Japanese Language, Gender, and Ideology: Cultural Models and Real People

Japanese Language, Gender, and Ideology: Cultural Models and Real People

Japanese Language, Gender, and Ideology: Cultural Models and Real People

Japanese Language, Gender, and Ideology: Cultural Models and Real People

Synopsis

Japanese Language, Gender and Ideology is a collection of previously unpublished articles by established as well as promising young scholars in Japanese language and gender studies. The contributors to this edited volume argue that traditional views of language in Japan are cultural constructs created by policy makers and linguists, and that Japanese society in general, and language use in particular, are much more diverse and heterogeneous than previously understood. This volume brings together studies that substantially advance our understanding of the relationship between Japanese language and gender, with particular focus on examining local linguistic practices in relation to dominant ideologies. Topics studies include gender and politeness, the history of language policy, language and Japanese romance novels and fashion magazines, bar talk, dictionary definitions, and the use of first-person pronouns. The volume will substantially advance the agenda of this field, and will be of interest to sociolinguists, anthropologists, sociologists, and scholars of Japan and Japanese.

Excerpt

The Japanese language has played a foundational role in the development of language and gender as an area of linguistic research, and the language use of Japanese women—and, increasingly, men—continues to serve as a touchstone for theoretical and empirical advances in the field. This scholarly interest in Japanese was stimulated in the first instance by the widely discussed linguistic style known as “women's language.” For pioneering English-speaking feminist linguists in the 1970s and 1980s, “women's language” in the Japanese case provided a powerful illustration of the intimate relationship between gender and language, one that was seen as both like and unlike linguistic arrangements of gender in the West. Japanese was seen as different from English in having inscribed gender into its very structure, through the prescribed use of differential grammatical and lexical forms for women and men. Yet despite this tendency to treat Japanese “women's language” as alien and exotic, at the same time the linguistic situation of Japanese women was often seen as different from the circumstances of English-speaking women only in degree, not in kind. Thus “women's language” in Japan came to be examined for its potential in informing the understanding of language and gender in other societies as well.

In addition to its utility for Western feminists seeking to theorize language and gender, “women's language” has long been the object of scholarly scrutiny in Japan. Male Japanese scholars had been discussing this speech style for at least a century. In the late 1970s female Japanese linguists began to investigate “women's language” from a feminist perspective, and their findings often challenged nonfeminist perceptions of language and gender. Some researchers identified a number of fissures in what had been up until then a seamless and largely unquestioned cultural ideology . . .

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