A New French-based Register? Analysis of Commercial Naming in Public Urban Space in Japan

Author: Kida Tsuyoshi (Dokkyo University, Japan)
Speaker: Kida Tsuyoshi
Topic: Language Contact and Change
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2020 General Session


This paper will focus on the influence of French language on naming of shops, stores, restaurants, commercial products which can be found in public urban space in Japan. Contemporary urban space implies linguistic transcriptions, which designate names of shops or products on their storefronts and packages in constituting “text” of urban space or linguistic landscape (e.g. Backhaus 2007, Shohamy et al. 2009, Blommaert 2013). As Barthes (1970) observed, Japanese modern life is a remarkable source generating a multiplicity of signs but these years of globalization, the scope of such a process gives rise to the massive presence of foreign languages in public space, especially French in Japan. Data collection was done by fieldwork in urban areas for more than a couple years, method used in urban anthropology. Then linguistic as well as extralinguitic features (reading, spelling, meaning, content of object, identity senders of message and potential receivers, mostly passive ones, etc.) were analyzed. The paper will show both: general findings, which can be observed also in other countries and some specific to Japanese society and language (e.g. word coinages, affection of Japanese words, a primary form of creolization). The analyze was completed by questionnaires on selected data, submitted to Japanese residents and French speakers living in Japan who were asked about knowledge of meaning, pronunciation, impression. As Blommaert (2013) pointed out, native speakers of French often recognize connotation gap between used words and types of shop, but Japanese speakers often have positive feelings, e.g. “elegant” or “cute” towards French, even without knowing meaning and pronunciation. This suggests that French is becoming a specific register in which people have started to assimilate its formal part, in enriching their lexicon with French words used with a certain epilinguistic dimension in public space. Motivation and identity of people behind such a process will be also discussed in the paper.


Backhaus, P. (2007). Linguistic landscapes: A comparative study of urban multilingualism in Tokyo. Clevedon: Multilingualism Matters.

Shohamy E. & D. Gorter (eds.), Linguistic landscape: Expanding the scenery. NY-London: Routledge.
Barthes, R. (1970). L’Empire des signes, Paris: Skira.
Blommaert, J. (2010). The sociolinguistics of globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Blommaert, J. (2013). Ethnography, superdiversity and linguistic landscapes. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Keywords: Public space, Urban Anthropology, Marketing Semiotics, French, Japan, Language Contact