Language imperialism

Japanese language imperialism in Korea
Japanese linguistic imperialism in Korea
Ⅰ Introduction
Much has already been said about English Imperialism. English is
known as the world language. Is English the only a powerful language in
the world? The answer might be “no”. French and Spanish also have
worldwide reputation as major languages, which are used in many countries
as a national language or studied as a second or third foreign language
nowadays. Behind the dominance of each of these languages, there was a
colonized history, similar to Japan’s colonial policy in Korea, which is one of
the harsh stories during the war-era in a first half of 20th century.
The relationship between Korea and Japan has been getting closer
since establish a diplomatic relations. On one hand, as a host countries of
the Soccer World Cup 2002, we have very deep interest with each other for
cultural and as for the future partnership. On the other hand, we still have
some problems to solve; such as the “textbook guidelines”, which keep alive
cruel memories of Japanese colonial exploitation for Koreans.
In recent years, with the growth of the economy, a number of
Japanese language imperialism in Korea
Japanese language learners are increasing in the world including South
Korea. Japanese is studied as a second popular foreign language at school
(English is the first foreign language). However, some Koreans still have
trauma using Japanese, because Japanese was a national language in
Korea before the war, besides their national language “Korean” (they might
say that was an “official” language). This is an unavoidable truth that shows
there is a linguistic imperialism between the countries and also shows the
shade of tragic history: Japan as a colonial country and Korea as a colonized
First this paper discusses the historical aspect of the Japan’s
colonial policy mainly in the colonial rule. Then it will consider the recent
examples of Japanese language study for language students in Korea.
Ⅱ Japanese language education in Korea
The history of Japanese language education in Korea is not long
compared with that of English and other foreign languages. Interestingly,
the real meaning of the word ‘Japanese’ has changed for Koreans along with
their experience. Nin, a vice-professor of Chuo University, defines five
periods to describe Japanese influence from political, cultural and
economical perspectives.
① Before 1905: Japanese as a foreign language
② 1906-1910: Japanese as a second official language
③ 1910-1945: Japanese as a national language
Japanese language imperialism in Korea
④ 1945-1960: Japanese eradication
⑤ 1960- now: (again) Japanese as a second language
The first period started from 1891. Japanese was used as a foreign
language for commerce. The national Japanese school was built in Seoul. At
that time only a few people studied Japanese. Before that there were
relations between the countries, but there were no language schools. The
establishment of this national school meant the starting of the Japanese
language education.
From 1906 to 1910, Japanese was used as a second official language.
The treaty of annexation shocked Korean citizens. The Japanese
Resident-General was set up in Seoul. The Resident-Government started
the exemplary education at some schools, which was the beginning of
linguistic imperialism. After the Japanese Resident-General seize Korean
rule, the citizens joined the nationwide resistance movement.
In the third period, Japanese colonial rule made a national language
of Japanese in Korea. The government banned Korean language newspapers
and magazines. Koreans were forbidden to speak Korean, forcing the
students to speak Japanese only in schools and even at home. Students who
were found speaking Korean were severely caned or expelled from schools.
Some members of the Korean Linguistic Society were arrested and put in
prison in efforts to discourage Koreans from studying the Korean language.
In the third period, this was a time of prosperity for Japan and a
tough time for Korea. From 1910 to 1945 Korea was under the Japanese
colonial policy.
During the colonial period, and particularly during World WarⅡ, the
Japanese language imperialism in Korea
Japanese initiated assimilation policies designed to turn Koreans into
obedient subjects of the Japanese emperor. Hatada (1983.p128) gave some
details of the rule:
---Under the slogan “Naisen Ittai” (Japan Korea as One),
newspapers and magazines published in the Korean language were
closed, the Korean Language Society was disbanded, and Korean
writers were forced to publish only in Japanese. Students who spoke
Korean in school were punished. There was pressure to speak
Japanese at home, adopt Japanese family and given names, and
worship at Shinto shrines, the religious basis for which had been
transplanted from the home islands. Korean Christians who refused
to show reverence to the emperor as a divinity were imprisoned or
Differing from Japanese, a vast member of people in Korea believed in
Confucianism. In the teaching of Confucius, changing one’s family name is a
big affair, as we can see in examples of marriage. But Koreans had to
change to Japanese names to manage to ward off the prejudice from the
government. What the Japanese government had done for them was just
distress the people. In the words of historian Ki-baik Lee(see URL ⑤ )
“Japan’s aim was to eradicate consciousness of Korean national identity,
roots and all, and thus to obliterate the very existence of the Korean people
from the face of the earth.”
Some of the older Koreans who were educated in Japanese in their
youth have a Japanized mentality. The people over 60 count or make
calculations in Japanese. When they write a sentence in Korean, they make
it in Japanese first then translate in their language. Even still they are able
Japanese language imperialism in Korea
to speak Japanese, though they have problems in pronunciation. Some of
the people, nowadays, sing Japanese military songs at Karaoke. This is now
very popular activity in the country, longing for the days that they were
under the control and missing the Japanese people they had met at that
From 1945 was a time of Japanese eradication. As soon as the war
ended Japan evacuated from Korea. The people stopped using Japanese and
brought the original language “Korean” back to their life.
Since 1961, Japanese has been taught as a second foreign language.
In the same year, the Korea Foreign Language University established a
Japanese department. In the begging of the 70’s, high schools started
teaching Japanese as a second foreign language as well.
Ⅲ Japanese in Contemporary Korea (South Korea)1
From a historical perspective the Japanese is a one of memorable
languages for Koreans. However, the number of the Japanese learners in
Korea is now higher than for French or Spanish.
Popular Foreign Language
English Japanese French C hinese G erm an R ussian Korean
see footnote2 2
The table above, titled Popular Foreign Language, describes the popular
1 After the world warⅡ, the Korean Peninsular was divided into north and south. North is supported by Russia
and the South is supported by the United States. Japan has diplomatic relations only with South Korea. Therefore,
from this point, “Korea” means South Korea: the Republic of Korea.
source: URL②
Japanese language imperialism in Korea
foreign languages which rose in respondents mind in regard to the question:
which language do you imagine as a foreign language? The respondents are
students in both Korean and Japanese.
Japanese students easily imagined the European languages but
Korean student imagined the Japanese as second most popular language
besides English. The table also shows that only 0.8% of Japanese people
thought of the Korean language.
About 40 percent of people in Korea have learned or studied
Japanese according to Nin(URL②). Most of them judge that they are able to
speak Japanese easily, and Japanese is one of the simplest foreign
languages for most learners, because of the similarity of the grammar,
vocabulary and the use of Chinese characters. 75 percent of schools have a
Japanese language curriculum.
Friendly interest in South Korea is growing among the Japanese
public. Despite the old prejudices, large numbers of young Japanese and
Koreans visit each others’ countries on school and college excursions. And in
fact, although there are feelings of hostility and competition with Japan
among Koreans, they also have genuine admiration for Japan’s economic,
technological and social achievements.
What made Koreans so friendly to Japanese language is a racial
consciousness. Although this was not obvious until after the event, Korean
nationalism got stronger experiencing the history with Japan. Now Japan is
on a new start line to get to know more about the facts at dominated country
Japanese language imperialism in Korea
YAMABE Kentaro, “Korea: under the Japanese Colonial Rule”,
(Iwanami Books,1971)
WATANABE Manabu, “History of Contemporary Korea”,
(Keiso Shobo, 1968)
HATADA Takai, “Korean and Japanese”
Japanese language imperialism in Korea
(Keiso Shobo, 1983)
25/10/01 access
Annexation of Japan and Korea
19/10/01 access
LJRC Chuo University open lecture meeting
Japanese for Korean
presented by Eitetsu NIN vice-professor of Chuo university
25/10/01 access
Korea and Japan