Language, culture and ethnicity : interplay of ideologies within a Japanese community in Brazil



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This dissertation is a sociolinguistic study of the ideologies about language, culture and ethnicity among Japanese immigrants and descendants in Brazil (hereafter, Nikkeis) who gather at a local Japanese cultural association, searching for what it means to be “Japanese” in Brazil. This study focuses on how linguistic behaviors are ideologically understood and associated with cultural activities and ethnic identities. Using the language ideologies framework, it seeks to describe the ways in which Nikkeis negotiate and create social meanings of language in both local and transnational contexts. Nikkeis are an overwhelmingly celebrated minority group in Brazil. In this context, the cultural association serves as a site where symbolic cultural differences are constructed by those Nikkeis who strive to identify themselves as a prestigious minority. This study demonstrates that the Japanese language is one of the important resources in performing the Nikkei identity. At the same time, due to an on-going language shift, Portuguese as a means of communication is becoming increasingly more important for cultural transmission. Thus, the members of the association, which include both Japanese monolinguals and Portuguese monolinguals, are in constant negotiation, trying to strike a balance between symbolic values of Japanese, pragmatic values of Portuguese, as well as their own language competencies. The goal of this project is to answer the following three research questions: 1) What social meanings do Nikkeis assign to Japanese and Portuguese, and how does this perception affect Nikkeis’ identity formation? 2) What are the characteristics of linguistic practices in the association and how do the speakers use available linguistic resources to construct identities? 3) How can this study inform us about the transforming reality of the Japanese Brazilian community in this global age? Contributions of this study include furthering of the sociolinguistic research on language ideologies, linguistic practices and identity construction in an immigrant community. It also contributes to the study of language shift, by underscoring the role of language ideologies in rationalizing language choices. This project is also significant for the study of Japanese diaspora in Latin America, providing the first sociolinguistic investigation of a Japanese cultural association in Brazil.