Partizipative Projekte aus dem Bereich der Japanologie

16. January 2023 von David Miladinovic

Do you speak Japanese? – Role language in manga and anime

Many characters in anime and manga have their own way of talking, which is very different from the everyday language of the Japanese. At the same time, there is an unspoken understanding among native speakers that these speech styles provide information about a character’s traits. Therefore, these speech styles are grouped together under the term ‘role language’. For a long time, there has been no research on these styles in Japan, which makes it all the more interesting to take a closer look at them.

Today, the first contact with the Japanese language is, for many, popular productions such as manga and anime. Often, people who set out to learn Japanese notice after a short time that the language in the media they consume differs greatly from the textbook Japanese.

The reason for the somewhat strong differences lies in the concept of ‘role language’, which summarizes styles of speech that allow clear associations with characteristics of a manga or anime character. There are some prototypical language styles that are for example perceived as ‘typically male’ or ‘typically female’. Based on this, more differentiated language styles can also provide information about the social status or age of a character in addition to gender. At the same time, certain external characteristics can be used to make statements about how a character is most likely to speak. However, the unspoken understanding of role language among native speakers who consume manga and anime themselves is not taken out of the air. Most of the concepts on which it is built are variations and borrowings from historical styles of speech.

This is not to say, that role-playing language is ‘merely’ a collection of historical linguistic styles. Rather, it is an artificial and artful evolution of these linguistic styles. Since most native speakers of Japanese have no understanding of the concept of role language, but only know that no one, in reality, speaks like this, role language is given far too little attention in most teaching environments, if it is mentioned at all. Knowing about it, however, is another important contribution to a better understanding of Japanese pop culture.

The article provides a summary of the historical development of role language. It aims to use multimedia content to introduce the concept of role language to learners of Japanese in particular and explain it in an easy-to-understand way.

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