The Emperor’s “courtly language”

Arnold Zwicky's Blog

New Yorker Letter from Japan (3/28/11, p. 73), “Aftershocks” by Evan Osnos, with a reference to a “courtly language”:

When Emperor Akihito appeared on television Wednesday — silver-haired, immaculate in a charcoal suit, speaking in a courtly language that most of his listeners do not understand — he expressed his “heartfelt hope that the people will continue to work hand in hand, treating each other with compassion, in order to overcome these trying times.”

This immediately struck me as very unlikely. I assumed that by “language” Osnos meant, as most people do in ordinary speech, ‘language variety’, in this case possibly a register or style of Japanese used in the Imperial court. But I was deeply suspicious of the idea that the Emperor would use, on such a grave occasion, while delivering a heartfelt message to his entire nation on television, a variety of Japanese that most of his audience…

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