The language of Keitai-mail: the sociolinguistics of Japanese mobile e-mail

Sakai, Noboru (2011). The language of Keitai-mail: the sociolinguistics of Japanese mobile e-mail PhD Thesis, School of Languages and Comp Cultural Studies, The University of Queensland. doi:10.14264/uql.2016.690

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Author Sakai, Noboru
Thesis Title The language of Keitai-mail: the sociolinguistics of Japanese mobile e-mail
Formatted title
The language of Keitai-mail: the sociolinguistics of Japanese mobile e-mail
School, Centre or Institute School of Languages and Comp Cultural Studies
Institution The University of Queensland
DOI 10.14264/uql.2016.690
Publication date 2011-12
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Nanette Gottlieb
Yuriko Nagata
Michael Harrington
Total pages 314
Total colour pages 20
Total black and white pages 294
Language eng
Subjects 200312 Japanese Language
200405 Language in Culture and Society (Sociolinguistics)
200102 Communication Technology and Digital Media Studies
Formatted abstract

Keitai-mail, e-mails exchanged through mobile phones, have become a major communication tool in Japanese daily life. In order to elucidate this aspect of the language and literacy practices of today’s rapidly advancing information technology era, this study explores Japanese Keitai-mail practice among young people (prior to the smart-phone generation) and is the first study to analyse a very large data corpus of raw Keitai-mail texts.

As a significant aspect of language and literacy practice for Japanese young people, Japanese Keitai-mail have received increasing attention not only from scholars in linguistics (e.g., Miyake, 2007; Kimura, 2002; Miyamoto & Kotera, 2004) but also from government institutions involved in promotion of the national language (e.g., the Agency for Cultural Affairs (Bunkachō)). Their studies can be summarised as showing that Keitai-mail feature influences of 1) the technology itself, i.e., the specifications or physical properties of the communication medium (e.g., Sasahara, 2002; Sasaki & Ishikawa, 2006); 2) the conscious and unconscious motivations of Keitai-mail users in their Keitai-mail communication (e.g., Sugitani, 2007; Tomari, 2004; Uchida, 2004), and 3) language use and creation by young people themselves found in areas not limited to Keitai-mail (e.g., Horasawa, 2000; Kuwamoto, 2000; Senuma, 2005). The present study thus focuses on these three aspects as its baseline of investigation, using both qualitative and quantitative methods to analyse its data corpus. For the former, certain criteria from conversation analysis and discourse analysis (Fairclough’s 2003 criteria) are applied.

The study investigates 43,295 Keitai-mail exchanged for the purpose of personal communication by 60 young people aged 18 to 30 who are familiar with Keitai-mail practices. The 1-to-1 ratio of male and female, the participants‟ domiciles in several big Japanese cities (e.g., Tokyo, Osaka), the wider spread of their places of origin and the distribution of their ages (Mean age=24.1) characterise the group of participants as a fairly randomised sample which reveals the general trend of language practice among young Japanese people.

In terms of styles, the Keitai-mail analysed consist on average of approximately 40 moji (symbols) including 3 emoticons per message, showing that composition is short but not overly abrupt – generally Keitai-mail do not finish in the middle of a sentence. Non-standard textual elements, language plays (LP) such as emoticons, long vowel symbols, irregular use of small moji, and non-standard use of each type of script (e.g., use of Katakana instead of Kanji) are found to be governed by the conventions of Standard Japanese and are not totally random occurrences. In addition, LP are applied in a limited manner with a certain level of systematicity in order not to interfere with communication with interlocutors. In other words, people create Keitai-mail in such a way as not to violate the interlocutor’s expectation of messages (which should follow the rule of adjacency pairs) in order to maintain mutual intelligibility.  

The topics (or genres) exchanged are generally to do with quotidian matters: events taking place within a short timeframe, information about themselves and what they know, and their opinions. In addition, question-and-answer exchanges are a major part of Keitai-mail. These results give clear support for the perception of Keitai-mail (or general social events exchanged by Keitai-mail) as a casual daily means of communication. Co-occurrences of genres exhibit outside influences on communication from Japanese culture and communication norms. Most Keitai-mail include emoticons as extra-textual emotional indicators, but people use only a limited set of emoticons in their exchanges.

In terms of specifications, the data show that the influence of the nature of Keitai communication as an anywhere-anytime electronic-based medium is more significant than that of the input platform itself. Senders are no longer ruled by the old restrictions of text creation but rather by the norms entailed in Keitai-mail communication: Keitai-mail should be responded to immediately but should also be a complete sentence or message. In addition, the nature of computer mediated communication (CMC) affects how people feel about messages received in this manner compared with paper-based letters. People do not simply utilise Keitai-mail as a successor to other media: rather, they use both Keitai-mail and letters as two different means of achieving their communication goals.

As for inter-group differences, Keitai-mail are found to be used differently by different age and gender groups. Women create longer texts with more emoticons and non-standard usage of language than men do. At the same time, they also change their styles of composition based on the interlocutors‟ gender. These differences suggest that code-switching is actively applied in Keitai-mail communication. Other differences found among different gender and age groups relate to what kind of topics they mainly discuss in Keitai-mail: the topics which they generally choose or which are even unconsciously chosen are reflections of their lifestyle.

These findings characterise Keitai-mail as a context-based literacy practice, in which people actively devise techniques to maximise the effectiveness of communication.

Keyword Japanese
Computer Mediated Communication (CMC)
Mobile phone email
Cell phone email
Electronic media

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Created: Mon, 21 May 2012, 13:34:51 EST by Mr Noboru Sakai on behalf of Library - Information Access Service