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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 Three: Conceptualizing Women’s Place Through Instructive Texts


Modern educational materials for women functioned as an integral part of covert language policy that helped formulate the concept of Japanese women’s speech. These materials delivered the message that language used by women should be differentiated from standard Japanese and heed standards imposed by the governmental gender policy. Three types of educational materials are examined in this chapter. The first one is kōgo bunten, guidebooks for spoken Japanese grammar. The second type is school textbooks, including kyōkunsho (moral training books) and jokunsho (moral training books for women). The third type is women’s magazines. As discussed in the second chapter, women’s speech contained two contradictory components of modernization for women, namely, the simultaneous demarcation of female agency and of subordinated gender. The specific materials examined in this chapter represent the latter characteristics.

In the first section, I will use examples of kōgo bunten (guidebooks for spoken Japanese grammar) to demonstrate that the overt language policy did not originally include women’s speech as a representation of idealized standard Japanese. Kōgo bunten that were published from the 1900s to the1910s show how women’s speech issues were circumvented in works that were supposed to directly reflect Japanese language policy.

The second and third sections examine school textbooks and women’s magazines, respectively. For conceptualizing women’s speech, these materials ←87 | 88→promoted traditional Confucian elements of the “good wife, wise mother” ideal, which was also intertwined with modern aspects. The Confucian-based manners and etiquette, however, were much more...

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