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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 Four: Resisting the Gendered Style of Women’s Writing


Modern literature has contributed the most to the formulation of “women’s speech” as the “standard” form of speech used by women. Literature as platform both provided the covert model of speech and allowed women to utilize particular forms or expressions, which were then circulated among themselves to reinforce the model of ideal women’s speech therein literary texts. This particular women’s speech model, in my opinion, was closely related to the written style followed by modern women writers, which can be called josō buntai or a “female drag writing style.” While grammar guidebooks, school textbooks, and women’s magazines were the sources of the concepts of women’s speech provided by a governmental agent, literature provided actual forms of women’s speech—contributed by women as agents as well.

Women’s speech was constructed via two different agents of covert language policy: the government and middle-class women. As discussed in the second chapter, middle-class women performed their gender through their speech performance. In contrast with authorities who sought to bind these women to conventional roles of womanhood, the women acted to bind themselves to social expectations while also resisting authoritative policy insisting on gendered normative speech styles. The women’s conforming and resisting both promoted gender separation in speech styles, resulting in the creation of a reconstructed “women’s speech.” This chapter thus examines women’s agency, one of the agents associated ←153 | 154→with covert language policy, which was realized in the field of literature. That is to say, it is a discussion of the...

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