Archive for the ‘Purpose’ Category

…”I ask him if he is ‘out’ and he looks at me, moves his head slightly forward and asks, ‘Pardon?’”

“Are you out of the closet?” I explain.

He shakes his head from side to side a little, leans in and says slowly, “I’m not gay in Japanese, I’m only gay in English.”

The above excerpt introduces Marlen Elliot Harrison’s “Discovering Voices,” an examination of language, sexuality, toriand identity in 21st century Japan. After living and teaching in Western Japan for 4 years, Harrison returned to the United States to complete a doctoral program in applied linguistics. When considering a dissertation topic, he recalled a conversation in which a friend discussed being gay in one language and not in another (above) and wanted to further explore why this might be. By weaving together his own narratives about Japan and sexuality with the autoethnographic narratives of queer Japanese individuals, Harrison showcases the intersection between linguistic repertoire and those critical moments when we conceptualize, reveal, and perform our sexualities. Harrison writes: (more…)


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Excerpt from forthcoming interview with Folake Abass of the JALT Gender Awareness in Language Education (GALE) sig. More info on viewing the entire interview to be posted soon!

FA: Thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us. To begin with, can you tell us about the research you are doing for your dissertation and where the idea came from?

MH: It all stems from a comment a Japanese friend once made to me. He said, “I’m gay in English, but I’m not gay in Japanese.” This was fascinating to me and then I heard something similar from another friend a few weeks later who said, “Only my American friends know I’m a dyke.” As a result of this, I would now like to understand what the significance of “English” (and here I mean English as a linguistic culture, as a linguistic system, etc) is in the lives of Japanese queer individuals.

FA: Can you tell me what you mean by the significance of “English” as a linguistic system and how does this tie into Japanese queer individuals?


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So it has occurred to me, and numerous times at that, how what this project is not about is just as important as what this project is about. To that end, here’s what I’m not trying to do:

  • I am not trying to prove that all Japanese construct sexuality in the same way.
  • I am not assuming that English is “better” than Japanese.
  • I am not examining sexual behaviour as much as I am examining the connections between the presence of English in Japan and constructions/revelations of sexuality.
  • I am not assuming that Japanese consider, construct, or perform sexuality exactly as Americans do.
  • I am not assuming the presence of a queer “identity” in Japan, though I do believe that for some, this is actually a reality.
  • I am not using queer to reference hurtful or negative connotations, but rather, I am following Barbara Summerhawk and Judith Halberstam’s lead and learning from modern, academic queer theory that the word “queer” can reference any non-heteronormative expression, sexual or otherwise.
  • I am not attempting to continue imperialist, colonialist or hegemonic practices when it comes to the imposition of one language or culture over another. Rather, I’m curious about the ramifications of such phenomenon on human sexuality.
  • I am not a “straight-hater”, but I am omitting major discussions of heterosexuality in order to narrowly focus on a specific group of people and their social, linguistic, and sexual practices.
  • I am not interested in proving that a group of people all do one thing, or should do one thing, rather, I am trying to show how sociolinguistic practices, and ideas about specific sociocultural communities influence varieties of human behavior, especially around sexualities. As such, the results of this research will not be immediately generalizable to an entire population, but rather will illustrate how specific individuals are affected by linguistic practices and exposure.

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Discovering voices, discovering selves: English language, intercultural communication, and Japanese queer sexualities

A 1928 manuscript in The English Journal declared, “English has become so much a part of the Japanese people in the last 50 years that it has rightly been called the second language of the empire” (Crocker, p. 288). Fast forward to 2005 as Torikai reflects in her analysis of national language policies in Japan:

On the surface, English language seems to dominate the Japanese society at present…To be sure, globalism is the key term in today’s Japan, leading the people toward a global society where English as a global language is a prerequisite – hence the emphasis on English language education. (p. 253)

As English has been such a strong presence in Japan over the last hundred years, it should be possible to investigate the social significance of its usage in various settings such as specific geographic regions or communities of practice. For example, Jackie Hogan’s 2003 study, “The Social Significance of English Usage in Japan,” does just this by focusing on the uses of English loanwords in a specific, rural community in Northern Japan. Hogan explains, “A key argument of this paper is that lexical choices are shaped by both macro- and micro-level social conditions. Thus different patterns of English-derived vocabulary use would be expected under different social conditions” (p. 56). The purpose then of this research is to examine the semiotic acts (how and what types of language are used) and spaces (situations and locations) where English language use exists within specific communities of practice – in this case, Japanese queer communities – and the social conditions (e.g. climates of hostility/acceptance towards queer sexuality) that encourage such use. The word “queer” is being used here to include any form of sexuality (desire or expression) that is not a hetero-sexuality (Cameron & Kulick, 2003; Curran, 2006; Kopelson, 2002; Nelson, 1999).

The following proposed research comes about as a result of this writer’s four–year experience living and teaching in Western Japan and the relationships formed with self-identified, queer, Japanese individuals. For example, English-language interactions with such individuals have included statements (spoken in English) from Japanese such as “I’m gay in English, but not in Japanese,” and “Only my English-speaking friends know I am a lesbian,” statements that reflect the attitudes and beliefs about identity construction within these two linguistic communities (English and Japanese), and how the uses of English allow both access to other communities (real or imagined) and expressions of identity. Such phenomena, with regard to the uses of English language, may be a reflection of the aforementioned prevalence of English-language education, offering insight into a) what other ideas/concepts are transmitted through such teaching (Gee, 1994), and b) the larger influence of English-language culture present in Japan. For example, a Japanese youth of the early 21st century may be exposed to English language education in all of the following spaces/modes: the school system, at a private cram school for university preparation, at a private English conversation school, with a private tutor, and through television or radio. Additionally, the prevalence of English language and cultural ideology in Japan has been well-documented as noted above, but little literature exists that addresses how the global spread of English affects how specific communities of practice such as the Japanese queer community, use, or don’t use English or intercultural interactions to construct identities, and specifically what types of language are used and in which spaces.


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