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Kawabata, Takako (2023) Use of English on Japanese commercial signage. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This study investigates the use of English on commercial signs in Japanese Linguistic Landscapes (LL) and examines people’s perceptions toward the usage to find out whether written English in Japan has widely used and has specific features to be classified as a variety of World Englishes (WE). Previous studies on WE claim that English has spread worldwide due to globalisation and new varieties of English have emerged in various parts of the world. Research on LL argues that English is widely used in Japanese cityscape and it is the dominant foreign language Japanese people are exposed to. Although English is extensively used for commercial purposes in Japan, how it is used and what people think about the usage have not yet analysed in details. This research aims to answer three research questions: (1) ‘To what extent is English used on commercial signs in Japan?’; (2) ‘What are the linguistic features of the English on Japanese commercial signs?’; and (3) ‘What are people’s perceptions toward the use of English on commercial signs?’. To examine scales, forms, and functions of English on commercial signage in the Japanese LL, this study analyses linguistic and sociolinguistic features of written English in Japan using quantitative and qualitative methods. To discover to what extent and how English was used on commercial signs in Japan, written text data was collected by observing and recording commercial signs in six research sites. To understand people’s perceptions, online survey was conducted among people living in and outside the research region. The quantitative data was measured statistically, and the qualitative data was examined through the use of thematic and content analyses. The study found that although Japanese commercial signs used English extensively, English was not equally used at all research areas or by all business types. Fashion-related businesses and restaurants displayed more signs containing English compared to other industries. The usage was limited to words and phrases which were mainly used as proper nouns. There were no particular features that could be classified as Japanese English, except some direct translations from Japanese, code-mixing and trans-scriptism practices. This relates to the globalisation of business, and English in Japan is the outcome of glocalisation. Japanese people’s perceptions toward English usage revealed a complex state of mind which simultaneously embraced and resisted English in their language culture. The survey participants did not consider the forms of English that are used on Japanese commercial signs as established varieties of English. Instead, they regarded English usages as errors or decorations. This result indicates that the written English that is used for commercial purposes is not yet developed enough to be called ‘Japanese English’ and treated as a variety of WE. Instead, it should be identified as ‘distinctively Japanese use of English’. This study argues that the widespread use of English for commercial purposes in Japanese cityscapes is the outcome of McDonaldization and glocalisation as well as of globalisation. The study adopts a new perspective on WE and proposes the term ‘McWords’ to explain the use of English for commercial purposes as a by-product of the current global situation.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Julia Sallabank
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 19 Jul 2023 10:13

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