P Debra Occhi – In/comprehensibility and dialect in regional promotional media

Invited speaker Professor Debra Occhi will be presenting at the workshop and convening a Master Class.

P Occhi’s presentation is titled: In/comprehensibility and dialect in regional promotional media: the case of Kobayashi, Japan.

Abstract: A 2015 YouTube promotional video for the rural Japanese city of Kobayashi in Miyazaki prefecture that features its dialect now appears prominently on the city’s website. Kobayashi employed a French actor to describe his impressions of the locale in local dialect (with subtitles in the so-called standard Japanese), in doing so promulgating the ruse that Kobayashi’s distinct dialect resembles French. This artifact alone is worthy of analysis, and is only one of the city’s promotional media whose theme relies on the use of dialect. A previous video depicted a visiting hiker who, lost in the woods, cannot understand the dialect spoken by the god who appears to guide him. A series of posters and postcards combines imagery with a word or phrase that outsiders may not easily decipher. These materials are humorous yet quizzical; their efficacy in attracting visitors seems questionable. What can these attempts at viral marketing show us about regionality, ideology, and language choices, in Japan and in the global mediascape?

Miyazaki prefecture’s linguistic landscape is varied, with several distinct dialect areas. Kobayashi, an inland city having a population of about 45,000 and an agriculture-based economy, is known for Nishimoro dialect, one often characterized as difficult to understand by outsiders. Like many such peripheral cities in contemporary Japan, Kobayashi struggles economically, suffering from an aging and decreasing population. This project discusses the city’s use of dialect in their promotional materials and attempts to contextualize them, incorporating data from fieldwork in Kobayashi and its surrounding areas, as well as other media containing reactions to these materials. Findings thus far indicate that the nature of local tourism renders the dialect comprehensibility issue less problematic than imagined. However, the issues concerning migrants are complicated, and among these dialect is just one.

Professor Occhi’s biographical information can be found here.