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7 - Shifting electronic identities

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 November 2009

Nanette Gottlieb
Affiliation:
University of Queensland
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Summary

One of the major twentieth-century developments affecting the Japanese language, at least in its written form, was the development around 1980 of character-capable software. Although, as we saw in Chapter Five, Japan has not been noticeably handicapped by the intricate nature of its orthography, until the invention of this technology the complexity and size of the character set meant that it had never been able to have a successful “typewriter age” as in the west, so that most office documents and of course personal documents were still written by hand at a time when printed documents had become the norm elsewhere. The new technology therefore carried wide-ranging implications for writing. In the business domain, of course, it expedited office automation. In the personal domain, it brought about changes both in the way people wrote when they used it and in the nature of interpersonal relations mediated through print. Japanese consumers made of it a powerful expression of individual identity during the 1980s and 1990s, a trend which continues and today finds an extra dimension of expression in the messaging capability of mobile phones.

In addition to revolutionizing the way people thought about document production both in the office and at home, word-processing technology also then enabled Japan to construct a Japanese-language presence on the Internet. After a slow start relative to other countries, Japanese rose quickly to become the second most common language on the Internet, a position from which it was only edged out by Chinese in September 2000; it is currently sitting in third place.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2005

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