Fitting in or Standing out? a Conflict of Belonging and Identity in Intercultural Polite Talk at Work

Fitting in or Standing out? a Conflict of Belonging and Identity in Intercultural Polite Talk at... This study analyzes how American interns in Japanese companies use Japanese addressee honorifics to assimilate to new cultural and professional settings. Data are drawn from recorded interactions of interns’ regular work activities and are supplemented with follow-up interviews. The analysis uses Interactional Sociolinguistics to link micro-level discursive practices revealed in records of interaction to macro-level ideologies revealed in interviews. Results suggest that interns use honorifics to conform to ideological beliefs regarding politeness and formality in Japanese companies. However, the analysis also reveals that such attempts to establish social belonging may become the very means by which an intern’s foreign or outsider position is brought to the foreground. This happens as (i) overgeneralized ideologies lead to unnatural use of honorifics, (ii) appropriate use of honorifics triggers an ‘other-ing’ response from interlocutors, and (iii) interns use honorifics ironically to resist marginalization. This research contributes to an understanding of how foreigners establishing belonging in international workplaces, contending that belonging emerges in gradients, assimilation does not require ‘native-like’ speech, and attempts at conformity may be counterproductive. INTRODUCTION Establishing a sense of belonging is at the heart of relationship building in intercultural encounters (Lee 2015). This is especially true of workplaces where belonging entails access to resources necessary for learning and doing important job functions; when language and cultural barriers impede full participation, opportunities for productive communication and the development of professional skills are restricted (Tange and Lauring 2009; Marra 2012). In this study, I examine how American student interns in Japan use Japanese addressee-oriented honorifics in attempts to ‘fit in’ with their Japanese co-workers. By revealing a situation in which using a second language in ideologically ‘native-like’ ways might be counterproductive, this study sheds light on the nuances of what it means for foreign workers to establish belonging with their colleagues. Certainly, relationship building across cultures involves a myriad of complex, interconnected social and linguistic behaviors. The present inquiry, however, considers a single linguistic item, honorific speech style, following a well-established literature demonstrating the key role honorifics play in constructing identities and social positions in Japanese interaction (Cook 2008). Japanese honorifics are grammatically encoded in ways that are quite different than English and are deeply entangled with pervasive social ideologies regarding notions of formality and politeness. This sets up a situation in which English-speaking learners of Japanese attempt to conform to (or sometimes resist) linguistic ideologies to emulate what they believe to be natural language use. However, these attempts may not only result in ostensibly unnatural speech but are also met with responses that reposition the English speakers to the outside. Thus focusing on one ideologically laden resource allows for an in-depth look at how attempts to fit in through linguistic conformity may become the very means by which one stands out. ASSIMILATION IN INTERCULTURAL INTERACTION Cultural assimilation and belonging are complicated, multifaceted ideas. Is it sufficient to act or behave in a way that is approximately native-like? If so, how can native-like behaviors be defined? Or perhaps the goal is social acceptance by peers in the new community, but how can we determine if one has been accepted? These questions reflect an ongoing debate in the social and language sciences. Here, I take belonging to be indicated, at least in part, by identification with local peers or establishing an ‘insider’ identity. Using a social constructionist view which takes identities as dynamically and discursively reproduced in situated, co-constructed interactions (De Fina et al. 2006), this study considers how American interns are presented as insiders or outsiders in Japanese workplaces either intentionally or unintentionally through the use of honorifics. As will be discussed, this sometimes, but not always, involves trying to act like a native. Belonging versus being ‘native-like’ A classic belief among language learners is that to fit in with a target community they must be able to emulate the ideological norms of that culture, that is, become native-like. This is reflected in the preponderance of language and cultural study materials marketed as helping readers to ‘walk and talk like a native speaker’ (Horvat 2000) and also in second-language acquisition work that uses L1 models as a baseline for evaluating L2 performances (see Firth and Wagner 1997 for a discussion). This perspective has merit and an obvious appeal given that seamless interaction with an international community is a valuable skill in the global job market (Bush and Bush 1999). However, as it relates to the notion of belonging, becoming native-like seems to present an oversimplified and even unnecessary goal. If belonging is understood as having access to the social capital necessary to build trust, strengthen relationships, and thus fully participate in a community, then native-likeness is not required. For example, Kurhila (2006) shows that second-language speakers will blame communicative trouble during institutional transactions on their status as a foreign-language speaker, thereby preemptively rejecting claims that the trouble is due to a lack of institutional competence. By doing this at just the right time in the sequential unfolding of a conversation, they show that they know exactly what should be done but simply lack the linguistic resources necessary to do it in a native-like manner, thus orienting to their outsider position to demonstrate insider knowledge (Kurhila 2004; Firth 2009; Kumagai and Sato 2009; Theodórsdóttir 2011; Moody 2014). Belonging and identity among migrants While the strategies—that is, the specific deployment of linguistic resources to accomplish some social or interactional goal—for assimilation are as varied and complex as the individuals who deploy them, researchers have observed several common patterns. First, in response to perceptions of marginalization and discrimination, migrant minorities form their own in-groups to maintain and strengthen their own cultural identities, create solidarity, and resist majority dominance (Roberts 2011; Marra 2012). This might be done, for example, through insider or ethnically related humor (Holmes and Marra 2002; Rogerson-Revell 2007), explicitly referencing professionalism over other ethnic or gender-related identities (Miglbauer 2012), or using code-switching to shift identities and resist other-imposed categories (Higgins 2009). Second, migrants may experience a lack of accommodations and be pressured to assimilate. In this case, some will strategically emphasize their foreignness to resist assimilative pressures as illustrated in the work of Tsuda (2000) who studies Japanese-Brazilian return migrants to Japan. In his study, Brazilians explicitly and intentionally mark themselves as foreigners through their use of language, manner of dress, and other social behaviors, to resist expectations that they understand, behave, and talk like members of the local Japanese community. In this ways, migrants tend to strengthen their outsider identity as a means of building their own community within, and sometimes in resistance to, the local hegemonic one. In contrast, when foreigners are in a community for the explicit purpose of language and cultural learning, some will go to great lengths to fit in by trying to emulate ideological norms of the local community. For example, work on study abroad and homestay programs have shown that learners will overuse honorifics forms (e.g., of address terms or verbal morphemes) in attempts to conform to social norms (Barron 2006; Iwasaki 2010). In recognition of their position as an outsider, they will use prestige forms with everyone to attempt to be appropriately polite, though by so doing they inadvertently strengthen insider–outsider divides and forgo opportunities to build more intimate relationships (Cook 2008). Unlike other migrant groups, these students try to eliminate their outsider identity but may actually end up strengthening it. The case of American interns in Japan The present study involves a situation in which foreign workers have a need to develop the relationships necessary to learn and accomplish work assignments but may be viewed (and view themselves) as temporary students who are not necessarily expected to contribute real-world value to the company. Moreover, given that English and Western cultural practices are often seen as valuable, hegemonic resources in Japanese workplaces (not to mention the global market), as English-speaking Americans, the interns may be further positioned as representatives of internationalism and are thus not expected to assimilate (Seargeant 2011; Moody 2014). However, as they are in Japan to learn the language and culture while participating in an internship, they frequently try to assimilate to appropriate social behaviors. This leads to the conflict illustrated in this study between attempts to establish belonging and how they are actually positioned in the resulting interaction. JAPANESE ADDRESSEE HONORIFICS, POLITENESS, AND BELONGING Though identities are managed using a wide range of resources, those that are ideologically intertwined with notions of politeness are pervasive in building relationships while conforming to social expectations (Locher 2008). This is especially true in Japanese workplaces where even L1 speakers of Japanese are explicitly taught in employee training meetings to use honorifics and formal speech styles as a part of maintaining a professional identity (Dunn 2011). Learners of Japanese are likewise taught that honorifics are essential for building and maintaining relationships (Ishida 2007, 2009; Cook 2008). As such, they become heavily influenced by cultural ideologies and are thus highly salient when examining how learners attempt to establish belonging. Japanese addressee honorifics Honorifics in Japanese fall into two broad categories: addressee honorifics, which relate to the person being talked to, and referent honorifics, which relate to the person being talked about (Harada 1976). The former, which are the focus of this study, are marked by verbal morphology as shown below. (1) No addressee honorific (plain form) mise ni iku store to go.MAS ‘(I) will go to the store.’ (2) Addressee honorific (masu form) mise ni ikimasu store to go ‘(I) will go to the store.’ The base form of a verb without any morphological alternations, shown in (1), is often called ‘plain form’ and foregrounds the propositional content of an utterance (Cook 2002). The addressee honorific morpheme masu (or desu for the copula), shown in (2), is often said to be ‘polite form’. However, it is perhaps better understood as an index of self-presentation which, depending on its occasioning in situated interaction, may contextualize things including, but not limited to, politeness, social relationships, and identities (Cook 1997, 1998). Conformity and creativity The claim that addressee honorifics are polite forms is influenced by the notion of ‘discernment’ put forth by Ide (1989) who equates politeness to the presence of addressee honorifics. She suggests Japanese speakers follow a set of unspoken social rules that state one should be polite—meaning use honorifics—when speaking (i) to someone older, (ii) to someone in a higher social position, (iii) to someone with power, and (iv) in formal situations. Thus these rules reflect important ideologies which are presupposed by their interactional usage. However, addressee honorifics are also creative indexes (Silverstein 1976), which interface with ideologies to discursively construct individual and role-related identities. For example, Cook (1997) shows that mothers use masu when talking to children when performing actions ideologically associated with the role of ‘being a mother’, for example, serving food. She concludes that addressee honorifics primarily index a ‘presentation of public self’ and portray ‘a positive social role to the addressee’ (Cook 2008: 46). Thus addressee honorifics draw on broad social ideologies even as they are used in strategic ways to perform on-stage roles and identities, for example, acting as a parent, teacher, or professional (Yoshida and Sakurai 2005). Both the presupposing and creative uses of addressee honorifics come together in interesting ways in the workplace. Employees in Japanese workplaces are trained to use them according to the rules of discernment, promoting conformity to ideological norms over self-expression as an important component of being a good employee, though Dunn (2011) notes that ‘it is how [employees] choose to implement the forms introduced in the manners training in their moment-to-moment interactions with clients, customers, superiors, and coworkers that individual volition is most likely to come into play’ (p. 3653, emphasis added). That is, while addressee honorifics may be associated with conformity, they must still be occasioned in interaction to manage identities and accomplish interactional goals, drawing on ideological structures as a resources in so doing. Indeed, this can explain cases in which honorifics are used in ironic and sarcastic ways which challenge ideologies or even insult others. Or, by exaggerating honorifics or otherwise being incongruent with the rules of discernment, speakers can use them in ways that are insincere or even humorous (Okamoto 2002). Learners of Japanese and the use of addressee honorifics Students of Japanese as a foreign language typically learn addressee honorifics according to ideological models presented in textbooks which, like new employee training, tend to focus on conformity rather than as tools for expressing individual identities (Haugh 2007). Consequently, learners tend to think of them exclusively as ‘polite forms’, an overgeneralization which leads to their overuse and a lack of sensitivity to their creative power. It also encourages learners to believe they are fitting in by aligning with Japanese norms when they are actually using them in ways that are markedly different (Cook 2001, 2008; Ishida 2007, 2009). In this way, the use of addressee honorifics in attempts to establish belonging may result in the opposite effect. This phenomenon is a concern of the following analysis. THE STUDY The present data come from ethnographically grounded observations of six American student interns separately employed in Japanese companies. Audio recordings of interactions were collected over 1 or 2 days beginning when the intern arrived at work and ending when they went home in the evening. This yielded roughly 50 hours of recorded interactions. Supplemental data include field notes as well as pre- and post-internship interviews. I also draw on my own past experience in a Japanese engineering firm in interpreting some of the data. Participants The internships were conducted as part of an international study program run by a private American university. All participants had completed at least 3 years of Japanese and all but one (Susan) had lived in Japan previously for 1 year or more. Table 1 provides details. Though formal assessment data are not available for all of the students, based on my own observations as well as an examination of their grades in upper-level Japanese classes, I have approximated each student’s Japanese proficiency roughly as intermediate, advanced, or superior. Table 1: Interns Name Age Gender Company Industry Proficiency David 23 Male Taguchi Technologies Engineering Advanced Ethan 22 Male Taguchi Technologies Engineering Advanced Susan 20 Female Nagano News Media Intermediate Joe 24 Male Mochi Co., Ltd. Technology Advanced Mike 23 Male Mochi Co., Ltd. Technology Superior Maya 24 Female Bank of Gifu Banking Advanced Name Age Gender Company Industry Proficiency David 23 Male Taguchi Technologies Engineering Advanced Ethan 22 Male Taguchi Technologies Engineering Advanced Susan 20 Female Nagano News Media Intermediate Joe 24 Male Mochi Co., Ltd. Technology Advanced Mike 23 Male Mochi Co., Ltd. Technology Superior Maya 24 Female Bank of Gifu Banking Advanced Note: Names of interns and companies are pseudonymns. Table 1: Interns Name Age Gender Company Industry Proficiency David 23 Male Taguchi Technologies Engineering Advanced Ethan 22 Male Taguchi Technologies Engineering Advanced Susan 20 Female Nagano News Media Intermediate Joe 24 Male Mochi Co., Ltd. Technology Advanced Mike 23 Male Mochi Co., Ltd. Technology Superior Maya 24 Female Bank of Gifu Banking Advanced Name Age Gender Company Industry Proficiency David 23 Male Taguchi Technologies Engineering Advanced Ethan 22 Male Taguchi Technologies Engineering Advanced Susan 20 Female Nagano News Media Intermediate Joe 24 Male Mochi Co., Ltd. Technology Advanced Mike 23 Male Mochi Co., Ltd. Technology Superior Maya 24 Female Bank of Gifu Banking Advanced Note: Names of interns and companies are pseudonymns. Analysis The analysis uses an Interactional Sociolinguistics framework to link micro-level discursive practices with macro-level contexts and ideologies. This is done by examining what Gumperz (1982) calls ‘contextualization cues’, linguistic devices which signal a ‘contextual presupposition’ or ‘set of propositions taken for granted by the participants’ (Levinson 2002: 33). Here, addressee honorifics are interpreted as cues for contextualizing ideologies and identities. This allows for an examination of how shared sociocultural ideologies regarding addressee honorifics (e.g., the rules of discernment) are occasioned and used by the interns in attempts to creatively manage their identities to fit in with their Japanese colleagues. PATTERNS OF ADDRESSEE HONORIFICS AT WORK Workplace interaction commonly involves asking more knowledgeable peers or supervisors for assistance. The interns and their Japanese colleagues frequently did this using a consistently structured pattern involving three steps: (i) an opening to get the colleague’s attention and announce the purpose of the intrusion, (ii) the content of the actual business transaction, and (iii) a closing with an acknowledgement of resolution and/or expression of gratitude. Given that such encounters involve imposition, asymmetrical distribution of knowledge and power, and the performance of institutional roles and responsibilities, addressee honorifics are often deployed in ways that reflect the shifting relational and transactional work being done in each step. To illustrate, consider the following encounter between two Japanese employees, Miyazaki (a male, young employee) and Hayashi (a male supervisor), at the company where the interns, Ethan and David, both worked. (For clarity, addressee honorifics are indicated with a double underline and plain forms with a dotted underline. Full transcription conventions are provided in supplemental material.) Excerpt 1. Native speakers intruding to ask for help In this example, Miyazaki approaches Hayashi to ask a question. Hayashi is a supervisor of the group in which Miyazaki works; thus, there is a power asymmetry between the two comparable to that between an intern and his or her mentor. In the opening, Miyazaki gets Hayashi’s attention with a vocative and uses masu to announce an imposition (line 1). Plain form then becomes the predominant style during the bulk of the talk which is directly concerned with work-related activities (beginning in lines 3–6). Miyazaki only returns to masu form to acknowledge his understanding and conclude the interaction (line 54). This pattern is typical; as opening and closing involve social considerations, these points in the conversation are primarily concerned with establishing relationships, guiding the interaction, and managing socially important actions. In contrast, work-related talk is concerned with performing a content-oriented transaction. Thus when identities and relationships are at the foreground, masu is used, but when work-related content is the primary focus, plain forms are predominant. Figure 1 summarizes. Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Native speakers’ pattern of addressee honorifics Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Native speakers’ pattern of addressee honorifics INTERNS’ TYPICAL USE OF ADDRESSEE HONORIFICS For learners of Japanese, friction between ideological discernment and creativity in the use of addressee honorifics leads to potential conflicts between discursive portrayals of identity and attempts to establish belonging. As noted, discernment pervades Japanese pedagogy, often framing masu as a formal, polite style to be used with superiors and plain forms as a casual style for informal chat between friends. This may imbue students with the idea that proper behavior in Japanese culture is only possible through conformity to idealistic social rules and, as a result, they may fail to use honorifics strategically to meet more relevant interactional demands. Indeed, in Cook’s (2008) study of American homestay students in Japan, when students use masu to be polite they often fail to style shift and end up speaking unnaturally. This encourages host families to use ‘foreigner talk’, marks the learners as outsiders, and prevents them from being treated as fully contributing participants. All interns in this study linked addressee honorifics to static ideals of politeness and discernment. Even Mike, the most advanced speaker, said, ‘I try to use honorifics ‘cause it’s important to be polite to succeed in a Japanese company’. Similarly, Susan laughed, ‘I use polite form to everyone because I’m just a lowly intern’. Based on interviews, the interns’ common beliefs can be summarized with three points: (i) masu is associated with being polite, (ii) plain forms are associated with friendliness, and (iii) using masu is associated with appropriate talk to senior workers. All of the interns believed that using masu appropriately is critical for properly managing relationships. This leads them to use addressee honorifics to be professional and thus ‘fit in’ to the work environment, but may result in unnatural speech. The following two examples illustrate with the first demonstrating how addressee honorifics perform the role of ‘being a good intern’ and the second demonstrating how this leads to unnatural overuse of addressee honorifics. Excerpt 2. I will send you my schedule Here, Maya uses honorifics to present herself professionally with respect to institutional responsibilities. Following a meeting, Maya, her supervisor Sakamoto, and a Chinese intern stayed behind to chat about her plans to return to America. During this casual talk, everyone used plain forms (e.g., lines 13 and 14) despite the presence of a supervisor. However, in line 15, Maya uses both addressee and referent honorifics in an offer to send Sakamoto a copy of her itinerary, saying o-okuri-shimasu (comparable to ‘I will humbly send it [for your benefit]’). This shift momentarily foregrounds the boss–employee relationship, as Maya presents herself as a ‘good intern’ by taking initiative in sending important information to her boss. This is suggested by the fact that this was the only time during the conversation that she used masu forms. As the addressee honorifics are used in statements that she will perform an important institutional task, they function to perform her work-related role and contextualize institutional identity. However, most interns used masu in ways that seem to conform to static positions rather than shifting them dynamically, resulting in unnaturally marked speech. Excerpt 3. Out of batteries Throughout my observation, Susan almost exclusively used addressee honorifics and spoke slowly and distinctly (e.g., line 24) while her colleague, Akagi, spoke rapidly, playfully, and usually in plain forms (e.g., line 23). (The full transcript is included in the supplemental material.) As mentioned above, Susan claimed to use ‘polite forms’ (meaning masu) with all of her colleagues because she felt her position to be low and unchanging, though the result is unnatural when considering the playful, informal context. For example, when Akagi found a spare camera, he displays a strong affective stance, playfully hoisting it into the air like a sports star might lift a trophy (line 26). Susan tries to reciprocate the feeling by clapping her hands and exclaiming sugoi ‘great’, also with a high level of affect (raised pitch, loud volume, and stress on the second syllable). However, her insistence on using polite form according to static social positions (Akagi is her assigned mentor) apparently compels her to tack on desu, the addressee honorific form of the copula, after a short hesitation. As a strong emotive force is not usually compatible with a disciplined mode of self-presentation, exclamations, especially ones high in affective intensity, are usually produced in plain form regardless of social positions (Maynard 1993; Cook 2002). Thus Susan’s conforming to her static position as an intern, though a means of attempting to fit in culturally according to her statements in interviews, fails to be sensitive to situations when plain forms would be more natural. Then, Akagi clearly uses foreigner talk, for example, in line 28 where he directs the more complicated first part of his comment to himself using rapid speech and a quiet volume but then pauses, slows down, and articulates carefully in an utterance directed toward Susan, suggesting she is positioned differently than others. STANDING OUT IN ATTEMPTS TO CONFORM The examples so far show two common ways interns use addressee honorifics: (i) to portray themselves as good employees while performing work responsibilities, or (ii) overuse them in attempts to conform to beliefs of honorific speech vis-à-vis social positions. In this way, they attempt to establish belonging by either contextualizing institutional identities or adhering to ideologies of Japanese language and culture. Next, I show how attempts to establish belonging might become the very means by which one is positioned on the outside and vice-versa. This happens in two ways: through the production of distinctly different speech patterns and by triggering responses from others that frame the interns as outsiders. The first pattern is seen by considering Ethan, who clearly related addressee honorifics to notions of politeness and conformity in an interview: ‘I think that because I hesitate and struggle to be honorific, I think that [my co-workers] sense that, ‘Oh, he’s trying to be polite. He understands that he should be polite.’ … Even though I’ll, I mean I’ll obviously never be Japanese, but effort is what’s important for like, uh you know, connecting with others’. Ethan’s view seems to be that by struggling to speak appropriately, he is more likely to be accepted into the group. This attitude emerges when asking for help. Excerpt 4. Ethan: Fitting in ... but standing out? The setting here is similar to that of the two Japanese speakers presented earlier (Excerpt 1 and Figure 1): Ethan is getting Tanaka’s attention, his assigned mentor, to ask a question. This is similar to how Miyazaki, a young worker, asked a question of Hayashi, his direct supervisor. Regarding addressee honorifics, however, Ethan exhibits a pattern exactly opposite that of Miyazaki: plain form in the opening, masu for the content, and plain form again in the closing. He addresses Tanaka with a vocative and then announces his purpose using the verb aru ‘have’ in plain form (line 1). He then switches to masu as he explains the problem (line 3), asks his question (line 9), and carries out the transaction. At the conclusion, he switches back to plain form to ask for a further imposition (line 11). Compared to Excerpt 1, Ethan’s use of addressee honorifics is opposite that of Japanese speakers. Following Cook (2008), this potentially marks him as an outsider. Now, it should be noted that, while much is similar in the setting between Excerpt 1 and Excerpt 4 with respect to power asymmetry, gender, and interactional context, Ethan is a temporary intern while Miyazaki is a full-time worker. Though if anything, this makes Ethan’s failure to use addressee honorifics in the opening and closing even more unnatural. It seems Ethan’s strategy is to establish belonging while also conforming to expectations of professionalism. For example, using plain forms during an imposition is likely an attempt to be friendly, and this is something Ethan admitted to in an interview. Though a self-described introvert who complained about not having many friends in the company, Ethan felt close to Tanaka: ‘He’s probably my favorite guy here. He’s been the most helpful and friendly … we joke around and have fun while we work’. Given the apparent good rapport with Tanaka as well as Ethan’s use of plain forms in positions where the relationship is more important than the transaction, Ethan appears to attempt to mitigate imposition by foregrounding personal relationships. At the same time, his switch to masu for doing work appears to be related to his belief that masu is for marking institutional hierarchies during formal business talk. Figure 2 summarizes. Figure 2: View largeDownload slide Ethan’s pattern Figure 2: View largeDownload slide Ethan’s pattern The irony is that Ethan’s attempt to fit in results in speech patterns that are different than the Japanese speakers. Though he uses addressee honorifics strategically to index his relationship with Tanaka, he entangles them with ideological beliefs that masu is for formal situations and plain forms for chatting with friends. So while the intention might be to build friendships while being appropriately professional—that is, to belong on both personal and professional levels—he may actually strengthens his ‘foreignness’ and, in turn, impact opportunities to develop better language and cultural skills. Indeed, Tanaka regularly used foreigner talk when talking to him, his colleagues referred to him consistently as gakusei ‘student’, and Ethan’s supervisor described him to me as someone who ‘tries hard’ but seemed to struggle at times. Attempting to fit in, it would seem, makes him stand out. While Ethan’s attempts to fit in lead to unnatural speech patterns, even successful emulation of native-like patterns may also cause one to stand out. If foreign workers are not expected to conform to local norms, then attempts to do so can trigger ‘other-ing’ responses. This is demonstrated in the following example wherein Joe is meeting with his supervisor, Miyahara, at a small sushi shop. Just prior to the excerpt, Miyahara said he did not like the seating arrangement and asked to be relocated. Excerpt 5. Sumimasen When the waitress moved his plate, Joe responded with sumimasen (line 2), an apologetic phrase roughly equivalent to ‘excuse me’ or ‘sorry’ and which uses an addressee honorific. In Japanese, the use of this ostensibly apologetic phrase is an appropriate display of gratitude, but is atypical for American learners of Japanese who, perhaps due to L1 interferences, tend to express gratitude directly (e.g., arigatoo gozaimasu ‘thank you’) in contexts where native speakers find it unsuitable (Tateyama 2001). On hearing Joe’s unexpectedly appropriate utterance, the waitress immediately complimented his Japanese (line 3) and even enthusiastically introduce him to other customers, once referring to him as someone ‘with a white (Caucasian) face but a Japanese heart’. Herein lies the conflict: Though Joe attempts to conform to social norms and thereby establish a sense of belonging, this actually becomes the means by which his identity as a foreign outsider is brought to the foreground. While the waitress overtly labels Joe as someone with unexpected insider access to Japanese language and culture, suggesting acceptance, Joe felt treated as an outsider. Following the exchange, he complained to me that being complimented simply for speaking appropriately bothered him because it implicitly frames him as someone who should not be expected to understand Japanese language and culture. Again, attempting to fit in one way leads to standing out in others. NON-CONFORMITY AS A STRATEGY TO FIT IN In contrast, some interns used non-standard patterns of honorifics to their advantage. Consider David who was more overtly playful and aggressive than the other interns, but with a skeptical view of honorifics and politeness. He said: ‘The people I work with are always like, ‘You’re better at keigo [honorifics] than I am.’ It’s like, ‘Sorry! That’s what [my teachers] told me to use.’ … I absolutely hate honorifics though, but it’s still important, you know. I mean, Japanese politeness, man. It knows no bounds’. In fact, David noticed that addressee honorifics were not used the way he was taught, once exclaiming, ‘They lied to me!’ in reference to his teachers telling him to use masu when talking to superiors. However, he actually used them in patterns that more closely reflect natural Japanese than Ethan, although in ironic ways that point to his foreigner position. For example, in the following, David asks Morita, the supervisor of a particular work area, to log on to a computer for him because, as an intern, he did not have a password. Excerpt 6. David: Standing out … but fitting in? At first, David’s style shifting appears to generally follow Japanese norms: He uses masu to announce his imposition (line 5), switches to plain form (line 11) to do transactional work, and shifts back to masu to show gratitude (line 28). However, in line 1 David first gets Morita’s attention with hima ‘(do you have) time’ which omits polite talk that might be expected (e.g., sumimasen ga, hima desu ka ‘Excuse me, but do you have time?’) and is produced playfully with a sharp, punctuated prosodic quality. Also, after thanking Morita, David jokingly suggests, again in plain form, that due to Morita’s help Miyamoto (David’s supervisor) will not get mad at him (line 30). David’s interaction is similar to Excerpt 1, with the exception that it begins and ends with two playful plain form comments which frame his approach in a light-hearted manner. This frame permeates the entire interaction. For example, David jokes that his request will take a long time (line 7), sarcastically challenges Morita’s claim that the computer is not connected to the network by whispering honto ka ‘really’ repeatedly (lines 18 and 20), and exaggerates his reaction as if to say ‘see, I’m right!’ when it is learned that Morita was indeed wrong (line 26). Morita reciprocates, teasing David with comments in English (line 13) and using colloquial verbal forms, pronouns, and pragmatic particles (e.g., nee, koitsu, and zo in line 15). In this way, David embeds an on-the-job task in an overall light-hearted encounter between friends. Figure 3 summarizes. Figure 3: View largeDownload slide David’s pattern Figure 3: View largeDownload slide David’s pattern However, David does not appear to be trying to fit in, but rather to be drawing on his foreignness as a means of being playful. For example, he uses an odd lexical choice, sukuwareru, to suggest Morita has ‘saved’ him (line 29). This word implies ‘to save a life’ or ‘salvation’ (in the Christian sense) and is incongruent with thanking someone for doing a favor. He also uses shibakareru ‘to be yelled at’ (line 31), a dialectal item common to Japan’s Kansai area but not Tokyo where this took place. In fact, these choices reflect David’s unique background: Prior to his internship he was a Christian missionary in the Kansai area, characteristics which make him an outsider in the present context. So although he employs style shifting appropriately for the illocutionary force of his utterance (thanking), he simultaneously uses other features that play on his ‘other’ position. His strategy is one of being friendly through aggressive humor, and he even admitted in interviews that he tries to be funny by using language he knows is strange. Indeed, Morita finds it humorous, or at least awkward, as he laughs and repeats sukuwareta (line 30), positioning David as something of a strange outsider. Like Ethan, David contextualizes friendly interpersonal relationships to mitigate imposition, but unlike Ethan, rather than using masu to conform to ideals of politeness, he creates an aggressive but light-hearted style that performs Japanese stereotypes of Americans as loud and outgoing (Yamada 1992). In doing so, he deploys addressee honorifics in a relatively more native-like pattern by using them to appropriately portray a good public self when announcing impositions and expressing gratitude. Yet this appropriate self-portrayal contrasts sharply with his overall aggressive and teasing approach and, in this way, may ironically project a persona of one who knows how to fit in but chooses not to. Interestingly, there are two ways in which David’s approach may actually move toward a sense of belonging. First, David may be resisting marginalization, as suggested in interviews: David constantly complained to me that ‘no one trusts the gaijin [foreigner]’ and several times I observed him jokingly accuse his colleagues of looking down on him. In this case, though he knew the computer was connected to the network, Morita did not believe him. Through his repetition of hontoo ka ‘really?’ (lines 18 and 20) and subsequent exaggeration when it becomes clear that Morita was wrong (line 26), he makes the implicit point that, despite being an intern, in the present situation he knows more than Morita. Second, David’s playful approach and use of exaggerated honorifics (e.g., line 28) create an ironic type of humor that plays the role of a sort of ‘goofy foreigner’; yet, this results in frequent shared laughter which is a well-known means of building relationships and establishing in-group solidarity (Holmes and Marra 2002). Though it should be noted that, as Murata (2015) shows, Japanese workplace humor is usually a top-down style instigated by senior workers, suggesting David’s style of humor may be atypical given the context. As such, while David’s style may build good relationships and thus help him establish belonging socially, it may simultaneously strengthen his outsider identity with respect to the institution. CONCLUSION Generally, the interns use addressee honorifics in attempts to conform to their beliefs about Japanese social norms. They use them in formal and/or polite situations with people of higher institutional position, but use plain forms with friends or during social chats. Such beliefs have merit, as they draw on the rules of discernment and common presuppositions shared broadly in Japanese society regarding honorifics, politeness, and formality (Ide 1989). However, addressee honorifics are also creative indexes used to construct identities and relationships in locally unfolding interactions (Cook 2008). As a result, three situations emerge. First, as with Susan and Ethan, when they are concerned primarily with conformity and discernment, the interns overuse addressee honorifics or deploy them in patterns opposite that of Japanese speakers. Second, as with Joe, the interns may be successful in attempts at natural use but if conformity is not expected then others respond in ways that highlight their foreign status. Finally, as with David, the interns may use them in creatively exaggerated ways and in conjunction with other resources in ways that are aggressive, ironic, and playful. While this style probably strengthens foreigner identities on an institutional or cultural level, on a social level, the resulting shared humor may cultivate good interpersonal relationships. So do the interns ‘fit in’ or not? Certainly, the answer is not that straightforward. Instead, belonging is established in gradients, moving closer in some ways and further away in others. For example, David may fit in socially more than Ethan, but Ethan may be seen as trying to be more professional than David. This problematizes the notion of ‘belonging’. Does it mean that one must behave like those native to the local culture and context? Does it mean that one must feel accepted for who they are? Is it a matter of equal access to workplace resources? In interviews, the interns tend to talk more about building relationships than about wanting to be seen as a ‘native’, but at the same time, their use of addressee honorifics seems driven by conformity with ideological Japanese norms, that is, ‘to speak like a native’. This leads both to Ethan’s unnatural use of addressee honorifics and Joe’s unexpectedly appropriate use triggering an ‘othering’ response. Thus conformity to ideological norms may not always be conducive to relationship building, and relationship building does not require native-like talk. At least two limitations must also be considered. First, the restriction of the analysis to addressee honorifics is narrow. It is trivial to note that there is a complex array of linguistic and behavioral factors that contribute to cultural assimilation. To build a complete model of how belonging is established in the international workplace, much remains to be done to understand how all of these factors interrelate and even conflict with each other. However, the ideological entanglements in Japanese society and pedagogy make honorific speech style a particularly salient feature of the context in the present study. As such, this study contributes a view on the overall picture of cultural assimilation in professional settings by showing a particular example of when attempts at conformity to ideological language use can be counterproductive if the goal is relationship building and identification with the local community. Second, it should also be noted that the specific context here differs from other studies of foreign workers, most of which consider cultural minorities in Western professional settings, and the differences are significant. For example, the dominance of Western influences in the global marketplace, and Japan, in particular, may help these interns more easily gain a less-marginalized point than migrant workers from other sociocultural backgrounds. Even within Japan, it is well known that American and other English-speaking Westerners are not faced with the same assimilative pressures as others (Tsuda 2000). For instance, if a Chinese worker was in the same position as Joe, he may not have been met with exclamations of how good his Japanese is, nor is it likely that a Korean worker could use the same approach as David and get similar reactions. It is thus necessary to explore the issues raised here from many different contextual perspectives to disentangle the competing influences of macro-level ideologies and context-specific interactional realities. As it stands, this study provides a unique perspective on the challenges of belonging in foreign workplaces, highlighting a few ways in which belonging is established (or not). Given the growing scope of the global workplace and continued emergence of a wide range of intercultural contact settings, understanding the context-specific challenges of integrating foreign workers into new workplace environments addresses important problems in the international workplace and merits continued attention. Stephen Moody is Assistant Professor of Japanese at Brigham Young University. He holds a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and an MA in economics from The Ohio State University. His research interests include Japanese sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, and intercultural communication in professional settings. Prior to academics, he worked as a business analyst for several companies, including an engineering firm in Japan. Address for correspondence: Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages, Brigham Young University, 3069 JFSB, Provo, UT 84602, USA. <sjmoody@byu.edu> Acknowledgements The author is grateful to Haruko Cook for many helpful comments and suggestions throughout the early stages of this project and on earlier permutations of this particular study. He also benefited from helpful conversations with Maiko Ikeda, Sean Forte, and participants at the 14th International Pragmatics Conference in Antwerp, Belgium. 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Rogerson-Revell P. 2007 . ‘ Humour in business: A double-edged sword: A study of humour and style shifting in intercultural business meetings ,’ Journal of Pragmatics 39 : 4 – 28 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Seargeant P. 2011 . English in Japan in the Era of Globalization . Palgrave Macmillan . Silverstein M. 1976 . ‘Shifters, linguistic categories, and cultural description’ in Basso K. Selby H. (eds): Meaning in Anthropology . University of New Mexico Press , pp. 11 – 55 . Tange H. Lauring J. . 2009 . ‘ Language management and social interaction within the multilingual workplace ,’ Journal of Communication Management 13 : 218 – 32 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Tateyama Y. 2001 . ‘Explicit and implicit teaching of pragmatic routines: Japanese sumimasen’ in Rose K. R. Kasper G. (eds): Pragmatics in Language Teaching . Cambridge University Press . Theodórsdóttir G. 2011 . ‘Language learning activities in real-life situations: Insisting on TCU completion in second language talk’ in Pallotti G. Wagner J. (eds): L2 Learning as Social Practice: Conversation-Analytic Perspectives . University of Hawai'i, National Foreign Language Resource Center , pp. 185 – 208 . Tsuda T. 2000 . ‘ Acting Brazilian in Japan: Ethnic resistance among return migrants ,’ Ethnology 39 : 55 – 71 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Yamada H. 1992 . American and Japanese business discourse: A comparison of interactional styles . Ablex . Yoshida M. Sakurai C. . 2005 . ‘Japanese honorifics as a marker of sociocultural identity’ in Lakoff R. T. Ide S. (eds): Broadening the Horizon of Linguistic Politeness . John Benjamins , pp. 197 – 216 . © Oxford University Press 2017 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Applied Linguistics Oxford University Press

Fitting in or Standing out? a Conflict of Belonging and Identity in Intercultural Polite Talk at Work

Applied Linguistics , Volume Advance Article – Jan 10, 2017

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© Oxford University Press 2017
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Abstract

This study analyzes how American interns in Japanese companies use Japanese addressee honorifics to assimilate to new cultural and professional settings. Data are drawn from recorded interactions of interns’ regular work activities and are supplemented with follow-up interviews. The analysis uses Interactional Sociolinguistics to link micro-level discursive practices revealed in records of interaction to macro-level ideologies revealed in interviews. Results suggest that interns use honorifics to conform to ideological beliefs regarding politeness and formality in Japanese companies. However, the analysis also reveals that such attempts to establish social belonging may become the very means by which an intern’s foreign or outsider position is brought to the foreground. This happens as (i) overgeneralized ideologies lead to unnatural use of honorifics, (ii) appropriate use of honorifics triggers an ‘other-ing’ response from interlocutors, and (iii) interns use honorifics ironically to resist marginalization. This research contributes to an understanding of how foreigners establishing belonging in international workplaces, contending that belonging emerges in gradients, assimilation does not require ‘native-like’ speech, and attempts at conformity may be counterproductive. INTRODUCTION Establishing a sense of belonging is at the heart of relationship building in intercultural encounters (Lee 2015). This is especially true of workplaces where belonging entails access to resources necessary for learning and doing important job functions; when language and cultural barriers impede full participation, opportunities for productive communication and the development of professional skills are restricted (Tange and Lauring 2009; Marra 2012). In this study, I examine how American student interns in Japan use Japanese addressee-oriented honorifics in attempts to ‘fit in’ with their Japanese co-workers. By revealing a situation in which using a second language in ideologically ‘native-like’ ways might be counterproductive, this study sheds light on the nuances of what it means for foreign workers to establish belonging with their colleagues. Certainly, relationship building across cultures involves a myriad of complex, interconnected social and linguistic behaviors. The present inquiry, however, considers a single linguistic item, honorific speech style, following a well-established literature demonstrating the key role honorifics play in constructing identities and social positions in Japanese interaction (Cook 2008). Japanese honorifics are grammatically encoded in ways that are quite different than English and are deeply entangled with pervasive social ideologies regarding notions of formality and politeness. This sets up a situation in which English-speaking learners of Japanese attempt to conform to (or sometimes resist) linguistic ideologies to emulate what they believe to be natural language use. However, these attempts may not only result in ostensibly unnatural speech but are also met with responses that reposition the English speakers to the outside. Thus focusing on one ideologically laden resource allows for an in-depth look at how attempts to fit in through linguistic conformity may become the very means by which one stands out. ASSIMILATION IN INTERCULTURAL INTERACTION Cultural assimilation and belonging are complicated, multifaceted ideas. Is it sufficient to act or behave in a way that is approximately native-like? If so, how can native-like behaviors be defined? Or perhaps the goal is social acceptance by peers in the new community, but how can we determine if one has been accepted? These questions reflect an ongoing debate in the social and language sciences. Here, I take belonging to be indicated, at least in part, by identification with local peers or establishing an ‘insider’ identity. Using a social constructionist view which takes identities as dynamically and discursively reproduced in situated, co-constructed interactions (De Fina et al. 2006), this study considers how American interns are presented as insiders or outsiders in Japanese workplaces either intentionally or unintentionally through the use of honorifics. As will be discussed, this sometimes, but not always, involves trying to act like a native. Belonging versus being ‘native-like’ A classic belief among language learners is that to fit in with a target community they must be able to emulate the ideological norms of that culture, that is, become native-like. This is reflected in the preponderance of language and cultural study materials marketed as helping readers to ‘walk and talk like a native speaker’ (Horvat 2000) and also in second-language acquisition work that uses L1 models as a baseline for evaluating L2 performances (see Firth and Wagner 1997 for a discussion). This perspective has merit and an obvious appeal given that seamless interaction with an international community is a valuable skill in the global job market (Bush and Bush 1999). However, as it relates to the notion of belonging, becoming native-like seems to present an oversimplified and even unnecessary goal. If belonging is understood as having access to the social capital necessary to build trust, strengthen relationships, and thus fully participate in a community, then native-likeness is not required. For example, Kurhila (2006) shows that second-language speakers will blame communicative trouble during institutional transactions on their status as a foreign-language speaker, thereby preemptively rejecting claims that the trouble is due to a lack of institutional competence. By doing this at just the right time in the sequential unfolding of a conversation, they show that they know exactly what should be done but simply lack the linguistic resources necessary to do it in a native-like manner, thus orienting to their outsider position to demonstrate insider knowledge (Kurhila 2004; Firth 2009; Kumagai and Sato 2009; Theodórsdóttir 2011; Moody 2014). Belonging and identity among migrants While the strategies—that is, the specific deployment of linguistic resources to accomplish some social or interactional goal—for assimilation are as varied and complex as the individuals who deploy them, researchers have observed several common patterns. First, in response to perceptions of marginalization and discrimination, migrant minorities form their own in-groups to maintain and strengthen their own cultural identities, create solidarity, and resist majority dominance (Roberts 2011; Marra 2012). This might be done, for example, through insider or ethnically related humor (Holmes and Marra 2002; Rogerson-Revell 2007), explicitly referencing professionalism over other ethnic or gender-related identities (Miglbauer 2012), or using code-switching to shift identities and resist other-imposed categories (Higgins 2009). Second, migrants may experience a lack of accommodations and be pressured to assimilate. In this case, some will strategically emphasize their foreignness to resist assimilative pressures as illustrated in the work of Tsuda (2000) who studies Japanese-Brazilian return migrants to Japan. In his study, Brazilians explicitly and intentionally mark themselves as foreigners through their use of language, manner of dress, and other social behaviors, to resist expectations that they understand, behave, and talk like members of the local Japanese community. In this ways, migrants tend to strengthen their outsider identity as a means of building their own community within, and sometimes in resistance to, the local hegemonic one. In contrast, when foreigners are in a community for the explicit purpose of language and cultural learning, some will go to great lengths to fit in by trying to emulate ideological norms of the local community. For example, work on study abroad and homestay programs have shown that learners will overuse honorifics forms (e.g., of address terms or verbal morphemes) in attempts to conform to social norms (Barron 2006; Iwasaki 2010). In recognition of their position as an outsider, they will use prestige forms with everyone to attempt to be appropriately polite, though by so doing they inadvertently strengthen insider–outsider divides and forgo opportunities to build more intimate relationships (Cook 2008). Unlike other migrant groups, these students try to eliminate their outsider identity but may actually end up strengthening it. The case of American interns in Japan The present study involves a situation in which foreign workers have a need to develop the relationships necessary to learn and accomplish work assignments but may be viewed (and view themselves) as temporary students who are not necessarily expected to contribute real-world value to the company. Moreover, given that English and Western cultural practices are often seen as valuable, hegemonic resources in Japanese workplaces (not to mention the global market), as English-speaking Americans, the interns may be further positioned as representatives of internationalism and are thus not expected to assimilate (Seargeant 2011; Moody 2014). However, as they are in Japan to learn the language and culture while participating in an internship, they frequently try to assimilate to appropriate social behaviors. This leads to the conflict illustrated in this study between attempts to establish belonging and how they are actually positioned in the resulting interaction. JAPANESE ADDRESSEE HONORIFICS, POLITENESS, AND BELONGING Though identities are managed using a wide range of resources, those that are ideologically intertwined with notions of politeness are pervasive in building relationships while conforming to social expectations (Locher 2008). This is especially true in Japanese workplaces where even L1 speakers of Japanese are explicitly taught in employee training meetings to use honorifics and formal speech styles as a part of maintaining a professional identity (Dunn 2011). Learners of Japanese are likewise taught that honorifics are essential for building and maintaining relationships (Ishida 2007, 2009; Cook 2008). As such, they become heavily influenced by cultural ideologies and are thus highly salient when examining how learners attempt to establish belonging. Japanese addressee honorifics Honorifics in Japanese fall into two broad categories: addressee honorifics, which relate to the person being talked to, and referent honorifics, which relate to the person being talked about (Harada 1976). The former, which are the focus of this study, are marked by verbal morphology as shown below. (1) No addressee honorific (plain form) mise ni iku store to go.MAS ‘(I) will go to the store.’ (2) Addressee honorific (masu form) mise ni ikimasu store to go ‘(I) will go to the store.’ The base form of a verb without any morphological alternations, shown in (1), is often called ‘plain form’ and foregrounds the propositional content of an utterance (Cook 2002). The addressee honorific morpheme masu (or desu for the copula), shown in (2), is often said to be ‘polite form’. However, it is perhaps better understood as an index of self-presentation which, depending on its occasioning in situated interaction, may contextualize things including, but not limited to, politeness, social relationships, and identities (Cook 1997, 1998). Conformity and creativity The claim that addressee honorifics are polite forms is influenced by the notion of ‘discernment’ put forth by Ide (1989) who equates politeness to the presence of addressee honorifics. She suggests Japanese speakers follow a set of unspoken social rules that state one should be polite—meaning use honorifics—when speaking (i) to someone older, (ii) to someone in a higher social position, (iii) to someone with power, and (iv) in formal situations. Thus these rules reflect important ideologies which are presupposed by their interactional usage. However, addressee honorifics are also creative indexes (Silverstein 1976), which interface with ideologies to discursively construct individual and role-related identities. For example, Cook (1997) shows that mothers use masu when talking to children when performing actions ideologically associated with the role of ‘being a mother’, for example, serving food. She concludes that addressee honorifics primarily index a ‘presentation of public self’ and portray ‘a positive social role to the addressee’ (Cook 2008: 46). Thus addressee honorifics draw on broad social ideologies even as they are used in strategic ways to perform on-stage roles and identities, for example, acting as a parent, teacher, or professional (Yoshida and Sakurai 2005). Both the presupposing and creative uses of addressee honorifics come together in interesting ways in the workplace. Employees in Japanese workplaces are trained to use them according to the rules of discernment, promoting conformity to ideological norms over self-expression as an important component of being a good employee, though Dunn (2011) notes that ‘it is how [employees] choose to implement the forms introduced in the manners training in their moment-to-moment interactions with clients, customers, superiors, and coworkers that individual volition is most likely to come into play’ (p. 3653, emphasis added). That is, while addressee honorifics may be associated with conformity, they must still be occasioned in interaction to manage identities and accomplish interactional goals, drawing on ideological structures as a resources in so doing. Indeed, this can explain cases in which honorifics are used in ironic and sarcastic ways which challenge ideologies or even insult others. Or, by exaggerating honorifics or otherwise being incongruent with the rules of discernment, speakers can use them in ways that are insincere or even humorous (Okamoto 2002). Learners of Japanese and the use of addressee honorifics Students of Japanese as a foreign language typically learn addressee honorifics according to ideological models presented in textbooks which, like new employee training, tend to focus on conformity rather than as tools for expressing individual identities (Haugh 2007). Consequently, learners tend to think of them exclusively as ‘polite forms’, an overgeneralization which leads to their overuse and a lack of sensitivity to their creative power. It also encourages learners to believe they are fitting in by aligning with Japanese norms when they are actually using them in ways that are markedly different (Cook 2001, 2008; Ishida 2007, 2009). In this way, the use of addressee honorifics in attempts to establish belonging may result in the opposite effect. This phenomenon is a concern of the following analysis. THE STUDY The present data come from ethnographically grounded observations of six American student interns separately employed in Japanese companies. Audio recordings of interactions were collected over 1 or 2 days beginning when the intern arrived at work and ending when they went home in the evening. This yielded roughly 50 hours of recorded interactions. Supplemental data include field notes as well as pre- and post-internship interviews. I also draw on my own past experience in a Japanese engineering firm in interpreting some of the data. Participants The internships were conducted as part of an international study program run by a private American university. All participants had completed at least 3 years of Japanese and all but one (Susan) had lived in Japan previously for 1 year or more. Table 1 provides details. Though formal assessment data are not available for all of the students, based on my own observations as well as an examination of their grades in upper-level Japanese classes, I have approximated each student’s Japanese proficiency roughly as intermediate, advanced, or superior. Table 1: Interns Name Age Gender Company Industry Proficiency David 23 Male Taguchi Technologies Engineering Advanced Ethan 22 Male Taguchi Technologies Engineering Advanced Susan 20 Female Nagano News Media Intermediate Joe 24 Male Mochi Co., Ltd. Technology Advanced Mike 23 Male Mochi Co., Ltd. Technology Superior Maya 24 Female Bank of Gifu Banking Advanced Name Age Gender Company Industry Proficiency David 23 Male Taguchi Technologies Engineering Advanced Ethan 22 Male Taguchi Technologies Engineering Advanced Susan 20 Female Nagano News Media Intermediate Joe 24 Male Mochi Co., Ltd. Technology Advanced Mike 23 Male Mochi Co., Ltd. Technology Superior Maya 24 Female Bank of Gifu Banking Advanced Note: Names of interns and companies are pseudonymns. Table 1: Interns Name Age Gender Company Industry Proficiency David 23 Male Taguchi Technologies Engineering Advanced Ethan 22 Male Taguchi Technologies Engineering Advanced Susan 20 Female Nagano News Media Intermediate Joe 24 Male Mochi Co., Ltd. Technology Advanced Mike 23 Male Mochi Co., Ltd. Technology Superior Maya 24 Female Bank of Gifu Banking Advanced Name Age Gender Company Industry Proficiency David 23 Male Taguchi Technologies Engineering Advanced Ethan 22 Male Taguchi Technologies Engineering Advanced Susan 20 Female Nagano News Media Intermediate Joe 24 Male Mochi Co., Ltd. Technology Advanced Mike 23 Male Mochi Co., Ltd. Technology Superior Maya 24 Female Bank of Gifu Banking Advanced Note: Names of interns and companies are pseudonymns. Analysis The analysis uses an Interactional Sociolinguistics framework to link micro-level discursive practices with macro-level contexts and ideologies. This is done by examining what Gumperz (1982) calls ‘contextualization cues’, linguistic devices which signal a ‘contextual presupposition’ or ‘set of propositions taken for granted by the participants’ (Levinson 2002: 33). Here, addressee honorifics are interpreted as cues for contextualizing ideologies and identities. This allows for an examination of how shared sociocultural ideologies regarding addressee honorifics (e.g., the rules of discernment) are occasioned and used by the interns in attempts to creatively manage their identities to fit in with their Japanese colleagues. PATTERNS OF ADDRESSEE HONORIFICS AT WORK Workplace interaction commonly involves asking more knowledgeable peers or supervisors for assistance. The interns and their Japanese colleagues frequently did this using a consistently structured pattern involving three steps: (i) an opening to get the colleague’s attention and announce the purpose of the intrusion, (ii) the content of the actual business transaction, and (iii) a closing with an acknowledgement of resolution and/or expression of gratitude. Given that such encounters involve imposition, asymmetrical distribution of knowledge and power, and the performance of institutional roles and responsibilities, addressee honorifics are often deployed in ways that reflect the shifting relational and transactional work being done in each step. To illustrate, consider the following encounter between two Japanese employees, Miyazaki (a male, young employee) and Hayashi (a male supervisor), at the company where the interns, Ethan and David, both worked. (For clarity, addressee honorifics are indicated with a double underline and plain forms with a dotted underline. Full transcription conventions are provided in supplemental material.) Excerpt 1. Native speakers intruding to ask for help In this example, Miyazaki approaches Hayashi to ask a question. Hayashi is a supervisor of the group in which Miyazaki works; thus, there is a power asymmetry between the two comparable to that between an intern and his or her mentor. In the opening, Miyazaki gets Hayashi’s attention with a vocative and uses masu to announce an imposition (line 1). Plain form then becomes the predominant style during the bulk of the talk which is directly concerned with work-related activities (beginning in lines 3–6). Miyazaki only returns to masu form to acknowledge his understanding and conclude the interaction (line 54). This pattern is typical; as opening and closing involve social considerations, these points in the conversation are primarily concerned with establishing relationships, guiding the interaction, and managing socially important actions. In contrast, work-related talk is concerned with performing a content-oriented transaction. Thus when identities and relationships are at the foreground, masu is used, but when work-related content is the primary focus, plain forms are predominant. Figure 1 summarizes. Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Native speakers’ pattern of addressee honorifics Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Native speakers’ pattern of addressee honorifics INTERNS’ TYPICAL USE OF ADDRESSEE HONORIFICS For learners of Japanese, friction between ideological discernment and creativity in the use of addressee honorifics leads to potential conflicts between discursive portrayals of identity and attempts to establish belonging. As noted, discernment pervades Japanese pedagogy, often framing masu as a formal, polite style to be used with superiors and plain forms as a casual style for informal chat between friends. This may imbue students with the idea that proper behavior in Japanese culture is only possible through conformity to idealistic social rules and, as a result, they may fail to use honorifics strategically to meet more relevant interactional demands. Indeed, in Cook’s (2008) study of American homestay students in Japan, when students use masu to be polite they often fail to style shift and end up speaking unnaturally. This encourages host families to use ‘foreigner talk’, marks the learners as outsiders, and prevents them from being treated as fully contributing participants. All interns in this study linked addressee honorifics to static ideals of politeness and discernment. Even Mike, the most advanced speaker, said, ‘I try to use honorifics ‘cause it’s important to be polite to succeed in a Japanese company’. Similarly, Susan laughed, ‘I use polite form to everyone because I’m just a lowly intern’. Based on interviews, the interns’ common beliefs can be summarized with three points: (i) masu is associated with being polite, (ii) plain forms are associated with friendliness, and (iii) using masu is associated with appropriate talk to senior workers. All of the interns believed that using masu appropriately is critical for properly managing relationships. This leads them to use addressee honorifics to be professional and thus ‘fit in’ to the work environment, but may result in unnatural speech. The following two examples illustrate with the first demonstrating how addressee honorifics perform the role of ‘being a good intern’ and the second demonstrating how this leads to unnatural overuse of addressee honorifics. Excerpt 2. I will send you my schedule Here, Maya uses honorifics to present herself professionally with respect to institutional responsibilities. Following a meeting, Maya, her supervisor Sakamoto, and a Chinese intern stayed behind to chat about her plans to return to America. During this casual talk, everyone used plain forms (e.g., lines 13 and 14) despite the presence of a supervisor. However, in line 15, Maya uses both addressee and referent honorifics in an offer to send Sakamoto a copy of her itinerary, saying o-okuri-shimasu (comparable to ‘I will humbly send it [for your benefit]’). This shift momentarily foregrounds the boss–employee relationship, as Maya presents herself as a ‘good intern’ by taking initiative in sending important information to her boss. This is suggested by the fact that this was the only time during the conversation that she used masu forms. As the addressee honorifics are used in statements that she will perform an important institutional task, they function to perform her work-related role and contextualize institutional identity. However, most interns used masu in ways that seem to conform to static positions rather than shifting them dynamically, resulting in unnaturally marked speech. Excerpt 3. Out of batteries Throughout my observation, Susan almost exclusively used addressee honorifics and spoke slowly and distinctly (e.g., line 24) while her colleague, Akagi, spoke rapidly, playfully, and usually in plain forms (e.g., line 23). (The full transcript is included in the supplemental material.) As mentioned above, Susan claimed to use ‘polite forms’ (meaning masu) with all of her colleagues because she felt her position to be low and unchanging, though the result is unnatural when considering the playful, informal context. For example, when Akagi found a spare camera, he displays a strong affective stance, playfully hoisting it into the air like a sports star might lift a trophy (line 26). Susan tries to reciprocate the feeling by clapping her hands and exclaiming sugoi ‘great’, also with a high level of affect (raised pitch, loud volume, and stress on the second syllable). However, her insistence on using polite form according to static social positions (Akagi is her assigned mentor) apparently compels her to tack on desu, the addressee honorific form of the copula, after a short hesitation. As a strong emotive force is not usually compatible with a disciplined mode of self-presentation, exclamations, especially ones high in affective intensity, are usually produced in plain form regardless of social positions (Maynard 1993; Cook 2002). Thus Susan’s conforming to her static position as an intern, though a means of attempting to fit in culturally according to her statements in interviews, fails to be sensitive to situations when plain forms would be more natural. Then, Akagi clearly uses foreigner talk, for example, in line 28 where he directs the more complicated first part of his comment to himself using rapid speech and a quiet volume but then pauses, slows down, and articulates carefully in an utterance directed toward Susan, suggesting she is positioned differently than others. STANDING OUT IN ATTEMPTS TO CONFORM The examples so far show two common ways interns use addressee honorifics: (i) to portray themselves as good employees while performing work responsibilities, or (ii) overuse them in attempts to conform to beliefs of honorific speech vis-à-vis social positions. In this way, they attempt to establish belonging by either contextualizing institutional identities or adhering to ideologies of Japanese language and culture. Next, I show how attempts to establish belonging might become the very means by which one is positioned on the outside and vice-versa. This happens in two ways: through the production of distinctly different speech patterns and by triggering responses from others that frame the interns as outsiders. The first pattern is seen by considering Ethan, who clearly related addressee honorifics to notions of politeness and conformity in an interview: ‘I think that because I hesitate and struggle to be honorific, I think that [my co-workers] sense that, ‘Oh, he’s trying to be polite. He understands that he should be polite.’ … Even though I’ll, I mean I’ll obviously never be Japanese, but effort is what’s important for like, uh you know, connecting with others’. Ethan’s view seems to be that by struggling to speak appropriately, he is more likely to be accepted into the group. This attitude emerges when asking for help. Excerpt 4. Ethan: Fitting in ... but standing out? The setting here is similar to that of the two Japanese speakers presented earlier (Excerpt 1 and Figure 1): Ethan is getting Tanaka’s attention, his assigned mentor, to ask a question. This is similar to how Miyazaki, a young worker, asked a question of Hayashi, his direct supervisor. Regarding addressee honorifics, however, Ethan exhibits a pattern exactly opposite that of Miyazaki: plain form in the opening, masu for the content, and plain form again in the closing. He addresses Tanaka with a vocative and then announces his purpose using the verb aru ‘have’ in plain form (line 1). He then switches to masu as he explains the problem (line 3), asks his question (line 9), and carries out the transaction. At the conclusion, he switches back to plain form to ask for a further imposition (line 11). Compared to Excerpt 1, Ethan’s use of addressee honorifics is opposite that of Japanese speakers. Following Cook (2008), this potentially marks him as an outsider. Now, it should be noted that, while much is similar in the setting between Excerpt 1 and Excerpt 4 with respect to power asymmetry, gender, and interactional context, Ethan is a temporary intern while Miyazaki is a full-time worker. Though if anything, this makes Ethan’s failure to use addressee honorifics in the opening and closing even more unnatural. It seems Ethan’s strategy is to establish belonging while also conforming to expectations of professionalism. For example, using plain forms during an imposition is likely an attempt to be friendly, and this is something Ethan admitted to in an interview. Though a self-described introvert who complained about not having many friends in the company, Ethan felt close to Tanaka: ‘He’s probably my favorite guy here. He’s been the most helpful and friendly … we joke around and have fun while we work’. Given the apparent good rapport with Tanaka as well as Ethan’s use of plain forms in positions where the relationship is more important than the transaction, Ethan appears to attempt to mitigate imposition by foregrounding personal relationships. At the same time, his switch to masu for doing work appears to be related to his belief that masu is for marking institutional hierarchies during formal business talk. Figure 2 summarizes. Figure 2: View largeDownload slide Ethan’s pattern Figure 2: View largeDownload slide Ethan’s pattern The irony is that Ethan’s attempt to fit in results in speech patterns that are different than the Japanese speakers. Though he uses addressee honorifics strategically to index his relationship with Tanaka, he entangles them with ideological beliefs that masu is for formal situations and plain forms for chatting with friends. So while the intention might be to build friendships while being appropriately professional—that is, to belong on both personal and professional levels—he may actually strengthens his ‘foreignness’ and, in turn, impact opportunities to develop better language and cultural skills. Indeed, Tanaka regularly used foreigner talk when talking to him, his colleagues referred to him consistently as gakusei ‘student’, and Ethan’s supervisor described him to me as someone who ‘tries hard’ but seemed to struggle at times. Attempting to fit in, it would seem, makes him stand out. While Ethan’s attempts to fit in lead to unnatural speech patterns, even successful emulation of native-like patterns may also cause one to stand out. If foreign workers are not expected to conform to local norms, then attempts to do so can trigger ‘other-ing’ responses. This is demonstrated in the following example wherein Joe is meeting with his supervisor, Miyahara, at a small sushi shop. Just prior to the excerpt, Miyahara said he did not like the seating arrangement and asked to be relocated. Excerpt 5. Sumimasen When the waitress moved his plate, Joe responded with sumimasen (line 2), an apologetic phrase roughly equivalent to ‘excuse me’ or ‘sorry’ and which uses an addressee honorific. In Japanese, the use of this ostensibly apologetic phrase is an appropriate display of gratitude, but is atypical for American learners of Japanese who, perhaps due to L1 interferences, tend to express gratitude directly (e.g., arigatoo gozaimasu ‘thank you’) in contexts where native speakers find it unsuitable (Tateyama 2001). On hearing Joe’s unexpectedly appropriate utterance, the waitress immediately complimented his Japanese (line 3) and even enthusiastically introduce him to other customers, once referring to him as someone ‘with a white (Caucasian) face but a Japanese heart’. Herein lies the conflict: Though Joe attempts to conform to social norms and thereby establish a sense of belonging, this actually becomes the means by which his identity as a foreign outsider is brought to the foreground. While the waitress overtly labels Joe as someone with unexpected insider access to Japanese language and culture, suggesting acceptance, Joe felt treated as an outsider. Following the exchange, he complained to me that being complimented simply for speaking appropriately bothered him because it implicitly frames him as someone who should not be expected to understand Japanese language and culture. Again, attempting to fit in one way leads to standing out in others. NON-CONFORMITY AS A STRATEGY TO FIT IN In contrast, some interns used non-standard patterns of honorifics to their advantage. Consider David who was more overtly playful and aggressive than the other interns, but with a skeptical view of honorifics and politeness. He said: ‘The people I work with are always like, ‘You’re better at keigo [honorifics] than I am.’ It’s like, ‘Sorry! That’s what [my teachers] told me to use.’ … I absolutely hate honorifics though, but it’s still important, you know. I mean, Japanese politeness, man. It knows no bounds’. In fact, David noticed that addressee honorifics were not used the way he was taught, once exclaiming, ‘They lied to me!’ in reference to his teachers telling him to use masu when talking to superiors. However, he actually used them in patterns that more closely reflect natural Japanese than Ethan, although in ironic ways that point to his foreigner position. For example, in the following, David asks Morita, the supervisor of a particular work area, to log on to a computer for him because, as an intern, he did not have a password. Excerpt 6. David: Standing out … but fitting in? At first, David’s style shifting appears to generally follow Japanese norms: He uses masu to announce his imposition (line 5), switches to plain form (line 11) to do transactional work, and shifts back to masu to show gratitude (line 28). However, in line 1 David first gets Morita’s attention with hima ‘(do you have) time’ which omits polite talk that might be expected (e.g., sumimasen ga, hima desu ka ‘Excuse me, but do you have time?’) and is produced playfully with a sharp, punctuated prosodic quality. Also, after thanking Morita, David jokingly suggests, again in plain form, that due to Morita’s help Miyamoto (David’s supervisor) will not get mad at him (line 30). David’s interaction is similar to Excerpt 1, with the exception that it begins and ends with two playful plain form comments which frame his approach in a light-hearted manner. This frame permeates the entire interaction. For example, David jokes that his request will take a long time (line 7), sarcastically challenges Morita’s claim that the computer is not connected to the network by whispering honto ka ‘really’ repeatedly (lines 18 and 20), and exaggerates his reaction as if to say ‘see, I’m right!’ when it is learned that Morita was indeed wrong (line 26). Morita reciprocates, teasing David with comments in English (line 13) and using colloquial verbal forms, pronouns, and pragmatic particles (e.g., nee, koitsu, and zo in line 15). In this way, David embeds an on-the-job task in an overall light-hearted encounter between friends. Figure 3 summarizes. Figure 3: View largeDownload slide David’s pattern Figure 3: View largeDownload slide David’s pattern However, David does not appear to be trying to fit in, but rather to be drawing on his foreignness as a means of being playful. For example, he uses an odd lexical choice, sukuwareru, to suggest Morita has ‘saved’ him (line 29). This word implies ‘to save a life’ or ‘salvation’ (in the Christian sense) and is incongruent with thanking someone for doing a favor. He also uses shibakareru ‘to be yelled at’ (line 31), a dialectal item common to Japan’s Kansai area but not Tokyo where this took place. In fact, these choices reflect David’s unique background: Prior to his internship he was a Christian missionary in the Kansai area, characteristics which make him an outsider in the present context. So although he employs style shifting appropriately for the illocutionary force of his utterance (thanking), he simultaneously uses other features that play on his ‘other’ position. His strategy is one of being friendly through aggressive humor, and he even admitted in interviews that he tries to be funny by using language he knows is strange. Indeed, Morita finds it humorous, or at least awkward, as he laughs and repeats sukuwareta (line 30), positioning David as something of a strange outsider. Like Ethan, David contextualizes friendly interpersonal relationships to mitigate imposition, but unlike Ethan, rather than using masu to conform to ideals of politeness, he creates an aggressive but light-hearted style that performs Japanese stereotypes of Americans as loud and outgoing (Yamada 1992). In doing so, he deploys addressee honorifics in a relatively more native-like pattern by using them to appropriately portray a good public self when announcing impositions and expressing gratitude. Yet this appropriate self-portrayal contrasts sharply with his overall aggressive and teasing approach and, in this way, may ironically project a persona of one who knows how to fit in but chooses not to. Interestingly, there are two ways in which David’s approach may actually move toward a sense of belonging. First, David may be resisting marginalization, as suggested in interviews: David constantly complained to me that ‘no one trusts the gaijin [foreigner]’ and several times I observed him jokingly accuse his colleagues of looking down on him. In this case, though he knew the computer was connected to the network, Morita did not believe him. Through his repetition of hontoo ka ‘really?’ (lines 18 and 20) and subsequent exaggeration when it becomes clear that Morita was wrong (line 26), he makes the implicit point that, despite being an intern, in the present situation he knows more than Morita. Second, David’s playful approach and use of exaggerated honorifics (e.g., line 28) create an ironic type of humor that plays the role of a sort of ‘goofy foreigner’; yet, this results in frequent shared laughter which is a well-known means of building relationships and establishing in-group solidarity (Holmes and Marra 2002). Though it should be noted that, as Murata (2015) shows, Japanese workplace humor is usually a top-down style instigated by senior workers, suggesting David’s style of humor may be atypical given the context. As such, while David’s style may build good relationships and thus help him establish belonging socially, it may simultaneously strengthen his outsider identity with respect to the institution. CONCLUSION Generally, the interns use addressee honorifics in attempts to conform to their beliefs about Japanese social norms. They use them in formal and/or polite situations with people of higher institutional position, but use plain forms with friends or during social chats. Such beliefs have merit, as they draw on the rules of discernment and common presuppositions shared broadly in Japanese society regarding honorifics, politeness, and formality (Ide 1989). However, addressee honorifics are also creative indexes used to construct identities and relationships in locally unfolding interactions (Cook 2008). As a result, three situations emerge. First, as with Susan and Ethan, when they are concerned primarily with conformity and discernment, the interns overuse addressee honorifics or deploy them in patterns opposite that of Japanese speakers. Second, as with Joe, the interns may be successful in attempts at natural use but if conformity is not expected then others respond in ways that highlight their foreign status. Finally, as with David, the interns may use them in creatively exaggerated ways and in conjunction with other resources in ways that are aggressive, ironic, and playful. While this style probably strengthens foreigner identities on an institutional or cultural level, on a social level, the resulting shared humor may cultivate good interpersonal relationships. So do the interns ‘fit in’ or not? Certainly, the answer is not that straightforward. Instead, belonging is established in gradients, moving closer in some ways and further away in others. For example, David may fit in socially more than Ethan, but Ethan may be seen as trying to be more professional than David. This problematizes the notion of ‘belonging’. Does it mean that one must behave like those native to the local culture and context? Does it mean that one must feel accepted for who they are? Is it a matter of equal access to workplace resources? In interviews, the interns tend to talk more about building relationships than about wanting to be seen as a ‘native’, but at the same time, their use of addressee honorifics seems driven by conformity with ideological Japanese norms, that is, ‘to speak like a native’. This leads both to Ethan’s unnatural use of addressee honorifics and Joe’s unexpectedly appropriate use triggering an ‘othering’ response. Thus conformity to ideological norms may not always be conducive to relationship building, and relationship building does not require native-like talk. At least two limitations must also be considered. First, the restriction of the analysis to addressee honorifics is narrow. It is trivial to note that there is a complex array of linguistic and behavioral factors that contribute to cultural assimilation. To build a complete model of how belonging is established in the international workplace, much remains to be done to understand how all of these factors interrelate and even conflict with each other. However, the ideological entanglements in Japanese society and pedagogy make honorific speech style a particularly salient feature of the context in the present study. As such, this study contributes a view on the overall picture of cultural assimilation in professional settings by showing a particular example of when attempts at conformity to ideological language use can be counterproductive if the goal is relationship building and identification with the local community. Second, it should also be noted that the specific context here differs from other studies of foreign workers, most of which consider cultural minorities in Western professional settings, and the differences are significant. For example, the dominance of Western influences in the global marketplace, and Japan, in particular, may help these interns more easily gain a less-marginalized point than migrant workers from other sociocultural backgrounds. Even within Japan, it is well known that American and other English-speaking Westerners are not faced with the same assimilative pressures as others (Tsuda 2000). For instance, if a Chinese worker was in the same position as Joe, he may not have been met with exclamations of how good his Japanese is, nor is it likely that a Korean worker could use the same approach as David and get similar reactions. It is thus necessary to explore the issues raised here from many different contextual perspectives to disentangle the competing influences of macro-level ideologies and context-specific interactional realities. As it stands, this study provides a unique perspective on the challenges of belonging in foreign workplaces, highlighting a few ways in which belonging is established (or not). Given the growing scope of the global workplace and continued emergence of a wide range of intercultural contact settings, understanding the context-specific challenges of integrating foreign workers into new workplace environments addresses important problems in the international workplace and merits continued attention. Stephen Moody is Assistant Professor of Japanese at Brigham Young University. He holds a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and an MA in economics from The Ohio State University. His research interests include Japanese sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, and intercultural communication in professional settings. Prior to academics, he worked as a business analyst for several companies, including an engineering firm in Japan. Address for correspondence: Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages, Brigham Young University, 3069 JFSB, Provo, UT 84602, USA. <sjmoody@byu.edu> Acknowledgements The author is grateful to Haruko Cook for many helpful comments and suggestions throughout the early stages of this project and on earlier permutations of this particular study. He also benefited from helpful conversations with Maiko Ikeda, Sean Forte, and participants at the 14th International Pragmatics Conference in Antwerp, Belgium. 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Applied LinguisticsOxford University Press

Published: Jan 10, 2017

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