Using aizuchi in Japanese and English
By Paul McBride
Have you ever thought about how people of different cultures and languages use aizuchi?
Conversation can be similar to playing tennis. The speaker “hits” and the listener “returns”. When you are not “hitting”, you can show that you are paying attention or understanding the speaker. In English you might say “uh-huh”, “really”, “I see”, “right”, and so on. These words, together with gestures, are called “backchannel communication” by people who study language.
A research study in 2010 by Japanese scholar, Dr Saya Ike, showed that Japanese speakers use aizuchi, or “backchannels”, more often than speakers of English or Mandarin Chinese. Dr Ike says that “backchannel behavior” is an important part of Japanese conversation because the relationship between the speaker and the listener is important in Japanese society.
Interestingly, Dr Ike found that Japanese people also use aizuchi often when they speak English. During her research, she was especially interested in the head movements of Japanese speakers of English as they spoke with Australians.
Dr Ike believes that people learning English do not need to “borrow” English from “native” speakers. She says they can use English as a language that is developing in their speech community. Aizuchi in Japanese show the cultural and social customs of Japan; if we could not show the way we think or feel, Japanese English would not have a special identity, says Dr Ike.