Language and the Expectation of Empire
The policy of forced Japanese-language education in Taiwan and Korea has been held up as the exemplar of Japan’s efforts to assimilate colonial populations. Still, scholars have yet to address questions pertaining to linguistic norms and to the actual impact of Japanese-language fluency. The representation of dialogues with Taiwanese aborigines in travel accounts reveals that early Japanese tourists arrived with contradictory expectations: on the one hand, that a shared language would make a cohesive nation out of colony and metropole, and on the other that aborigines would not speak Japanese and remain outside the nation. Encounters with Japanese-speaking aborigines, however, challenged this idea. By the 1930s supposed aboriginal incoherence had given way to the expectation that aborigines would communicate civilly in Japanese even if their fluency did not alter their inherent savagery. This shift reflects a broader racialization of difference that occurred alongside promotions of imperial Japan’s multiethnic identity.
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