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East Asian Pragmatics - Open Access Inaugural Issue

  • Dalian University of Foreign Languages & Hungarian Research Centre for Linguistics
East Asian
ISSN: 2055–7752 (print)
ISSN: 2055–7760 (online)
Xinren Chen
Nanjing University, China
Dániel Kádár
University of Hu dder seld, UK
Advisory Editors
Haruko Cook
University of Ha wai’i at Manoa , USA
Jef Verschueren
University of Antwerp, Belgium
Book Review Editor
Yasuko Obana
Kw an se i G ak u in U ni ve r si ty, Ja pa n
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East Asian Pragmatics
issn (print) 2055-7752
issn (online) 2055-7760
Equinox Managing Editor (Linguistics): Steve Barganski
Printed and bound in Great Brit ain and in the USA
Editorial Board
Rong Chen, California State University, San Bernardino, United States
Yu a ns h a n C h e n , Na t i o n a l C h i n - Y i Un i v e r s it y o f Te c h n ol o g y , NC U T, Ta i w a n
Winn ie C heng, Hong Kong Polyt echni c Univ ersit y, H ong Ko ng
Yu e g uo G u , C h i n e s e A c a d e m y o f S o c i a l S c i e n c e s , C h i n a
Ziran He, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, China
Michael Haugh, Grith University, Australia
Ta ku o Ha y a sh i , Mo m oy a m a G a k ui n Un i v er s i t y, J a pa n
Gang He, East China Normal University, China
Agnes Weiyun He, Stony Brook University, United States
Patrick Heinrich, C a’Fo scari Universit y, Venice, Italy
Sachiko Ide, Japan Women’s University, Japan
Istvan Kecskes, State Unive rsity of New York, United States
Alan Hyun-Oak Kim, University of Illinois at Carbondale, United States
Jong-Hyun Kim, Cheongju National University of Education, Republic of Korea
Sungborn Lee, Sogang University, Republic of Korea
Cher Leng Lee, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Renia Lopez, University of Hudderseld, United Kingdom
LuMing Mao, Miami University, United States
Yo s h i k o M a t s u m o t o , S t a n f o r d Un i v e r s i t y, U n i t e d S t a t e s
Jun Ohashi , Universit y of Melbour ne, Aus trali a
Jim O’Dris coll, Univers ity of Hudder seld, United Kingdom
Shigeko Okamoto, University of California Santa Cruz, United States
Yu l i ng P a n , U S C e ns u s B u r e a u, U n i te d S t a t e s
Barbara Pizziconi, SOAS, United Kingdom
Yo n g p i n g R a n , G u a n g d o n g U n i v e r s i t y o f F o r e i g n S t u d i e s , C h i n a
Vic tori a R au, Nati ona l Ch ung Che ng Unive rsit y, Taiw an
We i R e n , G u an g d o n g U n i ve r s i t y of F o re i g n S t ud i e s , C h i na
Helen Spe ncer-Oate y, Universit y of Warwic k, United Kingdom
Zhang Wei, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Olga Zayts, e University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Doreen D. Wu, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong
East Asian Pragmatics 2016 Volume 1.1
Xinren Chen, Dániel Z. Kádár and Jef Verschueren 1
Variability and multiplicity in the meanings of stereotypical
gendered speech in Japanese
Shigeko Okamoto 5
e role of English as a scientic metalanguage for research in
pragmatics: Reections on the metapragmatics of ‘politeness’ in
Michael Haugh 41
e bases of (im)politeness evaluations: Culture, the moral order
and the East–West debate
Helen Spencer-Oatey and Dániel Kádár 75
Situation-bound utterances in Chinese
Istvan Kecskes 109
e mediatisation of Chinese corporate communication:
A linguistic approach
Zhengrui Han 129
Japanese: A Linguistic Introduction
Yoko Hasegawa (2014)
Reviewed by LuLu Vitali 151
Edited by Jan P. de Ruiter (2012)
Reviewed by Yanhong Zhang and Guodong Yu 155
 ()  -
 ()  -
  . 
©,  
doi : 10.1558/eap.v1i1.29734
Xinren Chen (Nanjing University, China)
Dániel Z. Kádár (University of Hudderseld, UK)
Jef Verschueren (University of Antwerp, Belgium)
e peer-reviewed journal East Asian Pragmatics (EAP), operating in partner-
ship with the China Pragmatics Association (CPrA) and e Pragmatics Society
of Japan (PSJ), aims to address a specic need in the eld. Since the emergence
of pragmatics, East Asian languages have been on the forefront of pragmatics
research, spanning inquiries into the interface between pragmatics and seman-
tics, through speech act theory, to (im)politeness research. us, it is not an over-
statement that there has been a long-standing interest in East Asian languages
including Chinese, Japanese, Korean and all other national and minority lan-
guages that are used in cultures inuenced by the (Neo-)Confucian literacy, and/
or are located in the geographical region of East Asia (see a denition in Kádár
and Mills, 2013). Yet, there has been no specialised journal dedicated to the prag-
matics of East Asian languages, in spite of the fact that the eld has produced
many high-impact academic outlets, including journals that have existed for dec-
ades such as Journal of Pragmatics and Pragmatics, as well as more recent and
successful projects such as Pragmatics and Society and Intercultural Pragmatics.
We intend to ll this gap by creating a peer-reviewed academic journal that can
serve as an academic outlet for international scholars specialising in this area.
As the Chinese idiom goes, beishui-chexin 󳥑: it is impossible to quench
the re of a cartload of rewood with one cup of water – this is true of the pres-
ent journal, which intends to make a contribution to the eld as a specialised
academic outlet, with a modest number of (initially two) issues annually. How-
ever, we believe that it is exactly a rigorously reviewed and highly specialised
should this not be
"the field of
2 east asian pragmatics
journal that specialists in the eld would prot from, as this venture will not only
form a forum for experts to exchange groundbreaking research (and for readers
to easily access the area), but also it will help East Asian researchers to become
more visible within the eld. In addition, in our view the journal will make a
key contribution to ‘emancipatory pragmatics, a eld that has been strongly pro-
moted by East Asian experts such as Sachiko Ide, by including publications that
enrich ‘mainstream’ pragmatic research by taking on East Asian understandings
of human interaction.In addition, the journal also aims to serve as a forum for
dierent academic traditions to interact with each other; that is, we intend the
journal to serve as a joint outlet for East Asian and Western pragmaticians. Spe-
cically, in the East Asian region, there has been cutting-edge research under-
taken on general pragmatics and/or the pragmatics of English, but such research
has oen remained inaccessible to Western readers, for the simple reason that
such research has been published in languages other than English. Also, many
Western researchers have done insightful research on East Asian pragmatic phe-
nomena, and yet their work has remained relatively unrecognised in East Asian
academia. We believe that East Asian Pragmatics has a unique capability to
address this knowledge gap: as an English-language publication endorsed and
promoted by the two largest East Asian academic societies of pragmatics, it will
hopefully become a high-impact journal, which helps authors to reach hitherto
inaccessible readers.In sum, East Asian Pragmatics aims to focus on language use
and interpersonal interaction within and across East Asian cultures, including
national cultures such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean, as well as ethnic minor-
ity, regional and other localised cultures, communities of practice, relational net-
works and other groupings, including diasporic communities. Furthermore, it
aims to broaden understandings of language use within the East Asian region,
and also to contribute to pragmatics in a broader sense by using East Asian data.
In particular, we hope to encourage both culture-insider and culture-outsider
discussions on East Asian pragmatic phenomena so as to promote cross-cultural
understanding and intercultural communication.
e journal welcomes contributions on a broad range of pragmatics-related
topics such as speech acts, deixis, presupposition, reference, forms of address,
face, (im)politeness, the construction of identity in interaction, conventionalised
and ritual forms of language use, humour, conict, indirectness, to name just
a few, within a broad range of settings and naturally occurring data types such
as computer-mediated communication, media discourses, ad hoc conversations,
and historical documents. e examination of these topics and data types is not
only relevant to the pragmatics community, but also to academic readers from
other disciplines within linguistics and the humanities in general, and ‘lay’ read-
ers and students who have intercultural or other interests in East Asia. Accord-
to easily
due to the
medium of
the journal
replace the field
with "Western
editorial 3
ingly, the journal not only pursues research on East Asian language use per se, but
it also focuses on cross-cultural and intercultural issues, which is a pivotal area
considering the growing importance of the East Asia region within the global
As our editorial policy, we are particularly interested in publishing high-qual-
ity research on naturally occurring data in East Asian languages and cultures.
is emphasis on ‘naturally occurring’ reects the fact that while elicited data
has played an important role in sociopragmatic research on East Asian languages,
this methodology has been broadly (and rightly) criticised. us, while the jour-
nal pursues interest in a broad variety of data types and sources, it aims to break
away from the use of elicited data and to study pragmatic phenomena either in
longer chunks of interaction or via corpus research.
e present inaugural issue of East Asian Pragmatics includes ve full-length
research articles and two book reviews. We have invited these contributions to
the present issue as they share a number of academic values that are regarded as
pivotal in our journal project:
All these articles use East Asian data to contribute to both East Asian pragmatics
and pragmatic research in a broader sense. is insightful practice represents the
ultimate academic goal of East Asian Pragmatics.
e authors use naturally occurring data that represent various aspects of lan-
guage use, spanning gendered language, through institutional interaction, to
e authors apply a wide variety of methodologies; however, all these method-
ologies are critical by nature, which echoes the journal’s goal to promote critical
research within the East Asian eld.
‘Variability and Multiplicity in the Meanings of Stereotypical Gendered Speech
in Japanese’ represents Shigeko Okamoto’s groundbreaking research on Japanese
gendered language. is article not only represents a key area in Japanese prag-
matics, but it also draws attention to variability and contestedness. Considering
that East Asian languages are oen represented as ‘exotic’, in rather stereotypical
ways, Okamotos research is relevant not only to experts of Japanese, but also to
any reader who intends to understand language use in Japanese beyond stereo-
Michael Haughs ‘e Role of English as a Scientic Metalanguage for Research
in Pragmatics: Reections on the Metapragmatics of “Politeness” in Japanese’ is
another contribution dedicated to the Japanese language. Similar to Okamoto’s
work, Haugh’s study has an academic importance well beyond the narrower East
Asian eld. By pointing out the various problems that the use of the metalexeme
‘politeness’ implies in East Asian academic languages such as Japanese, Haugh
form of
4 east asian pragmatics
conducts metapragmatic theorisation that is relevant literally to any research pro-
ject in the area of sociopragmatics.
e Bases of (Im)politeness Evaluations: Culture, the Moral Order and the
East–West Debate’, written by Helen Spencer-Oatey and Dániel Kádár, also
engages with broader theorisation, by revisiting debates over the claimed East–
West divide within politeness theory. is research explores evaluative attitudes
of politeness behaviour, by merging interdisciplinary theoretical insights. is
interdisciplinary nature is of particular importance for the present journal, as it
showcases the strength of collaboration between pragmaticians and experts of
other disciplines such as psychology in the research of key areas such as culture,
beliefs and ideologies.
Istvan Kecskes’s ‘Situation-Bound Utterances in Chinese’ represents a Western
scholar’s eorts to reinterpret and theoretically frame a Chinese pragmatics phe-
nomenon, which has been subject mainly to native research, namely a unique
group within idiomatic expressions, the use of which is closely tied to particular
situations. e signicance of this study resides, in our view, in the fact that it
demonstrates the potential strength of culture-outsider insights into the research
of East Asian phenomena.
Zhengrui Han’s study e Mediatisation of Chinese Corporate Communica-
tion: A Linguistic Approach’ forms an interesting pair with Kecskes’s work: it rep-
resents a Chinese scholar’s attempt to utilise a typically culture-outsider method-
ology to examine Chinese interactional data. It is perhaps not an overstatement to
argue that Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) has not gained overall prominence
in Chinese academia: it is oen regarded as ‘foreign’ due to its particular under-
standing of society and social change. erefore, by conducting CDA research by
using Chinese data, Han makes an important contribution to the eld.
Finally, we have included two book reviews in the present inaugural issue. It
is important to point out that our editorial policy is to promote the reviewing
of books written in East Asian languages and published in East Asian countries,
since such works are inaccessible to many Western readers. By getting such works
reviewed, we hope that the journal will contribute to the promotion of pragmatic
research done in East Asian languages.
a methodology,
which is typically
used by culture
outsiders when it
comes to Chinese,
in order to
Also, occasionally we include
reviews of books that are
relatively unrelated to East
Asia, but which bear
importance to a number of key
theoretical issues in East Asian
pragmatics, as in the case of
the second review in the
present volume.
 ()  -
()  -
  .  
©,  
University of California Santa Cruz
doi : 10.1558/eap.v1i1.28747
Variability and multiplicity in the meanings of
stereotypical gendered speech in Japanese
Shigeko Okamoto
Recent research on the use of gendered speech in Japanese has demonstrated ex-
tensive within-gender diversity, suggesting that the relationship between linguistic
forms and gender is variable, not xed. While this diversity in use suggests a di-
versity in interpretation, the latter has not been adequately examined in its own
right and deserves closer attention, given that it has important implications for
the relationship between linguistic forms and social meanings. To address this gap,
this article analyses both native speakers’ metapragmatic comments on the use of
gendered linguistic forms and the interpretation of such forms used in situated con-
versations. It considers how and why forms normatively interpreted as feminine
or masculine may be (re)interpreted dierently by dierent persons or in dier-
ent social contexts. Drawing on the notion of indirect and variable indexicality, I
consider how such diverse and multiple interpretations can be accounted for in a
theoretically coherent manner.
keywords:gender, indexicality, language ideology, japanese
6 east asian pragmatics
1. Introduction1
Language and gender research has undergone major changes in both theory and
methodology since the early 1990s. What these changes reect is a fundamentally
dierent way of conceptualising the relationship between language and gender.
In the earlier approach, which mainly addressed linguistic gender dierences,
linguistic forms were linked straightforwardly to women or men. Questioning
this static approach, which tended to focus on stereotypical language use, recent
research has shied its focus to more critical examinations of the relationship
between language and gender as being indirect, socially constructed, and
dynamic, and hence potentially variable, multiple, and diverse (e.g., Bucholtz,
2014; Bucholtz & Hall, 2004; Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2013). Corresponding
to this general change, Japanese language and gender research has also shied
its focus from the structural description of joseigo ‘women’s language’ and
danseigo ‘men’s language’ as distinct categories to a more critical approach with
the understanding that these categories represent linguistic gender norms or
stereotypes. is shi in turn has led to two kinds of research: one concerning the
historical norm construction (e.g., Inoue, 2004, 2006; Nakamura, 2007a, 2014)
and the other concerning within-gender diversity in language practice (e.g., Abe,
2010; Itakura, 2015; Maree, 2013; Okada, 2008; Okamoto, 1995; Okamoto and
Shibamoto Smith, 2004; SturtzSreetharan, 2004, 2009).
While these recent studies have greatly advanced Japanese language and gender
research, there are many gaps yet to be lled. Here I note three issues. First, while
the greatest attention has been paid to female speakers of Standard Japanese, the
speech of women and men from more diverse social backgrounds in regard to
such aspects as class, region, age, and sexuality requires much more research. Sec-
ondly, recent studies have tended to examine either the norm construction or
actual speech practice separately, but it is important to consider the relationship
between the two, that is, the relationship between the macro-sociological facts
and micro-level language practice, as increasingly recognised in recent years (see,
for example, Agha, 2005; Mills & Mullay, 2011; Okamoto & Shibamoto Smith,
forthcoming; Pennycook, 2010; Silverstein, 2003). e third issue concerns the
interpretation of linguistic forms, in particular gendered language.
While these three issues are closely related and together raise important ques-
tions concerning the relationship between language and social meanings, includ-
ing gender, the present article focuses on the last issue, namely, interpretation.
Previous studies on diversity in the relationship between Japanese language and
gender have tended to look at it from the production side, considering how and
why speakers use gendered linguistic forms – an approach largely based on the
view that meaning resides in the speaker and can be retrieved (see, for exam-
ple, Duranti, 1993 for a critical discussion of this matter). However, the speaker’s
I would think
that a space
is due here?
variability and multiplicity in japanese 7
meaning (or what is regarded as the speaker’s meaning by the researcher) may
dier from other persons’ meanings. at is, the same linguistic form may be
interpreted dierently by dierent individuals and in dierent contexts2 (Cole &
Pellicer, 2012; Eckert, 2008; Johnstone, 2013). Concerning the variable meanings
of dialectal forms, for example, Johnstone (2013, p.393) explains the source of
this variability as follows:
Particular forms can index multiple meanings at the same level and at
multiple levels of abstraction. is is a consequence of the fact that lan-
guage is never completely shared and that dierent individuals experience
the linguistic and sociolinguistic environment in dierent ways, depend-
ing on the context (who is talking, in what circumstances) and the co-text
(what else is being said or done at the same time), and meaning can change.
is argument is not limited to dialectal forms, but also applies to the interpreta-
tion of gendered language (and other linguistic variables).
Previous research on the use of gendered speech in Japanese has demonstrated
within-gender diversity, which supports the notion that the relationship between
linguistic forms and gender is variable, not xed. While this diversity in use sug-
gests a diversity in interpretation, the latter has not been adequately examined in
its own right. Its close examination is essential for enhancing our understand-
ing of the nature of the relationship between linguistic forms and social mean-
ings. Focusing on gendered linguistic forms in Japanese, in this article I consider
the issue of semiotic variability and multiplicity by addressing how they may be
interpreted in specic social contexts and how the variability and multiplicity in
their interpretations can be accounted for in a theoretically coherent manner by
considering what gives rise to dierent interpretations. In what follows, I rst
discuss the theoretical underpinnings for this article, drawing on the notions of
indirect and variable indexicality3 and language ideology. I then examine sample
metapragmatic discourses to illustrate possible diverse interpretations of gen-
dered forms in Japanese, followed by analyses of the possible diverse meanings of
gendered linguistic forms in situated practice. Lastly, I present a brief conclusion.
2. Variable indexicality and language ideology
e sentence-nal form wa yo or zo is a female or male form, respectively. e
self-reference term atashi or ore means that the speaker is a woman or a man,
respectively. ese exemplify common characterisations of gendered speech
forms in earlier research based on the direct indexicality approach (Ochs, 1993).
is approach, however, has been found inadequate by many studies of actual
language use (see, for example, Abe, 2010; Maree, 2011, 2013; Miyazaki, 2004;
8 east asian pragmatics
Okada, 2008; Okamoto & Shibamoto Smith, 2004; Sunaoshi, 2004), which show
that the link between a linguistic form like wa yo (or zo) and gender is neither
direct nor xed, and that social meanings are not inherently associated with lin-
guistic forms. Eckert (2008, p. 455) argues that:
[T]he very fact that the same linguistic variables may stratify regularly
with multiple categories – e.g. gender, ethnicity, and class – indicates that
their meanings are not directly related to these categories but to some-
thing that is related to all of them. In other words, variables index demo-
graphic categories not directly but indirectly (Silverstein 1985), through
their association with qualities and stances that enter into the construc-
tion of categories.
For example, the form wa yo may be associated with such qualities as gentleness
and politeness, which in turn may be linked to not only women, but also to peo-
ple in higher social classes (see also Ochs, 1993 for a discussion of the notion of
indirect indexing). Obviously, not all women are gentle and polite, nor are all
people in higher social classes, but it is the common belief that they (should) have
such qualities and therefore (should) speak gently and politely.
In other words, the link between wa yo and women is mediated by language
ideologies, or “‘commonsense’ sets of beliefs about language and their links
to ‘reality’ and to social value that speakers can and do use to rationalise
their language use and their attitudes toward the language use of others, with
consequences for language structure and language change” (Shibamoto Smith &
Chand, 2013, p. 36). An ideology reecting the interest of a specic social or
cultural group (Kroskrity, 2000, p. 8) is by denition contested. A dominant
ideology gains hegemony, but it is a product of contestations, because hegemony
is never complete (Briggs, 1998; Gal, 1998). is means that the normative
interpretation of a linguistic form based on the dominant ideology may not be
universally shared in a society. As emphasised by McConnell-Ginet (2014, pp.
318 and 322), meaning-making is “fundamentally social”, and with dierent
ideologies, dierent interpretations are possible. In this respect, non-normative
interpretations are not simple exceptions, but rather oer us opportunities to
understand how (dominant) norms are understood, assessed, and negotiated in
eecting meanings in specic interactional contexts. As argued by Blommaert
(2010, p. 80), “‘the margin’, so to speak, is not necessarily a space in which people
fail to meet norms, but it can as well be seen as a space in which dierent but
related norms are produced, responding – ‘ecologically’, so to speak – to the local
possibilities and limitations.
e foregoing discussion points to the importance of discursive practice in spe-
cic interactional contexts for the interpretation of linguistic forms. Introducing
the notion of indexical eld, Eckert (2008, p. 453) argues that “the meanings of
variability and multiplicity in japanese 9
variables are not precise or xed but rather constitute a eld of potential mean-
ings – an indexical eld, or constellation of ideologically related meanings, any
one of which can be activated in the situated use of the variable”. In other words,
it is only in a specic context that a linguistic form is interpretable. Furthermore,
the semiotic variability and multiplicity of an indexical sign is largely made possi-
ble through the process of its repeated (re)interpretation, or (re)semiotisation, in
context. Drawing on Silverstein’s (2003) notion of indexical order, Eckert (2008)
concludes that the link between form and meaning is made and remade through
participation in discourse, which involves “a continual interpretation of forms
in context, an in-the-moment assigning of indexical values to linguistic forms”
(p.462). us a form with a stereotypical social meaning may be given a dierent
or additional indexical value in a particular context.
In the ensuing sections, I examine the interpretation of Japanese gendered
speech to illustrate how the indexical approach discussed above may help us
understand the variability and multiplicity of its indexical meanings.
3. Variable meanings: Examples from metapragmatic dis-
Metapragmatic activities take a variety of forms, such as direct comments on lan-
guage and language use (as seen in self-help books on speech), opinions about
speech expressed in readers’ columns in newspapers and online blogs, and indi-
rect comments indicated through the representation of dierent speech varieties
spoken by characters in novels, TV dramas, and so forth (Okamoto & Shibamoto
Smith, forthcoming). Metapragmatic comments are not accurate descriptions
of how people speak, but they tell us about native speakers’ beliefs about how
one should or should not talk, or their awareness of social signicance of dif-
ferent language varieties or ways of speaking (Kroskrity, 2000; Woolard, 2008).
While these metapragmatic activities oen serve to endorse and reinforce domi-
nant language ideologies, they may also involve expressions of competing views.
Examining metapragmatic comments is thus helpful in understanding native
speakers’ views about social values and meanings of language varieties and lan-
guage use, as they may have important bearings on actual language practice. is
section examines metapragmatic comments that illustrate diverse views concern-
ing gendered speech, or the belief about how women and men should talk. ese
comments are available in a variety of media genres, as noted above. e sample
metapragmatic comments I present in this section are mainly drawn from online
blog threads.
Joseigo and danseigo have been characterised in terms of a set of specic linguistic
forms involving features such as self-reference and address terms, sentence-nal
10 east asian pragmatics
forms, and honorics, and also in terms of general stylistic features such as
politeness, gentleness, and renement (for joseigo) and forcefulness, decisiveness,
and roughness (for danseigo) (see, for example, Kinsui, 2003, pp. 135–137;
Okamoto & Shibamoto Smith, 2008, p. 92 for summaries of these stereotypical
characteristics). Furthermore, the characterisations of joseigo and danseigo are
generally given in terms of Standard Japanese (SJ, hereaer) forms rather than in
regional dialectal forms (Inoue, 2004, 2006; Nakamura, 2007a, 2014; Okamoto &
Shibamoto Smith, 2008), suggesting the underlying “standard language ideology”
(Milroy, 2001) that regards SJ, or its speakers, as the model, or “icon” (Irvine &
Gal, 2000), of the Japanese language while degrading or disregarding regional
dialects and their users.
e practice of treating SJ as the model is still common in education (as in school
textbooks and Japanese language textbooks) as well as in the media, even though
it is increasingly recognised that Japanese people’s attitudes toward regional
dialects have become much more positive today (e.g., Tanaka, 2011). For example,
SJ-based joseigo and danseigo tend to be associated with the “traditional” forms of
femininity and masculinity and used in the media, particularly for heroines and
heroes in ctional worlds such as manga, TV dramas, anime, and novels (Kinsui,
2003; Nakamura, 2007b; Okamoto & Shibamoto Smith, 2008, forthcoming; Satake,
2003; Shibamoto Smith, 2004). In other words, SJ-based gendered language can
be considered socially “typied”, whereby a set of linguistic forms is “regularly
treated as indexical of a particular social type” and gives rise to a “metapragmatic
stereotype” (Agha, 2005, pp. 45–46). In addition to ctional worlds in novels, TV
dramas, and so forth, self-help books for women’s speech published profusely
every year is another media genre that emphasises normative speech. ese books
teach women to speak politely and gently, giving examples in SJ-based joseigo
(Nakamura, 2007b, 2014; Okamoto, 2010; Okamoto & Shibamoto Smith, 2008,
forthcoming). We also encounter sharp criticisms expressed in readers’ columns
in newspapers and magazines as well as online blogs targeted at women whose
speech is considered unfeminine (Inoue, 2006; Okamoto, 1995) as well as those
targeted at men whose speech is deemed unmasculine (see below for examples).
However, non-normative, or diverging, interpretations have also been
expressed. For example, it has been pointed out that linguistic femininity does
not always need to rely on specic SJ forms, that feminine characteristics can be
expressed using regional dialects (Okamoto & Shibamoto Smith, 2008, forthcom-
ing), and that the use of SJ forms may not necessarily translate into femininity if
it is not accompanied by the appropriate para- and extra-linguistic elements such
as the tone of voice and non-verbal behaviour (e.g., bowing, facial expressions),
as emphasised repeatedly in self-help books for womens speech (Okamoto, 2010).
Furthermore, we oen encounter diering, or non-normative, views of gender
variability and multiplicity in japanese 11
and language use expressed in various genres of the media. Examining meta-
pragmatic comments expressed in online blogs, I present evidence of this diver-
sity, rst with regard to the interpretation of danseigo and then that of joseigo.
e sample comments are drawn from the following online sites: Minna no Q
& A ‘Everyone’s Q & A, Yahoo! Japan Chiebukuro ‘Yahoo! Japan Knowledge Bag’,
Hatsugen Komachi ‘Opinion Forumin Yomiuri Online, and Nan-J TimesAny-
thing-J Times’.4 Each of these blog sites tends to have its own target audience and
normative communication style and formality level (Nishimura, 2010). More-
over, the writers’ identities of these samples I present here are oen unspecied;
and even if they are mentioned, they may not always be reliable. Despite these
issues, which can be more closely examined in future research, my main objective
here is to simply illustrate that, even in the same site, for example, Minna no Q &
A, widely diverse views are oen expressed regarding a variety of topics, including
matters concerning gendered language.
Women’s use of danseigo, or otoko kotoba ‘men’s language’, has been criticised
publicly, particularly since mass media became available in modern Japan (Bohn
& Matsumoto, 2008; Endo, 1997; Inoue, 2006; Nakamura, 2007a, 2014). Such crit-
ical comments are not uncommon at all, even today. In particular, due to the wide
availability of online blog sites, many ordinary people express their diverse views
about language and gender. For example, in Minna no Q & A there were more
than ten threads (as of 10 April 2015) that concerned womens kotobazukai ‘use
of language, and many of them denounce women who do not speak in a feminine
manner. A 25-year-old woman, for instance, initiated a thread and criticised one
of her female colleagues in her early 20s for using rough (ranbōna) language, such
as xx janee ‘it’s not xx’, in which nee is a phonologically contracted form of nai
‘not’ and normatively considered strongly masculine,5 and Omae maji fuzaken na
yo ‘You cut the crap, seriously’, in which the address term omaeyou’ and the nal
form n na yo ‘don’t’ are normatively regarded as strongly masculine forms; maji
‘seriously’ is a slang word used widely by young people. (Note that the use of slang
and vogue words has been normatively considered unfeminine since pre-mod-
ern times, as noted by Endo, 1997 and Nakamura, 2007a.) is initial blogger
If I talk about ‘femininity’ (joseirashisa), I may antagonise some readers, but I think
there is certain common sense (jōshiki) or prudence (tsutsushimi) that a woman (josei to
shite) should have. I wonder if such [rough] language use is tolerated by young people.
If, for example, one’s girlfriend uses such language, will he continue to love her? (Minna
no Q & A, 11 April 2012)
12 east asian pragmatics
ere were several initial posts like this one in other threads as well, and some
of them gave other example expressions of “roughlanguage, including kuu for
taberu ‘eat’, kuso ‘(lit.) shit’ used as an intensier as in kuso-tsumaranai ‘damn
boring’, and some other slang expressions – e.g., kimoi for kimochi ga warui ‘dis-
gusting’. In response to these initial posts, many writers expressed agreement and
characterised such women’s language use as josei-rashikunai ‘unfeminine’, geh-
inna ‘vulgar’, kitanai ‘dirty’, hin ga nai ‘unrened’, atama ga warui ‘unintelligent’,
sodachi ga warui ‘bad upbringing’, hazukashii embarrassing’, motte no hokaout-
rageous’, and otoko ga hiku ‘men nd (such women) unattractive.
Many of these comments seem to assume that the ideal form of femininity
emphasises, on the one hand, women’s “powerlessness” (e.g., tsutsumashiimod-
est’ and not ranbō ‘rough’) and, on the other hand, women’s class status (e.g. not
hin ga nai ‘unrened’, not sodachiga warui ‘bad upbringing’). ey also assume
heteronormativity; for example, the initial writer wondered if a man would con-
tinue the romantic relationship with his girlfriend if she used rough language.
Two other men wrote that they felt disenchanted by such women. Heteronorma-
tivity is also assumed in self-help books for women’s speech in that the majority of
these books emphasise how important it is for women to speak in a feminine way,
using polite, gentle, rened, and beautiful (utsukushii, kireina) language in order
to become attractive as (heterosexual) women (Okamoto, 2010).
On the other hand, there are also many bloggers who disagreed with these crit-
ical comments on women using rough language. For example, a female college
student wrote in Minna no Q & A that she and her friends use rough language
because it is like slang to them and feels liberated (kaihōteki). e 25-year-old
woman who complained about one of her female colleagues mentioned above also
acknowledged that some of these expressions might be used as banter towards
familiar colleagues or close friends. e female college students interviewed in my
earlier study also reported that they used otoko kotoba among friends to convey a
sense of intimacy, or nakama ‘same-group members’ (Okamoto, 1995). It seems
that, while these young women recognise normative speech, breaking the norm
can make them feel liberated and reinforce the solidarity relationship among
friends. In this reinterpretation, such meanings as forcefulness and decisiveness
are linked not only to masculinity, but also to (higher-order) indexical meanings,
such as solidarity and liberation. Note that the use of masculine language by these
women does not mean that such linguistic forms cease to index masculinity. As
long as these women feel “liberated” by using such forms, the meaning of mas-
culinity as their normative indexical value must be recognised. Furthermore, the
report that these (SJ-speaking) young women use masculine speech in limited
social contexts suggests that they use gendered speech as a resource to construct
a dierent identity, or persona, depending on the situation, which supports the
East Asian
in the
e above
variability and multiplicity in japanese 13
idea that one’s identity is not predetermined, but variable and multiple (Bucholtz
& Hall, 2004, 2005).
Another (female) writer in another thread also expressed disagreement with
the negative interpretation of women’s use of danseigo as vulgar, rough, and so
forth, pointing out the possibility of regional and contextual dierences in the
perception, as shown in (2).
I think it depends on where one lives. e language use that may be normal (futsū)
in one regional area may sound harsh (kitsui) to people in other areas. ere are also
occasions in which such language can express one’s emotions better. For example, one
can express anger better with ttaku ano kuso-babā! ‘Really, that damn hag!’ rather than
nani ano hito ‘What’s [wrong] with that person?’, right? (Minna no Q & A, 2 July 2005)
is writer’s point about regional dierences has also been recognised by Sunaoshi
(2004), who argued that, although the farm women in a rural area in Ibaraki7 that
she observed used forms normatively considered danseigo, such as ore ‘I’ and
the phonologically contracted form /ee/, it is not perceived as unfeminine in the
local community, as it is a normal part of their ordinary speech, which can serve
to reinforce solidarity among the local speakers (see below for further discussion
on this point).
In Example (2), the writer also asserts that rough language can be a useful
means for a woman to express a strong emotion like anger eectively. Similarly,
the female college students observed in my earlier study sometimes used strongly
masculine forms (such as zo, ja nee) in expressing certain emotions (e.g., anger) or
speech acts (e.g., protest) in a forceful manner (Okamoto, 1995). In other words,
such stances as forcefulness and decisiveness associated with danseigo forms are
linked to certain emotions or speech acts rather than masculinity. Observing les-
bian women at lesbian bars in Tokyo, Abe (2010) found that many of them used
masculine linguistic forms as resources for indexing their identities as lesbians
interacting in lesbian bars as well as for certain emotions (e.g., anger) or speech
acts (e.g., argument).
Danseigo forms used by men, on the other hand, are supposed to index norma-
tive masculinity through stances such as forcefulness and decisiveness associated
with these forms. However, not everyone seems to share the same perception. For
example, a female blogger initiated a thread in Minna no Q & A (posted on 5 April
2007) and asked the readers what they think of men who use rough (ranbōna)
language towards women, such as meshi kū ka ‘Will you eat (a meal)?’ instead of
gohan taberu and …janee ka ‘isn’t it…?’ instead of …janai no. e characterisa-
tion of such language as ranbō ‘roughsuggests her negative attitude towards it.
is this
same -
the text
14 east asian pragmatics
Among the thirteen people who responded, four clearly stated that they dislike
men who use such language because it is gasatsu de arappoi ‘rough and coarse’,
indicates sodachi no warusa ‘bad upbringing’, jibun chūshin no hitoa self-centred
person, or dansonjohi-ppoi ‘like (the idea of) male supremacy’, or feels jibun ga
somatsu ni atsukawareteiru ‘being treated without care. On the other hand, three
people wrote that it would not bother them if it t the man’s personality. Several
others pointed out that it depended on the situation, and that it would be ne if
it were used towards familiar persons in informal situations, suggesting that such
language use may serve in indexing or constructing a friendly relationship.
I now turn to the interpretation of joseigo. As mentioned above, female charac-
ters, particularly heroines, in ctional worlds still oen use SJ-based joseigo today.
Even when the story is set in regional Japan, the heroine, oen a young, beautiful,
and/or middle-class woman, tends to use joseigo, while the marginal female char-
acters tend to use the (simplied) regional dialect (see Okamoto & Shibamoto
Smith, 2008). is suggests the intersection of gender, or femininity, with other
social aspects, including age, class, and region. I present here one example from a
2015 NHK TV morning drama series Massan. e hero Massan, while studying
in Scotland in the 1910s, marries the heroine Ellie, a Scottish woman. He is from
Hiroshima but moved to Ōsaka aer returning to Japan with Ellie. Ellie slowly
learns Japanese, but the variety she speaks is largely SJ-based joseigo, even though
the people she interacts with primarily speak the Hiroshima or Ōsaka dialect,
both of which at the time were probably much less standardised than they are
today. Repeated media representations such as these serve to reinforce the stereo-
typical association of SJ joseigo (or regional dialect) forms with socially desired
(or less desired) images of femininity.
e use of stereotypical SJ joseigo forms, however, may not necessarily be per-
ceived as feminine or appropriate for all Japanese women. Metapragmatic com-
ments reported in previous research illustrate diverse interpretations. For exam-
ple, based on survey data concerning the use of stereotypical (strongly feminine)
sentence-nal forms such as wa and kashira, Mizumoto (2006) reports that the
male respondents tended to perceive it as onnarashii ‘feminine’ or evoking an
image of otona no joseiadult women, while the female respondents regarded it as
a style they used when talking with elderly people or their superiors, but not with
their friends, except when they made fun of such speech (see also Matsumoto,
1996 and Inoue, 2006 for similar examples). e association of these forms with
adult women was also shared by young female college students I interviewed, who
reported that those forms are for older women (Okamoto, 1995). On the other
hand, the use of these forms as an object of warai ‘laughter’, or mocking, noted
by the female respondents in Muzumoto’s study, suggests their association with a
particular kind of femininity, one that they do not wish to identify with, because
It would be worth checking the
Equinox style: it seems to me
that when it comes to place
names we use standardised
versions (e.g. Osaka vs.
Ōsaka, Tokyo vs. Tōkyō; can
you look into this and check the
ms. accordingly?
variability and multiplicity in japanese 15
they may nd it to be too old-fashioned, overly feminine, too pretentious, and so
forth. Such mocking use in turn may serve as a sign of in-group solidarity. While
the interpretation of stereotypical feminine forms as adult woman’s speech is age
related, their interpretation as too pretentious seems class related. In my earlier
study (Okamoto, 1995), one of the middle-aged women, who hardly used joseigo
forms at all, asserted that such forms are used by pretentious (kidotta) women
in higher classes who wish to distance themselves from lower-class women (see
Okamoto & Shibamoto Smith, forthcoming for more example blogs).
It is not only women but also men who may use joseigo. According to the
example blogs we saw above, there are people, especially women, who disapprove
of men who use rough masculine language. However, this does not necessar-
ily mean that those people prefer men who use stereotypical feminine speech.
Here, too, perceptions vary among individuals, as observed in numerous blogs
that comment on men who use joseigo, or onna kotoba. is suggests that men’s
crossing” (Rampton, 1995) of linguistic gender boundaries is an issue equally as
controversial as women’s crossing of such boundaries. For example, in Hatsugen
Komachi in Yomiuri Online, one woman wrote (posted on 18 April 2008) that she
could not stand her husband’s use of onna kotoba with a gentle voice and femi-
nine prolonged intonation. ere were almost 50 responses. Many, agreeing with
the initial post, wrote that men who used such language were not manly (otoko-
rashikunai) and sounded like hysterical women. On the other hand, an equally
large number of posters disagreed and regarded men who used onna kotoba as
gentle (yawarakai, yasashii), calm (odayaka), polite (teinei), or cute (kawaii). One
poster wrote that such men were better than those who tried to look masculine
by using masculine language when in fact they were not. Another example, a
thread in Minna no Q & A, concerned the use of the polite prex o- for nouns – a
well-known stereotypically feminine form. e initial writer is attracted to a man
from Kyushu, but bothered by his frequent use of o- for such unexpected words as
o-sorasky’ and o-soto outside. ree posters out of the six respondents evaluated
the use of this prex by men positively as being polite, gentle, and a sign of good
upbringing. e remaining three resonated with the initial poster, characterising
it as eeminate (memeshii) and irritating. One of them wrote that it was strange
(hen), but not in the bad (warui) sense of the word hen, which seems to imply that
he did not think the man in question was gay.
As the last comments indicate, men who use feminine speech are oen criti-
cised harshly. Moreover, there are many people who regard (stereotypical) fem-
inine speech used by men not just as joseigo, or onna kotoba, but as onee kotoba
or okama8 kotoba, that is, feminine speech associated with (eeminate) gay men
and wonder if the users are gay men. Numerous blogs comment on men who use
onee kotoba. For example, in one thread in Yahoo! Japan Chiebukuro, the initial
16 east asian pragmatics
(female) writer reported (24 May 2007) that, when she characterised a male col-
league who used feminine speech as gentle and nice, other colleagues responded,
“What? He is like a woman (onna-ppoi)” or “He is like an okama gay man (oka-
ma-ppoi).” She then asked readers if they found such a man to be kimochi warui
disgusting’. e responses were again divided into contrastive evaluations of such
men: positive ones (e.g., yasashiigentle’, hanashi yasuieasy to talk to’, anshinkan
ga aru ‘feels secure’, kōkan ga moteru ‘likable’) and negative ones (e.g., kimochi
waruidisgusting’, otoko-rashikunai ‘not manly’, okama tte omou ‘I think (the
speaker) is an okama gay man, and ren’ai-taishō ni sarenai ‘won’t be a target of
romantic love).
Another issue that was brought up by quite a few bloggers concerned the
association of a particular variety of Japanese, particularly SJ, with femininity
and/or homosexuality. For example, the initial poster of a thread in Yahoo! Japan
Chie-bukuro (posted on 24 August 2011) wrote that he was from Fukuoka, Kyushu
and asked the readers if those from Fukuoka found men who use SJ kimochi
warui. He added that, when he heard men speaking in SJ, it sounded to him like
onna kotoba and made him wonder if they were okama gay men. Two bloggers
agreed, while two others disagreed. One of the latter, an SJ speaker, wrote that,
when he moved from Tokyo to Fukuoka, he received comments like the initial
poster’s, which he characterised as incomprehensible since it is regarded as the
standard language (hyōjungo), or the common language (kyōtsugo), of the nation.
It seems that these writers are using their own speech variety as the basis of
their evaluation. In a long thread in the Nan-J Times (the initial post on 10 June
2012), there was a debate between those who perceived SJ, or the Kanto dialect,
as okama-ppoiokama-like’ and kimoi ‘disgusting’ and those who perceived a
regional dialect, especially the Kansai dialect, as such. ese comments illustrate
how subjective and biased the perceptions are. Regardless of their actual sexual
orientation, if men use feminine speech, they may be criticised as okama-ppoi
and kimoi, as though it were one of the worst insults one could give to men (see
Cameron, 1997, p. 56 for a similar example involving English). ese comments
indicate that (normative) gender assumes sexuality (see also Abe, 2010; Maree,
2013; Okamoto & Shibamoto Smith, forthcoming) and also that for some people
regionality plays a role in the construction of heterosexual gender.
e foregoing observations concerning the interpretation of stereotypical
gendered linguistic forms indicate the extent of the complexity and diversity of
potential meanings in their indexical elds. Qualities associated with danseigo,
such as forcefulness and decisiveness, may be linked not only to masculinity, but
also to many other ideologically mediated meanings. at is, when used by (cer-
tain kinds of) women, they may be interpreted as indexing a sense of liberation,
solidarity, a lesbian identity, certain emotions or speech acts, and so forth; and
variability and multiplicity in japanese 17
when used by (certain kinds of) men, they may be perceived as indexing the
speaker’s attitude of male superiority or his social background (e.g., bad upbring-
ing), and so forth. Qualities associated with joseigo, such as politeness, gentle-
ness, and renement, may also be linked not only to women and a higher social
class, but also to many other meanings. at is, when used by (certain kinds of)
women, they may be construed as indexing the female speaker’s (older) age, cer-
tain speech acts (e.g., mockery), solidarity, pretentiousness, aloofness, and so
forth; and when used by (certain kinds of) men, they may be perceived as index-
ing gentleness, good up-bringing, eeminacy, homosexuality, and so forth. ese
lists of (re)interpreted meanings are, of course, not meant to be exhaustive. In
specic social and historical contexts, many other meanings may emerge, as the
indexical elds of linguistic forms are uid and open-ended.
4. Variable meanings: Examples from situated language
is section examines samples of gendered linguistic forms used in specic social
contexts to see how they may be interpreted in light of the potentially diverse and
multiple meanings indicated by the metapragmatic comments examined in the
preceding section. My aim here is to illustrate the context-dependent nature of
the semiotic variability and multiplicity of particular gendered linguistic forms.
For this study, I consider the interpretation of certain features of danseigo through
analyses of the six conversations listed in Table 1.9
Speakers FA, FB, MC, and MD grew up in the Gunma area, a part of the Kanto
region; at the time the data were collected, FA and FB were students of the same
university in a major city in Gunma, while MC and MD, both college graduates,
worked at local oces of dierent auto companies. In the recordings, they spoke
SJ except for a few dialectal forms used by the two male speakers. Speakers FE,
FF, FG, and FH grew up in Nishikawa-chō and/or its neighbouring city Sagae-shi,
located in the central area10 of the Yamagata prefecture, part of the Tohoku region.
FE and FF only had elementary school education; they had never lived outside the
area.11 FG lived in Nishikawa-chō until she graduated from high school and then
attended a university abroad. FH lived in Sagae-shi throughout her life and was
a nursing school student; the conversation was recorded when FG went home for
the summer. ey all spoke the local dialect, although Speakers FE and FF used
more dialectal features than Speakers FG and FH, suggesting that the Japanese of
the younger generation is more standardised.
In analysing the data, I focus on the use of “strongly masculine” forms as part
of danseigo, in particular the phonologically contracted form /ee/ for /ai/ or /oi/
Table 1: Conversations examined
Conversation Speaker
Gunma 1 FA: female, 20 years old, college student
FB: female, 20 years old, college student, FA’s close friend
Gunma 2 MC: male, 25 years old, employee of a local oce of an auto company
MD: male, 25 years old, employee of a local oce of another auto company,
MC’s close friend
Yamagata 1 FE: female, 75 years old
FF: female, 81 years old, FE’s close friend
Yamagata 2 FG: female, 23 years old, college student
FH: female, 23 years old, student of a nursing school, FG’s close friend
TV show 1 Kurisu (Chris) Matsumura, gay celebrity, age unknown
Misttsu Mangrōbu (Mitz Mangrove), gay celebrity, 36 years old
TV show 2 Kurisu Matsumura
Misttsu Mangrōbu
18 east asian pragmatics
Table 1: Conversations examined
Conversation Speaker
Gunma 1 FA: female, 20 years old, college student
FB: female, 20 years old, college student, FA’s close friend
Gunma 2 MC: male, 25 years old, employee of a local oce of an auto company
MD: male, 25 years old, employee of a local oce of another auto company,
MC’s close friend
Yamagata 1 FE: female, 75 years old
FF: female, 81 years old, FE’s close friend
Yamagata 2 FG: female, 23 years old, college student
FH: female, 23 years old, student of a nursing school, FG’s close friend
TV show 1 Kurisu (Chris) Matsumura, gay celebrity, age unknown
Misttsu Mangrōbu (Mitz Mangrove), gay celebrity, 36 years old
TV show 2 Kurisu Matsumura
Misttsu Mangrōbu
and sentence-nal forms such as zo and ze. (Following the classication used
in Okamoto & Sato, 1992, in what follows I use the term “strongly masculine”
forms as shorthand without quotes to refer to forms that have been normatively
or stereotypically regarded as strongly masculine.) e use of these forms was
frequently commented on in the metapragmatic comments examined in the
preceding section. I rst present analyses of four conversations (Gunma 1 and 2
and Yamagata 1 and 2), each of which lasted 30 minutes to one hour and allowed
me to obtain 130 consecutive sentences for each speaker.12 I discuss the conver-
sation in the TV shows separately, as I could not obtain 130 sentences for each
speaker. Table 2 shows the use of sentence-nal forms that have been normatively
regarded as strongly masculine.
According to Table 2, the two elderly women in Yamagata, FE and FF, used
strongly masculine sentence-nal forms most frequently, while the two young
women in Gunma, FA and FB, especially FA, used them least frequently. Between
these two groups were the two young women in Yamagata, FG and FH, and the
two men in Gunma, MC and MD, who exhibited similar frequencies.
Table 3 shows the use of the contracted form /ee/ in 30 consecutive tokens for
each speaker.
Tab le 2: Us e o f ( no r ma ti v el y ) st r on g ly m a sc u li n e se n te n ce - nal forms in 130 sentences
for each s peaker
Conversation Speaker Number of tokens (%)
Gunma 1 FA 4 (3%)
FB 10 (8%)
Gunma 2 MC 18 (14%)
MD 15 (12%)
Yamagata 1 FE 29 (22%)
FF 34 (26%)
Yamagata 2 FG 21 (16%)
FH 18 (14%)
Tab le 3: Us e o f t he co nt r ac t ed f o rm /e e/
Conversation Speaker No contraction Contraction Total
Gunma 1 FA 27 3 (10%) 30
FB 23 7 (23%) 30
Gunma 2 MC 9 21 (70%) 30
MD 17 13 (43%) 30
Yamagata 1 FE 10 20 (67%) 30
FF 4 26 (87%) 30
Yamagata 2 FG 8 22 (73%) 30
FH 9 21 (69%) 30
variability and multiplicity in japanese 19
Table 1: Conversations examined
Conversation Speaker
Gunma 1 FA: female, 20 years old, college student
FB: female, 20 years old, college student, FA’s close friend
Gunma 2 MC: male, 25 years old, employee of a local oce of an auto company
MD: male, 25 years old, employee of a local oce of another auto company,
MC’s close friend
Yamagata 1 FE: female, 75 years old
FF: female, 81 years old, FE’s close friend
Yamagata 2 FG: female, 23 years old, college student
FH: female, 23 years old, student of a nursing school, FG’s close friend
TV show 1 Kurisu (Chris) Matsumura, gay celebrity, age unknown
Misttsu Mangrōbu (Mitz Mangrove), gay celebrity, 36 years old
TV show 2 Kurisu Matsumura
Misttsu Mangrōbu
and sentence-nal forms such as zo and ze. (Following the classication used
in Okamoto & Sato, 1992, in what follows I use the term “strongly masculine”
forms as shorthand without quotes to refer to forms that have been normatively
or stereotypically regarded as strongly masculine.) e use of these forms was
frequently commented on in the metapragmatic comments examined in the
preceding section. I rst present analyses of four conversations (Gunma 1 and 2
and Yamagata 1 and 2), each of which lasted 30 minutes to one hour and allowed
me to obtain 130 consecutive sentences for each speaker.12 I discuss the conver-
sation in the TV shows separately, as I could not obtain 130 sentences for each
speaker. Table 2 shows the use of sentence-nal forms that have been normatively
regarded as strongly masculine.
According to Table 2, the two elderly women in Yamagata, FE and FF, used
strongly masculine sentence-nal forms most frequently, while the two young
women in Gunma, FA and FB, especially FA, used them least frequently. Between
these two groups were the two young women in Yamagata, FG and FH, and the
two men in Gunma, MC and MD, who exhibited similar frequencies.
Table 3 shows the use of the contracted form /ee/ in 30 consecutive tokens for
each speaker.
Tab le 2: Us e o f ( no r ma ti v el y ) st r on g ly m a sc u li n e se n te n ce - nal forms in 130 sentences
for each s peaker
Conversation Speaker Number of tokens (%)
Gunma 1 FA 4 (3%)
FB 10 (8%)
Gunma 2 MC 18 (14%)
MD 15 (12%)
Yamagata 1 FE 29 (22%)
FF 34 (26%)
Yamagata 2 FG 21 (16%)
FH 18 (14%)
Tab le 3: Us e o f t he co nt r ac t ed f o rm /e e/
Conversation Speaker No contraction Contraction Total
Gunma 1 FA 27 3 (10%) 30
FB 23 7 (23%) 30
Gunma 2 MC 9 21 (70%) 30
MD 17 13 (43%) 30
Yamagata 1 FE 10 20 (67%) 30
FF 4 26 (87%) 30
Yamagata 2 FG 8 22 (73%) 30
FH 9 21 (69%) 30
Tab le 2: Us e o f ( no r ma ti v el y ) st r on g ly m a sc u li n e se n te n ce - nal forms in 130 sentences for each
Conversation Speaker Number of tokens (%)
Gunma 1 FA 4 (3%)
FB 10 (8%)
Gunma 2 MC 18 (14%)
MD 15 (12%)
Yamagata 1 FE 29 (22%)
FF 34 (26%)
Yamagata 2 FG 21 (16%)
FH 18 (14%)
Tab le 3: Us e o f t he co nt r ac t ed f o rm /e e/
Conversation Speaker No contraction Contraction Total
Gunma 1 FA 27 3 (10%) 30
FB 23 7 (23%) 30
Gunma 2 MC 9 21 (70%) 30
MD 17 13 (43%) 30
Yamagata 1 FE 10 20 (67%) 30
FF 4 26 (87%) 30
Yamagata 2 FG 8 22 (73%) 30
FH 9 21 (69%) 30
ere is a striking dierence between the two younger Gunma women and the
other six speakers in that the former used contracted forms much less frequently
than the latter, although there are individual dierences.
I now consider how the forms in question used by these eight speakers may
be interpreted, paying special attention to dierences in the manner in which
these forms are used, as it is not only dierences in the frequency of use, but also
qualitative dierences that provide helpful cues for interpretation. First, the two
20 east asian pragmatics
Gunma women’s use of strongly masculine forms was quite limited as compared
to the other speakers. It was limited not only in frequency, but also in the context
of use. at is, FA and FB used these forms in special contexts, such as when
engaging in certain speech acts (for example, criticising someone, complaining,
protesting, emphasising, and joking) or expressing strong emotions (for example,
anger and disbelief). It seems that these are contexts in which expressing a stance
of forcefulness or roughness through the use of these forms is eective. Moreover,
FA and FB tended to use them in conjunction with some kind of qualier, such
as laughter, giggling, and hedges (for example, tte kanjiit’s like’, mitai na ‘like’,
X toka itte ‘say X or something’). Such use of strongly masculine forms is not
unique to FA and FB. Another conversation of two college female students in
Gunma, who were two years older than FA and FB, also exhibited similar distri-
bution patterns of such forms (Okamoto & Shibamoto Smith, forthcoming) and
so did the conversations of twenty college students examined by Okamoto and
Sato (1992) and Okamoto (1995).
Examples (3) and (4) are from Conversation Gunma 1. (In the following exam-
ples, normatively strongly masculine forms are boldfaced.)
FA and FB, talking about an article in a music magazine that gives instructions for play-
ing a bass guitar.13
1FB: @@@ Konnan dekiru ka:: mitai na ga kaite atte,
this can Q like SM written and
‘It [the instruction] is written like “How can I do this?”’
2FA: Un, [un.]
yeah yeah
‘Yeah, yeah.’
3FB: [ma::] yaru kedo, @@@ yaru kedo sa::, u::n, yarun dattara.
well do but do but PRT uh do if
‘Well, I will do it, if I [have to] do it, I will, but.
4FA:  (1.5)
uh somehow what I wonder somehow PRT
U::n, nanka yappa puro no
uh somehow as expected professional GN
people from see when somehow easily say but
variability and multiplicity in japanese 21
nanka assari  yo
somehow easily don’t say PRT COMP like AUX PRT PRT honestly
‘Uh, somehow, I wonder what it is. Somehow, as expected, when seen from the
professionals [point of view], somehow, they say it easily, but it’s like, “Don’t
say it so easily,” right? Honestly.
FA and FB, talking about the fact that they just woke up and cannot speak or think well.
1FA: Ima katsuzetsu sura ietenakatta mon.
now smooth speaking even say able NEG PST PRT
Katsuzutsu ni natteta mon.
become PRT
‘I couldn’t even say katsuzetsu now. It became katsuzutsu.’
2FB:  shi.
really just woke up head work NEG and
 @@@@
any more/now hopeless AUX
‘[laugh] Really, in fact I just woke up and my head is not working. I’m
now hopeless [laugh].
3FA: @@@
In Example (3), FA and FB are complaining about the instructions for playing
a bass guitar in a magazine article. In line 1, FB expresses her reaction to the
instructions using a strongly masculine nal form dekiru ka:: ‘(how) can do
(this)?’, but it is followed by the qualier mitai na ‘like’. FB also utters this with
laughter. Similarly, in line 4, FA uses the strongly masculine nal form yū na yo
don’t say it’ with the qualier tte kanji da yo ne ‘it’s like X, right?’ It is as though
FA and FB directed these strong expressions to the writer of the magazine article
as an imagined addressee. If they were talking to the writer in reality, they would
probably avoid using such expressions toward her/him, who is most likely to be
an unfamiliar and older person, and try to present a more normatively gendered
persona. e limited and qualied use of these forms in their conversation sug-
gests that FA and FB used these forms for special eect, such as making their
complaint sound stronger, dramatic, and fun. Itakura’s (2015, p. 189) examin-
ing the use of masculine forms in quotations (see note 13) observes that quoted
speech may not accurately correspond to the original speech, but serves as “an
involvement strategy” to dramatise the playful talk that may contribute to creat-
22 east asian pragmatics
ing intimacy. is observation also pertains to the use of qualied speech (includ-
ing quotative remarks) by FA and FB. In Example (4), FB uses a contracted form
nee in hatarakanee ‘doesn’t work’, but both FA and FB are laughing, suggesting
they are being playful and having fun. e use of these forms by FA and FB in
these examples thus seems to contribute to reinforcing their friendship and sol-
idarity through breaking the gender norm and through engaging in humorous
and fun talk.
e limited frequency of use and the qualied manner of delivery may be
interpreted as a way of indicating that FA and FB are mindful of gender norms
and that their use of strongly masculine forms is not their normal speech for the
given situation. Yet those who uphold the normative gender ideology may nd
FA’s and FBs speech to be rough and unfeminine, as some of the metapragmatic
comments we saw earlier. On the other hand, it seems that FA and FB, while rec-
ognising this normative interpretation, nd additional meanings, or higher-order
indexical values. In other words, the stance of forcefulness associated with these
forms may be linked to a variety of context-relevant meanings, including speech
acts such as complaint, criticism, joking, and expressing a strong emotion. Fur-
thermore, it has been reported that these forms are generally used (by young SJ
speakers) only among close friends, as we saw earlier in some of the metaprag-
matic comments (Okamoto, 1995; Miyazaki, 2004; see also Itakura, 2015, which
oers indirect support for this observation in that in the conversation between
a male student and a slightly younger female student she examined a conver-
sation in which the participants are in a hierarchical relationship – the female
student did not use any strongly masculine forms even in quotations, while the
male student used them in quoted speech).14 is suggests that these forms serve
to index and help construct a context-sensitive persona and interpersonal rela-
tionship, in particular friendship and solidarity, by sharing the act of crossing
linguistic gender boundaries in a kind of transgression. Such a use then must
rely on the recognition that these forms are normatively interpreted as masculine,
and hence considered unfeminine when used by women. at is, higher-order
indexicality in this case builds on this “original” interpretation. Note, however,
that there may be SJ-speaking women who use strongly masculine forms fre-
quently without any qualiers as part of their “normal” speech. e possibility
of such uses of strongly masculine forms and their interpretations needs to be
investigated in further research.
e use of the gendered forms in question by the two Gunma men is quite dif-
ferent from that of the two Gunma women examined above. As shown in Tables 1
and 2, MC and MD used these forms, particularly the contracted form /ee/, more
frequently than FA and FB. More importantly, there were also qualitative dier-
ences; that is, the use of these forms by the two men was not restricted to special
contexts, as in the case of FA’s and FB’s use of these forms, nor was the delivery of
variability and multiplicity in japanese 23
these forms qualied or accompanied by laughter or giggling. Examples (5) and
(6) illustrate these points.
MC and MD, talking about playing baseball.
1MC:  no?
oh that say PRT baseball play NEG PRT
‘Oh, speaking of that, don’t you play baseball?’
2MD: A, kiite
Oh hear NEG PRT
‘Oh, I haven’t heard about it.
3MC:  Nan de meeru kaette konai n ka to omotte sa.
listen PRT why email return come NEG PRT Q COMP wonder PRT
‘Listen. I was wondering why an email message hasn’t been returned [in response].
4MD: Wasurechatta. Yari n?
forget AUX PST play want PRT
‘I forgot. Do you want to play?’
5MC:  daro, sorosoro suzushii shi.
baseball play want to right? gradually cool and
‘We want to play baseball, right? It’s gradually getting cool and’
MC and MD, talking about their friend MI who is not good at playing computer games
and starts bombing immediately.
1MC: Nan mo kangaete na aitsu.
nothing think PRG NEG PRT that guy
at guy is thinking nothing.
2MD: 
3MC: Ana .
hole dig PRT
‘Dig a hole.
24 east asian pragmatics
4MD: 
5MC: 
Drop PRT
‘Drop it.
6MD: Nawa .
rope stretch PRT
‘Stretch a rope.
In Example (5), both MC and MD used the contracted form /ee/ (in lines 1,
2, 4, and 5), MD also used the nal form ya in nee ya (in line 2), and MC used
a direct imperative nal form kike yo (in line 3). None of these strongly mascu-
line forms was accompanied by a qualier or laughter/giggling. In Example (6),
MC and MD were criticising or complaining about their friend MI, who was not
present. In line 1, MC used the contracted form /ee/. In lines 3, 5, and 6, MC and
MD used direct imperative nal forms towards the imagined addressee MI. It
is possible that they thought that the use of strongly masculine forms was more
eective for criticising MI, but it is also possible that this was simply part of their
normal speech style used among friends. What is noteworthy here is that, while
MC and MD used strong imperative forms, just as FA and FB did in address-
ing an imagined third person, the target of their criticism, they neither used any
qualier nor laughed/giggled, as FA and FB did. is dierence may be indicative
of the dierent degrees of constraint the men and women felt toward the use of
these forms. In fact, the men’s use of these forms may be interpreted as force-
ful and masculine, although, as we saw earlier, there may be people, especially
women, who may not accept such speech as masculine and attractive.
I now turn to Conversations Yamagata 1 and 2. As Tables 1 and 2 show, the
four Yamagata women used strongly masculine forms frequently, even more fre-
quently than the two Gunma men, although there were some individual dier-
ences. Examples (7) and (8) illustrate the use of strongly masculine forms by the
Yamagata women.
FE and FF, talking about the food FE is serving and also about a person they both know.
1FE: Omae, nasuzuke na kakega ya::
you pickled eggplants something like eat NEG PST Q PRT
variability and multiplicity in japanese 25
‘You didn’t eat things like pickled eggplants?’
2FF: Un.
3FE: Nasu mo ka?
eggplants also eat NEG
‘Won’t you also eat eggplants?’
4FF: Un, gozzo naru.
yeah treat receive
‘Yeah, I will receive the treat/eat it.
5FE: (?) mame mo, mame mo hodai shio haizu,
beans also beans also so much salt that
shoppagu na. Shio haizu, hodai  hage da ga::
salty NEG PRT salt that so much put in NEG because AUX Q
‘(?) the beans also, the beans are also not that salty. Is that because not much
salt was put in?’
6FF: Aki-chan-da::, ko. Midago.
‘Don’t Aki and others come [visit you]? I never see them.
7FE: Aizu mo isogasui gashite, sugada na mishe
he also busy perhaps because show up NEG
‘Perhaps because he is also busy, he doesn’t show up.
FG and FH, talking about Tokyo Tower.
1FH: 
tower to go want to PRT
‘I want to go to the Tōkyō Tower.
2FG: n da.
station from far NEG AUX
‘It’s not far from the Tokyo station.
the previously discussed
problem with famous
place name recurs here
26 east asian pragmatics
3FH: 
e Tokyo Tower.
4FG: Gomen, atashi   godo nai gara, wagara
Sorry I tower go PST have NEG so know NEG
‘Sorry, but I’ve never been to the Tokyo Tower, so I don’t know.’
5FH: *Usso:: , ikiru kachi nagu ?
untrue live value not NEG
at can’t be true. [If you don’t go to the Tokyo Tower] it’s not worth living,
is it?’
e use of strongly masculine forms by the four Yamagata women, as illustrated
in Examples (7) and (8), is very dierent from the use of these forms by the two
Gunma women in terms of the frequency and context of use and the manner
of delivery. In fact, it is much more similar to the use of these forms by the two
Gunma men. at is, as illustrated by Examples (7) and (8), the four Yamagata
women used these forms frequently without restricting them to certain contexts
(within each of their conversations) and without using any qualiers or laughter/
giggling. (Note that the two older women, FE and FF, also used the normatively
masculine self-reference term ora and address term omae.)
Despite the surface resemblances in the use of these forms by the two Gunma
men and by the four Yamagata women, however, their indexical meanings seem
quite dissimilar from each other. From the viewpoint of SJ-based dominant
gender norms, the use of strongly masculine forms by the Gunma men may be
regarded as forceful and masculine, while their use by the Yamagata women may
be seen as rough and unfeminine. However, the Yamagata women used these
forms frequently without any qualiers, suggesting that for them using them is
nothing noteworthy, as it is part of their normal speech (at least when talking
with friends within the community). is makes it dicult to construe it as an
attempt to intentionally deviate from linguistic gender norms to create a spe-
cial eect, as in the case of the two Gunma women. Rather, it seems that there
are local linguistic norms that these women are following. From this perspective,
then, their speech is unlikely to be perceived as rough and unfeminine – an inter-
pretation also supported by some of the metapragmatic comments examined ear-
lier. If these women used SJ joseigo, it would likely be perceived as pretentious or
aloof, again, as indicated by some of the metapragmatic comments seen earlier.
is suggests that, within their community, these women use the forms in ques-
tion as part of their own dialect that can index and/or help construct solidarity
and/or mutual assurance for their regional identity.
variability and multiplicity in japanese 27
e foregoing discussion points to the possibility that, as far as the forms
examined here are concerned, their use by the four Yamagata women in the local
community operates outside the realm of dominant gender norms based on SJ
joseigo. Sunaoshi (2004, p. 200), in discussing farmwomen’s use of normatively
masculine speech, argued that “gender may not always be the most salient
category that can aect speakers”, an issue also pertinent to the four Yamagata
women’s language use and interpretation. e historical process of establishing
SJ-based joseigo as the normative women’s language in modern Japan (Inoue,
2006; Okamoto & Shibamoto Smith, forthcoming) suggests that it is only aer
dialectal forms were viewed in a “new” context, that is, in the national context, in
reference to SJ that their use by female speakers of regional Japanese came to be
reinterpreted as unrened and unfeminine. In other words, it is possible that for
these Yamagata women the indexical elds of these forms normatively regarded
as strongly masculine may consist of potential meanings quite dierent from
the indexical elds of the same forms shared by the two Gunma women. at is,
potential meanings in the indexical eld of a linguistic form may vary depending
on the community, generation, and other social variables. is is an interesting
possibility concerning the nature of indexical elds that deserves to be further
explored in future research.
I also emphasise that, while evidence suggests that as far as the strongly mas-
culine forms examined here are concerned, the dominant SJ-based joseigo norms
may not be relevant to the Yamagata women’s use of these forms (at least in famil-
iar conversation in their community), this does not mean that these women are
not concerned about gender norms. On the contrary, these women’s conversa-
tions included many features that are considered stereotypically feminine, includ-
ing the use of a variety of politeness strategies and many supportive backchannels
and in the case of the two younger women, the self-reference term atashi (used
by FG). is observation suggests the need to consider the construction of fem-
ininity (or masculinity) at the discourse level examining the social meanings of
a variety of resources available to speakers, but this is beyond the scope of this
study (see Chapter 6 of Okamoto & Shibamoto Smith, forthcoming for a discus-
sion of the strategic use of multiple resources for the construction of gender at
the discourse level).
Lastly, I consider the use of strongly masculine language by gei tarento gay
talents/celebrities’. I examine two instalments (TV shows 1and 2) of the variety
programme Sanma no Honto no Koi no Kama-sawagi ‘Sanmas Empty (Gay Men’s)
Fuss about Real Love Aair’.15 In each show, ten gay, transgender, and transsexual
celebrities were invited as guests as well as a few straight media celebrities. Each
segment of each show I examined lasted for about 60 minutes. In this analysis,
I focus on the speech of two guests: Kurisu (Chris) Matsumura and Mittsu
Mangurōbu, or Mitz Mangrove (Table 1). Both Kurisu and Mittsu are openly gay.
28 east asian pragmatics
While the focus here is on the indexical meanings of the stereotypically mas-
culine forms used by Kurisu and Mittsu, I rst refer to their use of stereotypically
feminine forms, or onee kyara kotoba (Maree, 2011, 2013),16 in order to contex-
tualise the use of masculine forms. In both shows, both Kurisu and Mittsu used
addressee honorics (desu/masu), particularly when they were speaking to the
host Akashiya, as well as plain forms (of verbals), particularly when they were
talking to other gei tarento guests. Gendered sentence-nal forms tend to be used
with plain forms rather than with addressee honorics. I examined the sentences
with plain forms, which were 20–30 sentences for each of them in each show.
In these sentences, Kurisu and Mittsu oen used forms normatively regarded as
strongly feminine, as illustrated by the underlined forms in the following exam-
ples: Kurisu: Anata ki o nuiteru wa yo ‘You are not paying enough attention, Iya
atashi nenrei wa nakutte yo ‘No, I’m ageless, Ara watashi heya machigaeta kashira
to motte ‘I thought, oh, did I mistake the room?’; Mittsu: Watashi-tachi hitsuyō
nai wa yo ‘We don’t need it’, Sugoku suki na no yo ‘(he) likes (her) very much’,
Hontō ni aishiteta n da to omou wa ‘I think he loved her truly’. In addition, both
of them used the self-reference terms atashi and watashi.
It has been observed that, these days, strongly feminine nal forms, such as
wa and kashira, are used only infrequently by SJ-speaking women (Mizumoto,
2006; Okamoto, 1995; see also some of the metapragmatic comments seen ear-
lier). It is possible that Kurisu and Mittsu use more exaggerated, or strongly ste-
reotypical, feminine forms than many SJ-speaking straight women do in situ-
ated practice. Note that Kurisu even used the form te yo, a stereotypical strongly
feminine form that is hardly used today.17 eir feminine speech style can thus
be considered a parody (cf. Maree, 2011, 2013) and an instance of “stylised cross-
ing” (Bucholtz & Lopez, 2011)18 in that they appropriate forms stereotypically
associated with another group, that is, (heterosexual) women. Multiple ways of
interpreting Kurisus and Mittsu’s appropriation of stereotypical feminine forms
are possible. It may be construed as indexing their personae as gay men, which
may also be considered a challenge to the linguistic gender norms built on the
heteronormative social order (Bucholtz, 2014); it can point to the articial, or
“imitative, nature of gender (Butler, 1993), or femininity, that may otherwise be
taken for granted. Stylised crossing may also be perceived as a stage performance,
indexing their professional personae as (eeminate) gei tarento, in that due to its
non-normative nature, it draws the attention of viewers, who may nd it funny,
humorous, or entertaining, because of the multiple incongruities they create.
For example, their expression of stereotypical femininity is incongruent with
the fact that they are not “authenticwomen. e use of exaggerated feminine
speech actually serves to “deauthenticate” their speech as fake by “maximizing
the intertextual gap” (Bucholtz & Lopez, 2011) between their performance and
variability and multiplicity in japanese 29
real women’s speech, a strategy that may bring about humorous eects. Maree
(2013) observes that these gay celebrities are oen sharp-tongued, which also
betrays their apparent eorts to appear to be “authentic” women, which in turn
is expected to create comedic eects. Maree (2013, p. 84) argues that these onee
(eeminate gay) tareto are represented as nisemono ‘imitation’ and kokkeina son-
zai ‘comical/funny existence. Moreover, the use of feminine speech by gay men
is normally restricted to the private domain, but as noted by Maree (2011), gei
tarento use it in the public domain, or national TV shows, which may also bring
about comical eects because of the blatant violation of normative expectations.
In other words, the multiple incongruities noted above seem to be intended to
be received as fun and entertaining, and both Kurisu and Mittsu in my data can
be viewed as exploiting it as a linguistic resource and as a commodity, just like
those onee tareto Maree (2011, 2013) observed. However, there may be viewers
who nd it annoying or disgusting, as some of the bloggers examined earlier did.
We now turn to the use of strongly masculine forms. Kurisu’s and Mittsu’s use
of such forms was extremely rare. Each of them used such a form only once in
TV show 1; that is, when he/she was the target of teasing by other guests, Kurisu
raised his/her voice and shouted at one of the guests, Urusai! Omae no sei de
yakedo shiteru n da yo! ‘Shut up! Because of you, I’m being burned/in trouble’.
Urusai is a conventionalised command to shut up with a strongly masculine end-
ing; the nal form da yo was uttered in a forcefully accusatory tone. Note that
omae, an address term considered strongly masculine, is also used. In eect, this
utterance contrasted sharply with the feminine speech Kurisu had been using in
the show. Similarly, when Mittsu was being teased by other guests, he/she says,
Baka, deeto ja nee yo, kono yarō ‘Stupid, it’s not a date, damn you!’. He/she used
the strongly masculine nal form ja nee yo, which also includes the contracted
form nee (instead of nai); he/she also used the word baka ‘stupid’, a direct and
harsh insult, as well as the strongly masculine address term kono yarōdamn you!’
It is not only Kurisu and Mittsu who used strongly masculine forms. Two other
guests (Matsuko Derakkusu and Haruna Ai) used them in a similar manner.
Such use of strongly masculine forms can be considered a strategy, or part of
the performance. As discussed above, both Kurisu and Mittsu in the two shows
can be seen as constructing their personae as oneē, or eeminate gay men, using
(exaggerated) strongly feminine forms. ey are not supposed to use strongly
masculine forms, thus serving to “deauthenticatetheir speech by “maximizing
the intertexual gap”. us, when they used such forms suddenly, the audience
burst into laughter because of the unexpected reverse stylised crossing. Here, too,
strongly masculine speech serves as a linguistic commodity for the entertainers.
e use of both strongly feminine and strongly masculine forms may be a way
to index their personae as gay men who cannot, or refuse to, be categorised as
30 east asian pragmatics
(heterosexual) women or men. And as in their use of strongly feminine forms,
their use of exaggerated strongly masculine forms may also be construed as an
index of their role as entertainers. It may also be interpreted as indexing other
meanings, including humorousness, a particular speech act (e.g., protesting), or
emotion (e.g., anger).
It is evident that both the strongly feminine and strongly masculine forms used
by Kurisu and Mittsu cannot be construed simply as an index of femininity and
masculinity, respectively. ere are multiple possible interpretations, as discussed
above. Yet these interpretations, or higher-order indexical meanings, rely on
the dominant gender norms that link certain linguistic forms to (heterosexual)
women or men because the act of crossing and reverse crossing must assume the
existence of gender boundaries that rest on the binary categories of (normative)
women and men. In other words, Kurisu’s and Mittsu’s use of gendered forms
may challenge the dominant heteronormativity to some extent, but it can also be
seen as (ironically) serving to “regiment” the stereotypical indexical meanings
(Bucholtz & Lopez, 2011) reinforcing the dominant norms. is is parallel to the
interpretation of the use of masculine forms by the two Gunma women discussed
earlier in that, while it may be seen as breaking the norms, it must rely on the
existence of boundaries to cross. (Note, however, that the higher-order indexical
meanings in the case of Gunma women are not the same as those in the case of
Kurisu and Mittsu.) is also reminds us of the use of stylised African American
English Vernacular by the White male protagonists in the two Hollywood lms
that Bucholtz and Lopez 2011 analysed, in which the act of crossing racial bound-
aries is potentially subversive, but at the same time serves to actively re-establish
such boundaries.
5. Conclusion
While recent research has demonstrated the substantial diversity in the use of
gendered linguistic forms in Japanese, the diversity in the interpretation of such
forms has not been adequately examined in its own right. In order to address this
gap, in this article I have considered how and why forms normatively interpreted
as feminine or masculine may be interpreted dierently by dierent persons or in
dierent social contexts and how such diverse interpretations can be explained.
In considering these issues, I have drawn on the notion of indirect and variable
indexicality (Eckert, 2008) as a theoretical basis and presented examples of sup-
porting evidence for the argument that the normative relationship between lin-
guistic norms and gender is ideologically constructed through the indexical pro-
cess of linking a particular social group (e.g. women) assumed to possess certain
qualities and stances, such as politeness and gentleness, to linguistic forms asso-
variability and multiplicity in japanese 31
ciated with such stances and qualities. Furthermore, my analyses have illustrated
the process in which this normative relationship, or interpretation, when situated
in new or dierent contexts, may gain additional or dierent meanings activated
from and also constituting the potential meanings in the indexical elds.
In this study, I analysed two kinds of data: native speakers’ metapragmatic com-
ments on the use of gendered speech, and actual conversations in which gen-
dered linguistic forms are used. e analyses of metapragmatic comments illus-
trated the possibility of a wide variability and multiplicity of indexical meanings
of the same gendered linguistic forms. It was observed that qualities associated
with danseigo and joeigo may be linked not only to masculinity and feminin-
ity, respectively, but also to many other ideologically mediated meanings related
to the speaker’s persona (e.g., good/bad upbringing, aloofness, pretentiousness,
class status, age, sexual orientation), the nature of the interpersonal relationship
(e.g., friendship, solidarity, distancing), and certain emotions (e.g. sense of lib-
eration, anger), speech acts (e.g. criticisms, protest), and rhetorical eects (e.g.
humorousness, emphasis).
In light of these ndings, I examined the possible meanings of gendered lin-
guistic forms in situated practice, focusing on the strongly masculine forms
used by speakers with diverse social backgrounds. e use of these forms by
the Gunma and Yamagata women may be interpreted as rough, unrened, and
unfeminine from the viewpoint of normative gender norms. However, the exam-
ination of the frequency, the context of use, and the manner of delivery indicated
that other interpretations are also possible. In the case of Gunma women, their
use of strongly masculine forms may be interpreted as indexical of friendship or
solidarity that may stem from sharing a sense of breaking the norm and/or as a
sign of a particular speech act or emotion (and possibly some other meanings). In
the case of Yamagata women, it did not seem to be an intentional act of breaking
gender norms, but rather part of their normal speech, indexing their regional
identity as well as friendship within their local community (and possibly some
other meanings). e use of strongly masculine forms by the Gunma men, on
the other hand, is normative and can be interpreted as forceful and masculine,
although there may be people who do not share such an interpretation. e use
of those forms by the gei tarento also illustrates the possibility of diverse (re)inter-
pretations, indexing such meanings as their sexual orientation, their professional
personae as entertainers, and a particular speech act or emotion; it may also be
interpreted as humorous and entertaining, although there may be people who
nd it unpleasant.
We have also seen that, while the non-normative use of gendered linguistic
forms by the Gunma women and gay celebrities may be reinterpreted variously,
as noted above, such reinterpretations cannot be made independently of the nor-
32 east asian pragmatics
mative interpretations of those forms as long as their use relies on the notion of
crossing normatively delineated linguistic gender boundaries. In the case of the
Yamagata women, on the other hand, it is possible that within the local commu-
nity their use of strongly masculine forms may operate outside the dominant
gender norms, that is, gender may not be the most relevant aspect to consider as
far as the forms examined are concerned – an interesting issue that requires closer
examination in future research.
e ndings of the present article serve as additional pieces of evidence for
the extensive semiotic variability and multiplicity of linguistic forms (e.g. Cole
& Pellicer, 2012; Eckert, 2008; Johnstone, 2011). Needless to say, the possible
indexical meanings of gendered linguistic forms noted in this article by no
means constitute an exhaustive listing. Dierent social and historical contexts
and dierent individuals may point to, or activate, other meanings. at is, the
potential meanings constituting the indexical eld of a particular gendered
linguistic form are open ended and variable. Furthermore, although I have treated
certain linguistic forms as normatively gendered, their status as a dominant norm
cannot be taken for granted because it may vary depending on the linguistic form
as well as on the context, including the community and the individual. Lastly,
this article has focused on the variability of interpretation of the same gendered
linguistic form. In passing, I noted the possible context-dependent variability in
the use of gendered linguistic forms by a single speaker, suggesting the linguistic
construction of a dierent persona and interpersonal relationship according to
each situation. e two issues are closely interrelated and deserve further research.
For example, those Yamagata women may use “masculine” forms dierently
when speaking with a friend in the local context and when speaking with an
unfamiliar person outside the local context; the Gunma men may use masculine
forms dierently when talking to each other and when talking to their superiors.
And in each case, the indexical values of the same gendered form are likely to vary.
Clearly, more research that examines the interpretation of gendered linguistic
forms used by socially diverse persons speaking in socially diverse situations is
called for in order to further explore the nature of indexical elds and indexical
process concerning gendered linguistic forms.
variability and multiplicity in japanese 33
About the author
Shigeko Okamoto is Professor in the Department of Languages and Applied Lin-
guistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research interests include
discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, pragmatics, and Japanese linguistics. She has
many publications in these areas, including her co-edited book Japanese Lan-
guage , Gender, and Ideology: Cultural Models and Real People (Oxford University,
2004) and the forthcoming co-authored book e Social Life of the Japanese Lan-
guage: Cultural Discourses and Situated Practice (Cambridge University Press, in
1. is is an extension of part of Chapters 5 and 6 of Okamoto and Shibamoto
Smith (forthcoming). I express my gratitude to Daniel Kaiser for insightful
comments on earlier versions of this article as well as for his patience. I thank
two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments. I also thank Shigeko
Kumagai and Janet S. Shibamoto Smith for extensive discussions related to
the issues raised in this article. I am grateful to those who assisted me with
data collection, in particular Emi Kudo and Shie Sato.
2. I use the term context to include both linguistic (e.g., genre, speech act and
activity, discourse organisation, topics) and extra-linguistic (e.g., partici-
pants and their identities and relationships, domain, locale) environments
of a given discourse.
3. I use the term indexical meanings as context-related meanings and the term
indexicality as the process, or way, in which a linguistic form (as a variant
of a variable) is linked to social meanings related to the context. e notion
of direct indexing refers to the way in which the two are linked straightfor-
wardly and hence static and invariable, while indirect indexing refers to the
way in which the link between the two is ideologically mediated and hence
variable and also multiple.
4. Minna no Q & A (by Rakuten) and Yahoo! Japan Chiebukuro are sites where
one posts a question regarding a wide variety of matters, mostly concern-
ing personal life, and receives the answers from (usually multiple) readers.
Hatsugen Komachi is a site of Yomiuri Online, an online version of Yomiuri
Shinbun, one of the largest newspaper in Japan; the bloggers, who are said
to be mostly women, discuss a wide variety of topics presented by the ini-
tial posters. Nan-J Times presents threads that had more than one hundred
responses in Channeru 2 ‘Channel 2’ real time. Compared to the rst three
sites, in which relatively formal styles of writing are used, this is a much more
34 east asian pragmatics
informal site, in which it is not uncommon to encounter direct and some-
times oensive comments.
5. e classication of (moderately or strongly) masculine or feminine forms is
based on that used in Okamoto and Sato (1992).
6. All blog examples are translated from the Japanese original to English by the
7. Ibaraki is located in the north-eastern part of the Kanto region that includes
8. Okama, literally meaning ‘cauldron, is used to refer to eeminate gay men.
9. Conversations Gunma 1 and 2 were audio-recorded in 2010; Conversations
Yamagata 1 and 2 were audio-recorded in 2006; TV show 1 was broadcast on
13 April 2011 and TV show 2 on 23 August 2011.
10. e population of Nishikawa-chō is 5586 as of 2015; its main industry is
agriculture (
94%BA). e population of Sagae-shi is 41,202 as of 2015; its main industry
includes agriculture, manufacturing of agricultural products, and high-tech
industry (
11. FE grew up in Sagae-shi and moved to Nishikawa-chō; FF grew up in Nishi-
kawa-chō and moved to Sagae-shi.
12. e term sentence is used to refer to a clause that has a nite verbal form. e
maximum number of sentences in one of the conversations was a little over
130. I chose 130 to be consistent with Okamoto and Sato (1992), which also
examined 130 sentences for each speaker.
13. e transcription conventions used in this study are as follows:
. falling intonation , slight fall indicating continuity
? rising intonation * prominence
:: lengthened segment @@@ laughter
[xxx] “xxx” overlapping with “yyy” (1) pause of one second
Abbreviations used in this study are as follows:
AUX auxiliary verb
COMP complementiser
GN genitive marker
NEG negative auxiliary
PL plural
PRG progressive aspect
variability and multiplicity in japanese 35
PRT particle
PST past tense
Q question marker
SFX sux
SM subject marker
TM topic marker
14. Itakura’s (2015) study seems to oer indirect support for this observation.
She examined a conversation between a male student and a female student
and found that the latter did not use any strongly masculine forms even in
quotations (while the former used them in quoted speech). According to
Itakura, the two students are in a hierarchical relationship in terms of age,
the length of stay in the university, etc., which may have discouraged the
female student from using masculine forms.
15. e host of the show Akashiya Sanma had a regular series called Sanma no
Koi no Karasawagi ‘Sanmas Empty Fuss about Love Aairs’ in which the
guests were straight women. Aer this series ended in 2011, Sanma no Honto
no Koi no Kamasawagi, in which the main guests are all gei tarento, has been
shown occasionally as a parody of the original series. e word okama (the
polite prex o- followed by kama, literally, ‘pot’) is used to refer to eeminate
gay men. Here it is a pun with kara ‘empty’, as in karasawagi ‘much ado about
16. Maree (2011, 2013) distinguishes onee kotoba ‘drag queen speech’ and onee
kyara kotoba ‘drag queen character speech, characterising the former as a
parody of stereotypical women’s language used within their community in
the private domain, and the latter as a stereotypical media-hyped womens
language used by gay and transgender/transsexual tarento ‘talents’, or celeb-
rities, for entertainment in the public domain.
17. e form te yo is one of the nal forms of a “variety” called teyo data kotoba
teyo dawa language’ that is said to have been used by schoolgirls in the Meiji
era and have become part of stereotypical women’s speech (Bohn & Matsu-
moto, 2008; Inoue, 2004, 2006; Nakamura, 2007a, 2014).
18. Bucholtz and Lopez (2011) examined two Hollywood lms in which the
white male protagonists use highly stylised African American Vernacular
English by crossing racial boundaries and by relying on the limited number
of stereotypical AAVE features.
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 ()  -
()  -
  .  
©,  
Grith University, Australia
doi : 10.1558/eap.v1i1.27610
The role of English as a scientic
metalanguage for research in pragmatics:
Reections on the metapragmatics of
‘politeness’ in Japanese
Michael Haugh
Much of the theorisation undertaken in pragmatics has aorded English a privi-
leged place, not only as the object of analysis but also as the means through which
such theoretical discussions have been accomplished. Yet as a number of research-
ers have pointed out, the language in which the description, analysis, and theori-
sation of pragmatic phenomena is undertaken can have an inuence on how the
research object(s) in question are understood. In this article, the role of English as
our scientic metalanguage in research on ‘politeness’ in Japanese is considered. It
is argued that in order to start managing such challenges for research in pragmatics
we need to go beyond the study of abstract or decontextualised meanings of words
and move towards the analysis of emic concepts and emic practices. It is concluded
that rather than abandoning notions such as ‘politeness’ in favour of seemingly less
culturally imbued terms, what is needed instead is greater awareness of what the
use of English as a scientic metalanguage both aords for researchers working in
pragmatics, along with the challenges it can create for such work.
keywords metapragmatics, metalanguage, concepts, practices,
japanese, politeness
42 east asian pragmatics
1. Introduction
Much of the early theorisation undertaken in pragmatics aorded English a priv-
ileged place, not only as the object of analysis, but also as the means through
which such theoretical discussions were accomplished.1 e privileged role of
English as a data source in theorising pragmatics has been somewhat amelio-
rated in recent years as an increasing number of studies of pragmatic phenomena
in a wide range of languages and cultures, including those of East Asia, have
been undertaken. e role English plays as a scientic metalanguage, in con-
trast, has remained largely unquestioned. Yet, as a number of researchers have
pointed out, the language in which the description, analysis and theorisation of
pragmatic phenomena is undertaken can inuence how the research object(s) in
question are understood (Culpeper, 2011; Culpeper & Haugh, 2014; Goddard,
2006; Haugh, 2012, 2013a, 2015; Kádár & Haugh, 2013; Taylor, 2015; Wierzbicka,
[1991]2003, 2014; Wong, 2015). Phenomena of interest in pragmatics, such as
‘face, ‘(im)politeness’, ‘implicature, ‘irony’, ‘speech acts, and so on, have oen been
theorised without considering the extent to which the scientic metalanguage we
use to describe those phenomena in dierent languages both aords as well as
constrains our understanding of these objects of analysis.
e essential problem is that words, although they may be analogous in many
ways, rarely, if ever, have exactly the same meaning across languages, or even
dierent varieties of that language, and they can be used to conceptualise our
physical, mental, and social worlds in quite dierent ways (Majid, 2015; Malt et
al., 2015; Underhill, 2012; Wierzbicka, 2014). As Malt and Majid (2013, p. 592)
argue, “English is but one of thousands of languages spoken today. e mean-
ings encoded by its words, although feeling obvious to native speakers, are by no
means the only way to carve up the world.e use of technical terms such as
‘implicatureor metaphors appropriated for technical use such as ‘face’ does not
necessarily solve the problem either since, as Lyons (1977, p. 12) points out, “any
formalism is parasitic upon the ordinary everyday use of language in that it must
be understood, intuitively, on the basis of ordinary language. e question thus
arises as to whether through the use of English as a scientic metalanguage we
are inadvertently imposing a particular worldview on our object of study, namely,
the use of dierent languages by their speakers. An analysis and comparison of
the meanings of words across languages is, of course, not the focus of pragmatics
per se. However, research in pragmatics inevitably involves the reexive use of
metalanguage, that is, the use of language to describe and understand language
use. For that reason, while at rst glance such questions might appear to be pri-
marily ones for researchers in semantics, it is argued here that the use of English
as scientic metalanguage raises conceptual issues that are deserving of further
reection and discussion by researchers in pragmatics as well.
the role of english as a scientific metalanguage 43
Such issues have in fact been raised by scholars in the growing eld of
metapragmatics, which involves the study of reexive awareness on the part
of language users about their use of language (Ca, 1998; Culpeper & Haugh,
2014; Hübler, 2011; Kádár & Haugh, 2013; Verschueren, 2000), including vari-
ous forms of metalinguistic awareness (Berry, 2005; Coupland & Jaworski, 2004;
Mertz & Yovel, 2009; Preston, 2004; Silverstein, 1993). e latter refers not only
to language about language, but also the way in which “metalanguage also cre-
ates, structures, and forms language and ongoing speech” (Mertz & Yovel, 2009,
p. 250, original emphasis). For example, in claiming that we are just kidding or
that someone is being rude we are construing what we and others are doing in
interaction in particular ways that are socially and interpersonally consequential.
e use of metalanguage thus has a pragmatic function whereby we structure
understandings of our social world. ese kinds of metapragmatic acts (Hübler
& Bublitz, 2007) draw, in turn, on the metalanguage available to speakers of the
language in question. e implications of our use of English as a scientic meta-
language in pragmatics research are thus complex, as English is not simply being
used as a terminological metalanguage to identify pragmatic phenomena, but the
use of English in this way is also inherently reexive in that it structures our
understanding of the phenomenon in question.
In this article, the role of English as a scientic metalanguage in research on
‘(im)politeness’ in Japanese, specically the conceptualisation and practice of
kikubari/kizukai (󰏈󱤪󰏈󱢝, attentiveness’) and omoiyari (,
empathy’), is used as a springboard for laying out some of the key issues and
distinctions at hand for research in pragmatics.2 e article begins, in the follow-
ing section, by rst discussing the relationship between words and concepts, and
reecting on the challenges that the use of English as a scientic metalanguage
occasions for (im)politeness researchers working across dierent languages. It is
suggested that while English has become an important scientic lingua franca for
the description and theorisation of (im)politeness, these very same aordances
also create a number of epistemological challenges with respect to the proper
objects of analysis, and their description and theorisation across languages. A
signicant epistemological challenge for pragmatics, in particular, is that while
the study of words necessarily involves abstraction away from locally situated
contexts (i.e., an etic perspective), the object of analysis for analysts is necessarily
the locally situated understandings of participants themselves (i.e., an emic per-
It is then argued that, in order to start managing such challenges for research
in pragmatics, we need to go beyond the study of abstract or decontextualised
meanings of words and focus instead on the analysis of emic concepts and emic
practices (Arundale, 2013; Chang & Haugh, 2013). Emic concepts encompass the
44 east asian pragmatics
ways in which members not only talk about particular social and interpersonal
phenomena, but also the conceptualisations of such phenomena that are imma-
nent to their talk and conduct. Emic practices refer to the recurrent and recognis-
able ways in which coordinate sets of meanings, actions and stances/evaluations
are accomplished within a particular relational network. In Section 3, we rst
move to consider the role of emic concepts in pragmatics. It is suggested that emic
concepts, such as KIKUBARI/KIZUKAI (󰏈󱤪󰏈󱢝, ‘attentiveness’) and
OMOIYARI (, ‘empathy’) in Japanese, inevitably vary in their degree
of abstraction.3 On the one hand, an emic concept may refer to an abstracted
understanding that is aggregated across a relational network. On the other hand,
an emic concept may refer to a situated understanding that is individually distrib-
uted across members of a relational network. It is argued that the proper focus of
metapragmatics should not be limited to the former, but should be extended to
also encompass the latter situated understandings of emic concepts.
In Section 4, we then move to briey consider the role of emic practices in prag-
matics. It is proposed that emic practices are what mediate between abstracted
and situated understandings of emic concepts. Hegemonic understandings of
emic concepts such as KIKUBARI (󰏈󱤪), for instance, may be implicitly
invoked by participants in ways that are ratied or resisted by other participants
in particular interactional settings. It is also noted that since emic practices are
invariably accomplished through locally situated interactions, the sets of emic
practices employed by members are not limited to those that are conceptualised
by them. e study of emic concepts can thus inform but should not unduly con-
strain our analyses of emic practices in pragmatics.
e article concludes by briey outlining the implications of this discussion for
research in pragmatics more broadly. It is argued that if we are reexively aware
of the inherent constraints of English as a scientic metalanguage in pragmatics
research, it can aord theoretical description and analysis that is not only sensi-
tive to culture-specic construals of pragmatic phenomena, but also goes beyond
the inevitable constraints of such emic conceptualisations for the scientic study
of emic practices across relational networks.
2. Words and concepts in (im)politeness research
2.1 The challenges of English as a scientic metalanguage
e view that words reect underlying cultural concepts, and that words thus not
only imbue our social world with meaning but also constitute it, is one that has
long been advocated in linguistic anthropology and ethnosemantics (e.g. Boas,
1911; Palmer, 1996; Sapir, 1921; Sharian, 2011; Silverstein, 2004; Underhill, 2012;
the role of english as a scientific metalanguage 45
Whorf, 1956; Wierzbicka, [1991]2003; although cf. McWhorter, 2014). It follows,
then, that the use of English as a scientic metalanguage brings with it a complex,
underlying set of cultural concepts and values, which may result in “terminologi-
cal ethnocentrism” (Goddard, 2007, p. 18). e shadow of “terminological ethno-
centrismgenerates at least two potential challenges in pragmatics according to
Haugh (2012, p. 116). First, using terms from English to dene pragmatic objects
in other languages can create ambiguity as to what it is we are analysing. Second,
the use of English as a scientic metalanguage may unduly inuence what we
select as objects of interest in pragmatics and how we theorise those objects.
e question of what it is we are studying has long been debated in politeness
research, a debate which was initiated by Watts, Ide, and Ehlich (1992) rst noting a
distinction we can make between so-called rst-order, lay terms for ‘politeness’ in
dierent languages and second-order, scientic conceptualisations of ‘politeness.
For example, when we study ‘politeness in Japaneseor ‘Japanese politeness’ it is
not always clear what is in fact our object of study. Are we studying (1) a scientic
concept from English as it manifests itself in Japanese (e.g. poraitonesu, 
) (e.g. Usami, 1998), (2) an analogous scientic concept from Japanese (e.g.
taigū hyōgen, 󱢅󱐬󰟼) (e.g. Kabaya, Kawaguchi, & Sakamoto, 1998), or (3) an
analogous lay concept in Japanese (e.g. teinei, , and associated terms) (e.g.
Haugh, 2004)? Moreover, given that scientic notions are invariably drawn from
lay concepts (Eelen, 2001; Sche, 2006), there is the additional complication of
potential vacillation between rst-order lay terms, such as politeness and teinei (
), and second-order, scientic conceptualisations of ‘politeness’ or poraitonesu
Kádár and Haugh (2013) take this line of thought further in arguing that
understandings of ‘politeness’ are inevitably situated with respect to persons and
groups of persons in relationally imbued time-space elds. is general claim
also applies to lay terms themselves, such as politeness and teinei (), which
are also invariably situated in time and space (Kádár & Paternoster, 2015). What
this means is that the object of interest in ‘politeness’ research involves under-
standings that are shared across groups, and the understandings of individual
persons of those shared understandings in particular situated points and spans of
time, both in the sense of the here-and-now and the there-and-then. ese locally
and historically situated understandings are, in turn, themselves inevitably inter-
linked in various ways given that time itself can be understood on multiple dier-
ent scales (Kádár & Haugh, 2013).
As Eneld (2014, pp. 13–16) argues, the meanings of words can be understood
from the perspective of multiple timeframes, including not only the traditional
diachronic (i.e. how conventionalised understandings change over time) and
synchronic frames (i.e. how understandings are interrelated with other under-
46 east asian pragmatics
standings), but also ontogenetic (i.e. how an individual person’s understanding
develops over the course of that person’s lifetime) and enchronic frames (i.e.
how the inferable understandings of participants develop over the course of a
social interaction).4 An enchronic frame can also be further broken down into
the punctuated (i.e. summative) and emergent (i.e. non-summative) understand-
ings of participants in interaction (Culpeper & Haugh, 2014, pp. 142–145; Kádár
& Haugh, 2013. pp. 112–119). In other words, we can examine the meaning of
terms such as politeness and teinei () from synchronic, diachronic, onto-
genetic, and enchronic (both punctuated and emergent) perspectives. e prolif-
eration of multiple understandings of ‘politeness’ is thus perhaps inevitable given
the multifaceted nature of ‘politeness’ as a pragmatic phenomenon and the way it
is situated in time and space (Kádár & Haugh, 2013). It is thus clearly important
that researchers in pragmatics are always explicit in identifying their object of
Another challenge raised by the use of English as a scientic metalanguage is
that the metalanguage appealed to by lay speakers of English may unduly domi-
nate our theorisation of pragmatic phenomena, thereby inadvertently constrain-
ing our view of what counts as a legitimate object of study. Wierzbicka (2014), for
instance, has recently argued that ‘politeness’ research is “locked in a perspective
inuenced by the meaning of the English word politeness” (p. 97). e problem
with this, according to Wierzbicka (2014), is that “most languages have no word
meaning ‘politeness’ and reect, in their lexicon, other concerns” (p. 95), a point
which has already previously been noted by ‘politeness’ researchers themselves
(Ehlich, 1992, p. 94; Nwoye, 1992, p. 315; Terkoura, 2005, pp. 242–243).
Yet while the point is well made that dierent words in dierent languages
mean dierent things, focusing on what the word politeness might be taken to
mean by speakers of English generates its own set of complexities. Consider the
following anecdote from a scholar who related upon meeting a local in a nearby
pub that he had travelled to the UK to study ‘politeness’:
He proceeded to give me his own theory on politeness: to him it was just
another form of dishonesty, either used by ‘wankers’ who did not dare
deliver a straight and honest message (he was probably indirectly referring
to me and my rather pathetic attempts to order a drink), or by ‘slimy bas-
tards’ whose mild manners concealed some devious ulterior motive. He
was, on the whole, rather suspicious of polite people.
(Deutschmann, 2003, pp. 23–24)
is account stands in stark contrast to that proposed by Wierzbicka (2014), who
argues that politeness involves “not causing ‘bad feelings’” and “knowledge about
how to behave (what to say or do) in a given situation, and is “especially focused
the role of english as a scientific metalanguage 47
on strangers or people whom one doesn’t know well” (p. 96).
us, while the meaning of a word as an abstract, etic construct emerges
through its use of time by all speakers of a language (Wittgenstein, 1968), we
cannot simply discount the account of a particular speaker as ‘wrong’ (Eelen,
2001). Whether such an understanding is shared with a substantial number of
speakers is, of course, an empirical question. But not only does such variation
evidently exist, in the ethnomethodological tradition it has been argued that
such cases “are not mere deviations from some basic organisation” but “with their
rules of occurrence they are the organisation” (Tyler, 1969, p. 5, original empha-
sis). What occasions this textured landscape is that while words are indexical
to concepts, concepts do not inhere in words. at is, the ‘meanings’ of named
concepts are not limited to the use of a word, nor are concepts limited to that
which can be named. We can thus draw a distinction between politeness as a word
and POLITENESS as a concept (and, indeed, sets of practice) for users of English.
e question, then, is the degree to which either words or concepts, or both, are
relevant to pragmatics.
2.2 Words and concepts
Words are abstract entities that are generally seen as belonging primarily to a
particular language (which itself is an abstract entity), while concepts are abstract
entities that are generally understood to belong primarily to a particular culture
or cultural group (which itself is an abstract entity) (Eglin, 2015), notwithstand-
ing claims that some concepts are more or less universal. In disentangling words
and concepts, then, we are dealing with potentially two degrees of abstraction,
namely, the object of the word or concept and its source. In other words, the
question is not simply what a particular word or concept ‘means’ (i.e. its object)
and how it relates to other related words and concepts (i.e. its eld), but whose
‘meaning’ it is (i.e. its source). Although words are sometimes taken to be largely
synonymous with concepts, cross-linguistic studies of the relationship between
words and concepts indicate that the relationship is much more complex than
that (Majid, 2015; Malt et al., 2015).
For a start, while the lexicon of a particular language is clearly an important
source of interpersonal and social concepts for speakers of that language, they
are not the only means by which we conceptualise and make sense of the social
world. As Murphy (2002) points out, there are quite evidently concepts that
are not lexicalised in English and yet are recognisable to users of that language.
Wierzbicka (2004), for instance, argues that the use of “good boy/girl” by parents
and other caregivers towards children is a culturally important action, and yet
is not named by ordinary speakers of English. Indeed, Schieelin (1987) argues
that “one cannot assume that everything that is socially salient and marked will
48 east asian pragmatics
be linguistically marked. What is strongly marked in the social sphere may not
necessarily be linguistically marked” (p. 259). It follows, then, that not all the
concepts available to speakers of a language are necessarily going to be directly
reected in the lexicon of that language (Majid, 2015, p. 376). It has also become
increasingly evident that words are oen used in ways that underspecify the
concept in question (Wilson, 2003; Wilson & Carston, 2007).
e fact that the objects of words and concepts do not necessarily (fully) align
is reected in the two dierent perspectives that can be taken on the relationship
between words and concepts, namely, the semasiological and onomasiological
approaches to meaning. e semasiological approach identies “the dierent
concepts that are coded by a given form of a given language” (Schalley & Zaeerer,
2007, p. 11). Wierzbicka’s account of politeness in English and comparison with
the word serdeczność in Polish falls very much under the umbrella of this word-
centred approach. e onomasiological approach, in contrast, seeks to identify
“the dierent forms a given concept can be coded in and across languages”
(Schalley & Zaeerer, 2007, p. 11). In order to accomplish the latter, Malt et al.
(2015) propose that we can “extract structure from individual language naming
or naming aggregated across languages” (p. 5).
Drawing a distinction between words and concepts thus arguably provides a
principled basis for explaining the apparent contestability of understandings of
concepts across speakers of a language (or varieties of that language in the case
of pluricentric languages such as English), particularly, those that are inherently
evaluative, such as politeness. It also serves as a note of caution for those wishing
to emphasise cross-linguistic variation, without due recognition of the extent to
which word meanings of any particular language emerge through their usage,
and so invariably are tted by particular speakers to locally situated occasions
in the course of accomplishing a plethora of dierent social actions (Garnkel,
2002; Sacks, 1992).
One further complication in pragmatics, however, is that we are generally deal-
ing with highly abstract words for which ascertaining semantic structure raises
considerable challenges. In particular, the meaning of a particular word is invar-
iably understood and delimited in part by the meanings of other related words
(Trier, 1931), and so the meaning(s) of one particular word cannot be ascertained
in isolation.
2.3 Semantic and conceptual elds
Words such as politeness in English are not only highly abstract, they are arguably
situated within complex elds of interrelated meanings, or what in ethnoseman-
tics is traditionally called Wo rtfel d or “semantic eld” (Trier, 1931; Ullmann, 1962,
p.245). According to Trier (1931),
the role of english as a scientific metalanguage 49
[F]ields are living realities intermediate between individual words and the
totality of the vocabulary; as part of a whole they share