the place that comes to mind first. Walking through the streets of the city, however, one is struck by the visibility of languages and scripts other than Japanese that appear on both official and non-official signs in the linguistic landscape of Tokyo. In order to get some empirical hold of the situation, I conducted a large-scale survey of multilingual signs at 28 locations along the JR Yamanote Line. A total of 2,444 multilingual items were recorded, with a mean ratio of 24% multilingual signs for each area.
My presentation gives a closer analysis of the data based on the following issues: number of languages contained, combinations, availability of translation, direction of translation, visibility, official vs. non-official signs, geographic distribution, and linguistic idiosyncrasies.
Results suggest that Tokyo's multilingual landscape is a product of both language policies by official organs and a general demand for foreign languages by Tokyo's population.

Peter Backhaus is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Duisburg-Essen. He is currently in Japan on a scholarship at the German Institute for Japanese Studies

Koordination: Andrea Germer; Sven Saaler


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