Shojo and Adult Women: A Linguistic Analysis of Gender Identity in Manga (Japanese Comics)

By Ueno, Junko | Women and Language, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview
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Shojo and Adult Women: A Linguistic Analysis of Gender Identity in Manga (Japanese Comics)

Ueno, Junko, Women and Language

Abstract: This study analyzes the linguistic behavior of female characters in shojo (girls) and ladies (women) manga (Japanese comics) and discusses the portrayal of female gender identities in the context of popular print media. Considering the great impact that Japanese print media has had over Japanese women's speech patterns throughout history, a linguistic analysis of female characters' speech patterns in shojo and ladies manga may reveal the kinds of representations of language and gender in manga and how these representations may affect Japanese women's gender identity today. Based on data collected through quantitative and qualitative approaches, the discussion focuses on the gender identities of shojo and adult women in shojo and ladies manga.


Language symbolizes social identity. Through language, certain social identities, including gender identity, are crafted that may either correspond to or oppose mainstream norms and values (Holmes, 1997). This study explores how gender identity is expressed through language use in manga, Japanese comics. On the surface gender identity in the Japanese language appears to be relatively straightforward. Gender differences in Japanese are usually marked both syntactically and lexically. For example, Japanese women and men are expected to use particular sentence final expressions and certain words that are different from each other in order to be considered "feminine" or "masculine" (Ide, 1990). The linguistic differentiation of gender tends to make Japanese women's language sound softer, politer, and less assertive, and makes Japanese men's language sound more assertive, vulgar, and less polite.

In her theory of indexicality, Ochs (1992) states that many linguistic features associated with one gender or the other "index social meanings (e.g. stances, social acts, social activities), which in turn help to constitute gender meanings (p340)." According to her theory, indexicality is defined as a property of speech through which particular stances or acts constitute cultural contexts, such as social identities. This connection between speech and social meanings is evident in the use of Japanese women's language. The softer and politer characteristics of Japanese women's language index "femininity," or the preferred image of Japanese women in society. Several studies report, however, that the speech styles of Japanese women have recently begun to change (Kobayashi, 1993; Miyazaki, 2002; Okamoto, 1996; Takasaki, 1993, etc.). Specifically, young Japanese women have been found to use feminine speech less often; they have started using masculine and neutral speech.

These findings are based on the actual speech of Japanese women and/or their self-report on their language use. No systematic studies, however, have previously investigated how Japanese women are linguistically depicted in contemporary print media. Print media has greatly influenced Japanese women's speech in the past. Sentence final expressions, which are typical of Japanese women's language were originally constructed in popular print media, specifically the genre of domestic novels in late Meiji period (late nineteenth century) (Inoue, 2002). In that period, women began to use feminine linguistic forms from domestic novels, and they became prominent in women's speech. At the same time, the ideological meanings behind these forms, ryosai kenbo (good wife, wise mother), also became widespread. Therefore, popular print media can influence one's speech choice and the social identity associated with it.

Manga are an extremely popular pastime among Japanese people regardless of sex, age, education, occupation, and social classes (Ito, 2000). It is most commonly published in a magazine form that normally contains about twenty serialized and concluding stories (Schodt, 1996). These manga magazines sell approximately 1.

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Shojo and Adult Women: A Linguistic Analysis of Gender Identity in Manga (Japanese Comics)


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