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A Sociolinguistic study of digital communication among the elderly in Japan: Comparison of blog posts by older and younger Japanese

Posted By admin On May 31, 2013 @ 9:20 am In Abstracts for 2013, Linguistics and Language Teaching | Comments Disabled

Yukiko Nishimura, Professor

Department of International Communication

Toyo Gakuen University, Japan

This sociolinguistic study aims to explore (1) linguistic, stylistic, and discourse features that characterise blog posts by Japanese seniors, (2) how identities are manifested socio-culturally in relation to ageing and gender, and (3) broadly the impact of recent innovations in digital communication on a rapidly aging population in Japan. A number of sociolinguistic studies have investigated youths’ communicative behaviours online and offline. Though much attention has been given to youth behaviours, only a few studies have discussed elderly speakers’ interactional behaviours (e.g. Coupland et al 1991). Matsumoto (2011) studied Japanese elderly women’s natural conversation offline, but little has been said regarding senior citizens’ online behaviours. Since researchers should not exclude this social group, who outnumbers working adults due to rapid demographic changes, ageing is definitely “a future priority for sociolinguistics” (Coupland 2004: 83). Addressing this research agenda and responding to the expansion of computer-mediated communication (CMC) to include various social groups, this study attempts to investigate blog posts by older Japanese and compare them with blog posts by younger Japanese to reveal how seniors experience and express ageing, gender, and technology. The study is expected to shed light on “digital seniors” (Nagao 2011), who are much talked about in contemporary Japan, but are understudied from a linguistic perspective.

The dataset comes from online diaries on a huge ranking, linking, and aggregation site, Nihon Burogu Mura, or Japan Blog Village (http://www.blogmura.com/). This site offers over 120 major categories, including “senior blogs,” a category from which have been selected the journals of the top 50 most popular male and female senior bloggers. Another category, “miscellaneous everyday blogs,” offers age and gender differentiated subcategories, and the diaries of the top 50 most popular male and female bloggers in their 20s and 30s are collected for comparison. These categories are chosen to avoid over-representation of specific groups (for example, housewives). This results in four subsets in the data: older men, older women, younger men and younger women. Approximately 25 days of posts from each blogger were collected for analysis in spring and summer 2012. The length of each blog post varies considerably from one author to another. The study combines quantitative and qualitative analytic methods. On the one hand, it employs a corpus stylistic approach to identify linguistic features. On the other hand, it employs a discourse analytic approach to examine prominent features in posts that may reveal conceptualisations on gender, ageing and technology.

Preliminary analyses of blog posts reveal linguistic and stylistic differences in lexical choices and degree of formality across the generations, which is consistent with the stereotypical perception of ageing. However, qualitative analyses of senior blogs reveal that many authors are against ageing ideologies but conform to gender ideologies. Another observation is that while photographs appear abundantly in both generations’ posts, seniors scarcely employ visual elements embedded in texts, such as emoticons, and rather tend to prefer richer, longer textual descriptions. Posts by younger bloggers are generally shorter, with more emoticons, especially among young women. While the posts of younger bloggers often indicate that they were made from smart phones, seniors rarely engage in mobile blogging. Some seniors mention the benefit of connecting to others through blogging, but this is all but absent among the younger generation. These observations imply seniors, who are digital non-natives and latecomers, are in the process of learning to use digital technologies. One might speculate that seniors do not feel the necessity for emoticons, because they can accomplish their purpose of expressing themselves and connecting to others without this extra decoration, though emoticons can index young women’s gender identity. As a tool for connecting to the world, the Internet is increasingly important for Japan’s ageing population, which could face isolation and a deteriorating quality of life. This study illuminates how digital seniors experience ageing, gender, and technology in comparison with youth in Japan today from a sociolinguistic perspective.


Coupland, N. 2004. Age in social and sociolinguistic theory. In Handbook of communication and Aging Research, 2nd ed. J. F. Nussbaum and J. Coupland, eds. 69-90. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Coupland, N., J. Coupland, and H. Giles. 1991. Language, society, and the elderly: Discourse, identity, and ageing. Oxford: Blackwell.

Matsumoto, Y. 2011. Beyond stereotypes of old age: The discourse of elderly Japanese women. In Y. Matsumoto ed. Faces of aging: The lived experiences of the elderly in Japan. 194-219. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Nagao, Y. 2011. Dejitaru shinia jidai no tourai—intaanetto no shintou to shinia sou no henka [Arrival of digital senior age: Internet penetration and change among seniors]. In Y. Hashimoto ed. Nihonjin no jouhou koudou 2010 [Information behavior of the Japanese people 2010]. 315-329. Tokyo: The University of Tokyo Press.

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