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Reviewed by:
  • Keigo in Modern Japan: Polite Language from Meiji to the Present, and: Rhetoric in Modern Japan: Western Influences on the Development of Narrative and Oratorical Style
  • Nanette Gottlieb
Keigo in Modern Japan: Polite Language from Meiji to the Present. By Patricia J. Wetzel. University of Hawai'i Press, 2004. 206 pages. Hardcover $45.00.
Rhetoric in Modern Japan: Western Influences on the Development of Narrative and Oratorical Style. By Massimiliano Tomasi. University of Hawai'i Press, 2004. 214 pages. Hardcover $40.00.

These two new books from the University of Hawai'i Press are welcome additions to the literature on the social aspects of Japanese language. Patricia J. Wetzel's fine study of honorifics and Massimiliano Tomasi's explication of the contribution made by rhetoric to the development of modern Japanese offer syntheses and critiques of the relevant scholarship that afford new insights into how language functions in social context in Japan.

Most of us have had the experience of using keigo in what we thought was the appropriate context, only to notice a quickly hidden but unmistakable hint of surprise on the part of our Japanese interlocutor. Somehow we had got it wrong. Keigo in Modern Japan does not offer answers to particular questions why that might be so; it is not a grammar book meant to improve our use of keigo, although it contains much interesting incidental information of this sort. Rather, this is a fine scholarly study that traces the development of keigo since the Meiji period, pursuing the argument that (as the blurb on the book jacket puts it) "there is no linguistic place in Japan that is not keigo," given the multiple ways in which clues about personal information are present in Japanese discourse.

The book is structured in five chapters. The first two deal respectively with keigo [End Page 283] in linguistics and in kokugogaku (a critical review of the Western and Japanese scholarship in the area); the following three cover the invention of keigo as part of standardization of the language, its subsequent modernization, and, finally, keigo commonsense. The discussion throughout is informed by perceptive reference to the modern critical and theoretical literature as well as to the major texts on keigo (which is not to imply that some of these do not also rank among the former category). Almost half the book is taken up with two large appendices: the first is an English translation of the National Language Council's 1952 paper Kore kara no keigo (translated by Wetzel as "Keigo from Now On"), the second a translation of its 1998 Gendai ni okeru keii hyōgen no arikata (Guidelines for Expressions of Respect in the Modern Age), which is one section of a larger language policy document. Both appendices include the Japanese originals. These are the two most important policy documents relating to keigo of the second half of the twentieth century, and by translating them Wetzel has done a service to readers who are interested in the topic but cannot read Japanese. The same bilingual courtesy is extended in reverse in the notes section for each chapter. Here the author provides the Japanese originals of materials discussed in English in the body of the book. I wondered, though, on purely nitpicking editorial grounds, whether it was really necessary to include the Japanese original for every passage translated into English, a practice that makes wading through the notes section unnecessarily tedious. Where terminology and structures (one of the major concerns of this book) are concerned, it certainly makes sense to give the original so that the bilingual reader can follow the discussion with a more precise awareness of the issues, but I would usually accept the author's translation of other passages on trust without needing to see the originals reproduced.

One of the most interesting aspects of the discussion is the vigorous pursuit of a satisfactory technical terminology for this area of language that involves forms and usage with no neat one-to-one correspondence with European analytical terms such as noun, verb, and pronoun. "The story of keigo in the Japanese academy is in large part the story of a search for vocabulary" (p. 41). Even...


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