Foreigner Talk or Foreignness: The Language of Westerners in Japanese Fiction

  • Erik OskarssonEmail author


The present study seeks, using a corpus of eight Japanese works of fiction, to identify if the speech patterns of Westerners in Japanese literature are related to the simplified register referred to as “foreigner talk,” i.e., the register used when addressing non-native speakers with low linguistic competence, and also if foreigner talk is commonly used in Japanese literature for addressing non-native speakers. It was found that, although all of the works somehow marked the nationality of the characters linguistically, for example by the use of foreign words – i.e., markers of “foreignness,” the language of the Westerners was rarely portrayed as “simplified.” When the language was depicted as simpler than that of the Japanese characters, the characters speaking were in most cases of minor importance to the story. In all of the works, however, the relative simplicity should be regarded as a tendency. Furthermore, there are works featuring Japanese characters using a simplified register when addressing foreigners, especially in first encounters between native speakers and foreigners.

The characteristics of simplified speech reported were in most cases of syntactic nature (like short sentences and repetitions for facilitating comprehension), while for example morphological simplifications rarely occurred. However, the differences from standard Japanese were not frequent enough to be called conventionalized.


Japanese language foreigner talk role language yakuwarigo simplified registers Kinsui Ferguson 



I am greatly indebted to Lars Larm, Arthur Holmer and Axel Svahn at Centre for Languages and Literature at Lund University for valuable guidance and discussions. I also gratefully acknowledge Elisabeth Rausing’s Memorial Fund for supporting the participation at the NAJAKS conference. Lastly, I would like to thank for the questions and the feedback given on this paper at the NAJAKS conference, as well as those given by the reviewer of this paper.



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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lund UniversityLundSweden

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