Aidan Pine and Mark Turin
The world is home to an extraordinary level of linguistic diversity, with roughly 7,000 languages currently spoken and signed. Yet this diversity is highly unstable and is being rapidly eroded through a series of complex and interrelated processes that result in or lead to language loss. The combination of monolingualism and networks of global trade languages that are increasingly technologized have led to over half of the world’s population speaking one of only 13 languages. Such linguistic homogenization leaves in its wake a linguistic landscape that is increasingly endangered.
A wide range of factors contribute to language loss and attrition. While some—such as natural disasters—are unique to particular language communities and specific geographical regions, many have similar origins and are common across endangered language communities around the globe. The harmful legacy of colonization and the enduring impact of disenfranchising policies relating to Indigenous and minority languages are at the heart of language attrition from New Zealand to Hawai’i, and from Canada to Nepal.
Language loss does not occur in isolation, nor is it inevitable or in any way “natural.” The process also has wide-ranging social and economic repercussions for the language communities in question. Language is so heavily intertwined with cultural knowledge and political identity that speech forms often serve as meaningful indicators of a community’s vitality and social well-being. More than ever before, there are vigorous and collaborative efforts underway to reverse the trend of language loss and to reclaim and revitalize endangered languages. Such approaches vary significantly, from making use of digital technologies in order to engage individual and younger learners to community-oriented language nests and immersion programs. Drawing on diverse techniques and communities, the question of measuring the success of language revitalization programs has driven research forward in the areas of statistical assessments of linguistic diversity, endangerment, and vulnerability. Current efforts are re-evaluating the established triad of documentation-conservation-revitalization in favor of more unified, holistic, and community-led approaches.
Empirical and theoretical research on language has recently experienced a period of extensive growth. Unfortunately, however, in the case of the Japanese language, far fewer studies—particularly those written in English—have been presented on adult second language (L2) learners and bilingual children. As the field develops, it is increasingly important to integrate theoretical concepts and empirical research findings in second language acquisition (SLA) of Japanese, so that the concepts and research can be eventually applied to educational practice. This article attempts to: (a) address at least some of the gaps currently existing in the literature, (b) deal with important topics to the extent possible, and (c) discuss various problems with regard to adult learners of Japanese as an L2 and English–Japanese bilingual children. Specifically, the article first examines the characteristics of the Japanese language. Tracing the history of SLA studies, this article then deliberately touches on a wide spectrum of domains of linguistic knowledge (e.g., phonology and phonetics, morphology, lexicon, semantics, syntax, discourse), context of language use (e.g., interactive conversation, narrative), research orientations (e.g., formal linguistics, psycholinguistics, social psychology, sociolinguistics), and age groups (e.g., children, adults). Finally, by connecting past SLA research findings in English and recent/present concerns in Japanese as SLA with a focus on the past 10 years including corpus linguistics, this article provides the reader with an overview of the field of Japanese linguistics and its critical issues.