The cultures and politics of language in Japan today
Language in any society carries, and cannot be viewed in isolation from, a considerable freight of historical, political, cultural, and social signifi cance. Language often plays an important role in historical and social change and is of course integral to ongoing social processes of all kinds. By its very nature, a language ideology, defi ned by Irvine as a “cultural (or subcultural) system of ideas about social and linguistic relationships, together with their loading of moral and political interests” (Irvine 1989 : 255), permeates all facets of a society’s undertakings. This is certainly true of Japan, where a well-defi ned, well-documented, and very specifi c language ideology operates and is now under challenge from several quarters. In investigating language in Japan today, therefore, it is important to consider it in the context of major social developments.