|RANT "N" RAVE|
Illustration by Marco
After reading his rant
regarding so-called language snobs (issue 370), I was left wondering why Brian O'Neill
felt the urge to spew such pabulum. The argument that he and other proponents of this
"language snob" school put forth is one rooted in nihonjinron (theories of
"Japaneseness") and insecurity.
These individuals make their decisions about who is and who is not fit to speak proficient
Japanese based solely on outward appearances. Mr O'Neill would not bat an eye if the
Japanese-speaking foreigner in question were Chinese or Korean, but if the fluent
foreigner does not have what many like to think of as Asian features, suddenly
"George" is an arrogant snob. Thus, the "fluent foreigner as language
snob" argument is clearly a racist one.
Mr O'Neill's next swipe is at bilingual families. Heaven forbid someone come to Japan and
fall in love with one of the natives. Mr O'Neill is incensed to see a parent and his
children communicating in two languages. This argument drips with hypocrisy. In the
English-speaking western nations people crow about celebrating diversity. In countries
like the United States or Canada, a bilingual family would be praised for preserving its
cultural heritage. Apparently, such a family is unacceptable this side of the
International Date Line.
What would Mr O'Neill have foreign residents of Japan do? Should everyone living in this
country who does not hold a Japanese passport, the majority of whom are people who were
born here and speak Japanese natively, refuse to speak Japanese? Mr O'Neill's comments are
reminiscent of broadcaster Kume Hiroshi's remark, "It's better if gaijin speak broken
Mr O'Neill can give no sound argument as to why a non-Japanese who speaks the language
deserves reproach; he can only give us regurgitated nihonjinron, "Japanese is for the
Japanese only and who do you think you are to speak it well, gaijin?" Speaking the
language is an essential part of living in a society. To come to any country and refuse to
adopt its language is at least rude. Hats off to those with foreign passports who are
proficient in Japanese, whether it be because Japanese is their native tongue or simply
due to years of diligent study.
Those who would reproach others because of their advanced Japanese skills expose far more
of themselves than those they disdain. The ad hominem vitriol of those who bandy about
terms like "language snob" reveal nothing more than the depths of insecurity
they have about their own abilities. I hope that one day Mr O'Neill's Japanese proficiency
will reach the point where he can go to 7-Eleven by himself.
Many thanks to Kevin Gowen and Mie Matsusaka for this Rant.