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What is "femininity" in Japanese language? : a discourse analysis of young Japanese couples Aragaki, Kaeko

Abstract

It is widely believed from previous studies on cross-sex conversation that women are more cooperative, employing addressee-oriented speech behavior whereas men are more dominant, employing speaker-oriented speech behavior. This study also examines the conversational interaction between how young Japanese men and women in romantic relationship and explore how they use language in their social interaction. This study also focuses on women's speech style and investigates how young Japanese women express their sex identity linguistically considering their overall evaluation regarding 'feminine' speech style and 'femininity' in Japanese language. The participants of this study included four young Japanese couples in a romantic relationship whose ages range from 19 to 26. The data was collected by means of recording spontaneous and natural conversations between the couples and through a questionnaire to investigate their linguistic ideology. Based on the notion proposed by Eckert and McConnell-Ginet (1992), this study analyzes the conversations of young Japanese couples in romantic relationships in terms of the following discourse functions: interruption, aizuchi, supportive questions; and the linguistic form, sentence-final particles. The findings demonstrate that both male and female participants in a romantic relationship are actively involved cooperatively to keep a conversation going. This result suggests that it is not always the case that men dominate a conversation while women are engaged in supportive work. Also, the speech style of the young Japanese female participants is hardly feminine as far as sentence-final particles and their use of vulgar or masculine expressions are concerned. However, the Questionnaire data showed that they acknowledge the traditional stereotypes of 'feminine' speech style and attempt to employ the 'feminine' speech style depending on not only the individual evaluation of the 'feminine' speech style but also on the individual evaluation of the given context, such as the relation between interlocutors (psychological distance; power relationship). By demonstrating the complexity of what is actually taking place in conversation and the implication of the participants' employment of particular linguistic features, I argue that 'femininity' in Japanese language does not always correspond to the quality of being polite, gentle, non-assertive and empathetic as argued in the previous studies (e.g., Ide, 1979; Jugaku, 1979; Shibamoto, 1985) and employing addressee-oriented speech behavior. This study posits the importance of a more in-depth inquiry into young Japanese women's linguistic behavior in relation to their linguistic ideology and social backgrounds.

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