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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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Epilogue: Predicting the Future of Women’s Speech


To summarize, my work here has proposed a new analytical framework for examining the relationship between women’s speech and Japanese society. The key concepts for this analysis are language governmentality and covert language policy. Language governmentality enhanced layered policies and practices of language, such as official or unofficial languages; Covert language policy supplemented an overt language policy, the goal of which was to establish standard Japanese in the Meiji period. Overt and covert language policies thus worked in tandem to reinforce societal control over women’s use of language. The category of ‘women’s speech’ was constructed as an ideal model for women’s behavior during the modernization process of Japan. This phenomenon was made possible by language governmentality that implemented kokugo policy that necessitated only one standard language for the nation-state, but that standard was not directly related to the creation of women’s speech; women’s speech was simply excluded from the planned and overt national language policy or kokugo policy. “Women’s speech” thus was a social construct and not something “naturally inherent” to women or an “unchangeable” entity of their identity.

The governmental language policy makers aimed to create a single standard for spoken language, which, theoretically, would transcend any differences in class, age, region and gender. In practice, Tokyo-go (Tokyo language), the language used by urban middle-class men residing in Tokyo, was designated as the standard.1 ←189 | 190→In the end, Tokyo-go then developed the most remarkable gender distinctions in its linguistic forms. Further, Tokyo-go was developed...

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