A Multifaceted Study of Language Problems in Multilingual and Multicultural Japan

Project Leader
ASAHI Yoshiyuki (Professor, NINJAL)
Project Period
April 2022 -


Background and Purpose

In recent years, we have witnessed a number of social changes connected to an increase in transnational and transregional movements that have diversified the social structure in Japan. According to the statistics on foreign residents in Japan by the Ministry of Justice, an estimated 3,650,000 foreigners were living in Japan in December 2019. This figure constitutes 3% of the entire population of Japan. Similarly, the advancement of telecommunication technology and devices such as emails, social media, and SNS has had a deep impact on our lives. Furthermore, the reassessment of ethnic/gender minorities together with persons with disabilities has promoted the diversification of society.

These social changes also complicate language problems, as they do not simply encompass loanwords and honorifics. The trend also includes social media communication, bilingual children, LGBT, persons with disabilities, and technical intern trainees. These problems must be recognized and research conducted to seek solutions. Language problem research is designed for interdisciplinary approaches; linguistics establishes collaboration with sociology, cultural anthropology, history, Japanese language education, and behavioral mathematics.

This project investigates language problems in a multilingual and multicultural society by conducting social surveys of both specialists and non-specialists. The surveys focus on language problems (such as language choice, technical terms, loanwords, and literacy) in the areas of administration and medicine/welfare, both of which are indispensable for our language life. By doing so, this project conducts empirical studies to solve language problems.

Objectives and Methods

A number of projects concerning language problems, especially in the areas of administration and medicine/welfare such as “Loanword Paraphrase Proposal” and “Language in Hospitals” have been conducted by NINJAL. Likewise, a group of Japanese linguists proposed a “plain Japanese” project to help respond to large-scale natural disasters. These projects are rooted in “national language problems and national language policy” and “Japanese language problems and Japanese language policy,” respectively. These projects are not able to provide a comprehensive coverage of the topics that constitute the language problems of multilingual and multicultural Japan.

This project aims first to reevaluate language life studies by NINJAL by first focusing on “national language from a Japanese perspective” and then conducting social surveys to capture language problems in the areas of administration and medicine/welfare. Real-time studies in this project will assess previous studies so as to contribute to a better understanding of language problems.

This project comprises three groups: the “specialist survey group” focuses on specialists (e.g., administrators, doctors/nurses); the “language life survey group” investigates language problems of Japanese, foreigners, and signers; and the “management group” initiates, plans, and organizes surveys, meetings, and symposia for the project.

The “specialist survey group” will conduct social surveys mainly through social survey companies. The survey data and its preliminary results will be made publicly available. We also plan to organize conferences based on the survey data, which will be available in Japanese and English, together with the languages of the surveys.

The “Language life survey group” will carry out qualitative and empirical studies to render a detailed description of issues in language communication. In this phase, the project will promote an interdisciplinary approach that includes Japanese linguistics, sociolinguistics, cultural anthropology, and behavioral mathematics.

This project will also collaborate with NIHU projects such as “Japan-Related Materials Overseas” and “Creating for Universal Communication.”

Language problems

Project Members

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