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The Language of Feminine Duty

Articulating Gender, Culture, and Covert Policy in Modern Japan

Rika Saito

This book examines "women’s speech" as a policy of constructs expressed in official and unofficial discourse from the 1880s to the 1920s in Japan. It analyzes specific language policies that were incorporated through governmental gender policy to perpetuate "women’s speech," asymmetrical gendered speech styles and concepts in the Japanese language. It also seeks to develop cross-cultural approaches to language and gender theories initiated in the United States and Europe by proposing new concepts of language policy. This work contributes to ongoing interdisciplinary scholarship on gender, language, and policy by reconsidering the relationship between the Japanese "national language" and "women’s speech."

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Chapter One: Modernizing Variegated Japanese Speech


As part of a significant modernization project, Japan’s language policy contributed to national progress in the modern era. Many previous studies have discussed how this language policy was implemented by Japanese government agencies, who faced problems of language they attempted to reform beginning with the Meiji period (1868–1912).1 The goals of reforming efforts were unification and simplification; the desired outcome was a Japanese language to use for the nation’s broader communications and education, as well as to affirm a commonality through language amongst the nation’s people under the newly centralized Meiji state. Specifically targeted for reformation were orthographic rules and non-standardized varieties of spoken Japanese language. This corpus planning (ling. planning new linguistic elements, such as grammar, spelling, pronunciation, etc.) process in Japan can be characterized, and often is, as a policy for kokugo a term which is literally translated as “national language” as koku- means a country, nation, or state, and -go means language. Within its intellectual and political historical contexts, the term means more precisely “the national language of the Japanese nation-state.” In this chapter, I will examine the philosophies and practices of kokugo policy to characterize an official overt Japanese language policy which is shadowed by covert Japanese language policy, that is, Japanese women’s speech.

The term “national language” used in the field of language policy studies has been defined in two different ways: the first refers to “a language symbolic ←29 | 30→of national identity,” and the second, “a language geographically or...

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