President’s Message – Fall 2012

I spend early June almost every year in Japan, but I left San Francisco a little early this year. Because I was appointed to be a Guest Professor at the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics (NINJAL) in Tokyo, I flew to Japan shortly after the commencement ceremony at SF State University. For the past two years I have been involved in NINJAL’s three research projects: (1) Universals and Cross-Linguistic Variations in the Semantic Structure of Predicates, (2) Study on Teaching and Learning Japanese as a Second Language (JSL) in a Multicultural Society, and (3) Compilation of a Japanese Basic Verb Usage Handbook for Japanese-as-a-Foreign-Language (JFL) Learners. I have been lucky to be involved in these three projects. But being appointed to the guest professorship is another matter. I am supposed to publish a book entitled the “Handbook of Japanese Applied Linguistics,” one of the eleven handbooks on Japanese linguistics to be published in the next several years. I am very honored to be selected as the editor of the applied linguistics volume, because the main editors of these eleven books are all leading scholars in various areas of linguistics. NINJAL is involved in this publication project, and I was thus appointed a Guest Professor there. Feeling that my work has been rewarded, while my assigned task is challenging or even daunting, I was determined to complete it.

This summer I also gave two special lectures in Kyoto, one at Ryukoku University and the other at Kyoto University, my alma mater. First, I gave a special lecture entitled “Higher Education in the U.S.” to members of the Association of Faculty Councils on National Subsidies for Private Universities (Western Japan Liaison Council). I focused on three issues, (1) skyrocketing state universities’ tuition/fee rates over the past ten years, (2) available financial aid programs, and (3) faculty affairs and professional development. Although the United States and Japan are neighboring countries across the Pacific, Japanese educators in general and professors in particular do not necessarily know the U.S. education system, such as the financial aid system. While this is not necessarily my expertise, I spent several months on the preparation for this presentation, including the creation of a chart for tuition/fees by semester from fall 2002 to spring 2012, through collaboration with SF State’s officers — specifically those in the Office of International Programs and the Bursar’s Office.

My detailed lecture lasted one and a half hours. I started from a basic explanation of financial aid, which is funding intended to help students pay education expenses including tuition and fees, room and board, as well as books and supplies for education at a college, university, or private school. I then moved to the explanation of how financial aid works: financial aid is based on need — the difference between “what it costs to attend college (= costs)” and “what you and your family can afford to pay toward the cost (= contribution).” I then explained in detail the U.S. federal government and U.S. state governments providing merit- and need-based student aid including grants, work-study, and loans. My special lecture is available on YouTube,

Giving a lecture at Kyoto University was a memorable event, indeed. My undergraduate advisor and mentor at the Department of Economics, Dr. Hiroyuki Yamada, now Professor Emeritus and still an authority in the filed of urban economics (an area of the economic study that analyzes urban issues) and cultural economics (a branch of economics that studies the relation of culture to economic outcomes), invited me to a symposium as a guest speaker. The title of the symposium was Forum 2012. Also, I felt very fortunate to see several friends from my university days for the first time in thirty plus years.

My lecture was entitled “Japanese Language and Culture — From the Perspectives of Cross-cultural Psychology, Psycholinguistics, and Sociolinguistics.” While I referred to a variety of sociolinguistic phenomena such as historical changes (linguistic simplification, convergence, and divergence) in my lecture, I emphasized the background of those phenomena from the viewpoints of cultural psychology and sociology; that is, the more socialized we become, the more we develop a tendency to view the world through our own cultural filters. In other words, these filters are like lenses that allow us to perceive the world in a specific way. As we grow, we add layers to these filters, and, by the time we become adults, we share similar filters with others in the society/culture we live. In this way, cognition, socialization, and the language style we choose have close relationships with one another through culture as a medium.

But what was most impressive at the Forum is that Dr. Yamada, at age eighty, is still active in organizing seminars like this one as well as conducting research. His article entitled “Urban Transportation Problem in Contemporary Japan” appeared in the Kyoto University Economic Review in 1968. He wrote this article when he was a young assistant professor. Since then, he has been considered one of the most accomplished scholars in his filed, and continued to search for new topics piquing his interest. For the past several years, he has conducted research on the economical and cultural effect of local festivals from the perspective of social capital, the central premise of which is that social networks have value. More specifically, social capital refers to the collective value of social networks and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other. My educational background is this type of economics, but my incipient scholarly interests did not exactly coincide with Dr. Yamada’s. In a sense, I might have deviated or even digressed from it, but Dr. Yamada’s continued energetic attitude as a researcher greatly stimulated me. He even epitomized my conception of what a researcher and educator should be.

My involvement in conferences continues in this way. In March this year, as a matter of fact, I directed the 2012 American Association of Teachers of Japanese (AATJ) Annual Spring Conference in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The conference, which was the first to be held under the auspices of the newly renamed AATJ, was held in conjunction with the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS). To celebrate establishing the new organization, we invited Dr. Jim Cummins of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) of the University of Toronto, an eminent scholar in the areas of language learning, bilingual education, educational reform, and technological innovation for education. He delivered the keynote lecture entitled “Language Learning and Language Maintenance in a Multilingual World,” and we enjoyed listening to Dr. Cummins’s linking theory, research, and practice (both oral language and literacy skills development) as a means of contributing to the improvement of educational practice.

Finally, I was reelected FLANC President in early summer. The efforts of the members of an organization are what make it strong, and as president I look forward to working with the superlative contributions that this membership has to offer. I am determined to continue to devote my efforts towards fostering collaborative efforts between the Council and the general membership in order to create opportunities for FLANC to engage actively in intellectual exchange and discussion, and to promote studies aimed at increasing the scope of knowledge among persons interested in foreign languages and cultures. One way to gauge the quality of a professional organization is by the papers presented at its annual meeting, and I am also ready to collaborate with the Council members in order to make our annual Fall Workshops and Conference (which will be held on October 26 and 27 at SF State University in collaboration with the Chinese Language Teachers Association of California [CLTAC]) successful.

Your FLANC present,
Masahiko Minami, SF State University/NINJAL

Written By FLANC