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Vicarious Language

Vicarious Language: Gender and Linguistic Modernity in Japan

Miyako Inoue
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 340
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  • Book Info
    Vicarious Language
    Book Description:

    This highly original study provides an entirely new critical perspective on the central importance of ideas about language in the reproduction of gender, class, and race divisions in modern Japan. Focusing on a phenomenon commonly called "women's language," in modern Japanese society, Miyako Inoue considers the history and social effects of this language form. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in a contemporary Tokyo corporation to study the everyday linguistic experience of white-collar females office workers and on historical research from the late nineteenth century to 1930, she calls into question the claim that "women's language" is a Japanese cultural tradition of ancient origin and offers a critical geneaology showing the extent to which this language form is, in fact, a cultural construct linked with Japan's national and capitalist modernity. Her theoretically sophisticated, empirically grounded, interdisciplinary work brilliantly illuminates the relationship between culture and language, the nature of power and subject formation in modernity, and how the complex nexus of gender, language, and political economy are experienced in everyday life.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93906-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Note on Japanese Names and the Romanization of Japanese Language
    (pp. xix-xx)
  6. INTRODUCTION: Women’s Language and Capitalist Modernity in Japan
    (pp. 1-34)

    “Japanese women’s language” (onna kotoba or joseigo) is a socially powerful truth.¹

    By this, I do not mean that the phrase refers to the empirical speech patterns of women but that Japanese women’s language is an obligatory cultural category and an unavoidable part of practical social knowledge—for both women and men, urban and rural—in contemporary Japan. By using the phrasewomen’s language, I refer to a space of discourse—understood as a complex ensemble of practices, institutions, representations, and power—in which the Japanese woman is objectified, evaluated, studied, staged, and normalized through her imputed language use and...


    • CHAPTER 1 An Echo of National Modernity: Overhearing “Schoolgirl Speech”
      (pp. 37-74)

      From approximately 1887 through World War I, a surge of commentaries were written and circulated in the Japanese print media about the “strange” and “unpleasant”(mimizawarina)sounds issuing from the mouths of schoolgirls. Male intellectuals of various a‹ liations located the source of their dismay in utterance-endings such asteyo, noyo,anddawa,which schoolgirls used. They called such speech forms “schoolgirl speech” (jogakusei kotoba). It was jarring to their ears; it sounded vulgar and low class; its prosodic features were described as “fast,” “contracting,” and “bouncing with a rising intonation”; and it was condemned as “sugary and shallow.” Using...

    • CHAPTER 2 Linguistic Modernity and the Emergence of Women’s Language
      (pp. 75-107)

      How and why did some speech forms and functions come to be identified as women’s language? How and why have these speech forms and functions become promoted from unselfconscious sound to a universalized, national symbol that is both a socioculturally and a linguistically discrete index? Most importantly, how did such an indexical practice—a linkage of speech with social structure and cultural meaning—come to be possible to begin with? Scholars of the National Language Studies (Kokugogaku) often date the origin of women’s language as early as the fourth century, and they commonly construct a seamless narrative of Japanese women’s...

    • CHAPTER 3 From Schoolgirl Speech to Women’s Language: Consuming Indexicality in Women’s Magazines, 1890–1930
      (pp. 108-160)

      The schoolgirl’s voice was reified as teyo-dawa speech and was excluded from the public sphere of the print media as self-representing speech. At the same time, it proliferated and propagated in the print media through incessant and endless circulation and citation in the public sphere of print commodities as represented speech. The iterability of the schoolgirl’s voice-as-sign, however, inevitably produces unruly excess and contingency, and potentially leads to transformation and, possibly, subversion (Butler 1990, 1997; Derrida 1977). Likewise, in spite of intellectuals and educators deploring teyo-dawa speech, its indexical meaning simultaneouslyfailedto be faithfully iterated in the endless circuit...


    • CHAPTER 4 Capitalist Modernity, the Responsibilized Speaking Body, and the Public Mourning of the Death of Women’s Language
      (pp. 163-204)

      A century after the Meiji intellectuals deplored the vulgarity of schoolgirls’ speech, there was a resurgence of the practice of citing women’s language in the public sphere in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, again deploring the vulgarity of schoolgirls’ speech in particular and women’s language use in general. In this chapter, I will first examine rituals marking the loss or death of women’s language through various metapragmatic citational practices in the public sphere, including readers’ columns in newspapers and public opinion surveys, and will then examine how these technologies produce the truth of women’s language by way of...


    • Introduction
      (pp. 207-216)

      This brief section will provide background information about May Japan Limited, Inc. (MJL; a pseudonym), where I conducted ethnographic fieldwork from April 1991 through August 1993, working with the women whom I will describe in chapters 5 and 6. These women worked at the headquarters of MJL, located in one of the central business districts of downtown Tokyo. Its seven-story 1970s Japanese modernist building looked rather like a matchbox stood on one end, and it faced a busy street leading to one of the imperial palaces. This is a neighborhood whose name is celebrated in popular songs and is known...

    • CHAPTER 5 “Just Stay in the Middle”: The Story of a Woman Manager
      (pp. 217-251)

      This chapter is about Yoshida Kiwako, one of the nine women managers at MJL. Interestingly, Yoshida-san did not use any of the utterance-ending forms associated with women’s language in any context, which complicates and even obscures the mode by which and the location in which her citational practice constitutes her as a subject of women’s language. Born and raised in Kansai in western Japan, she was not a speaker of standard Japanese until she moved to Tokyo. The speech forms typically associated with women’s language, which would be readily available to standard-Japanese speakers, were not necessarily available to her unless...

    • CHAPTER 6 Defamiliarizing Japanese Women’s Language: Strategies and Tactics of Female Office Workers
      (pp. 252-277)

      In this chapter, I will introduce some of the female workers at MJL with whom I worked as a peer. Although different in age and in the types of work they did at MJL, they were all hardworking, intelligent, and funloving women, and I came to be fond of them as we worked together. Their linguistic practice and experience vis-à-vis the discourse of women’s language show remarkable diversity and mark different kinds of social differentiations and tensions, as well as meaning-making, that are central to their sense of who they are and who they want to be. For them, “women’s...

  10. AFTERWORD: This Vicarious “Japanese Women’s Language”
    (pp. 278-282)

    No one can seriously doubt that Japan has exhibited both particularities and universalities in its encounter with and experience of modernity and modernization since 1868. This is because modernization is always both local and global—in non-Western places such as Japan, but also of course, in modernity’s supposed core, the industrial and postindustrial West. This book has examined one of those specificities of the Japanese modern—the linkage between three elements: capitalism and state formation; the social organization and cultural constitution of gender; and language. While it is not at all unusual to find the first two elements—political economy...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 283-308)
  12. Index
    (pp. 309-323)