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Reviewed by:
  • Keigo in Modern Japan: Polite Language from Meiji to the Present
  • Ann Wehmeyer
Keigo in Modern Japan: Polite Language from Meiji to the Present. By Patricia J. Wetzel. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2004. Pp. 206.

In Keigo in Modern Japan: Polite Language from Meiji to the Present, Patricia Wetzel delves deeply into social and analytical aspects of honorific and polite language from historical and contemporary perspectives. It is a work unlike any other, with a rigorous analysis of "language intervention," the attempt to standardize keigo usage, over the last one hundred years. Wetzel envisions the audience for this book as the student of Japan in a broad sense, and there is much in this work to compel the attention of those in history, sociology, and anthropology, in addition to linguistics. Wetzel characterizes her work as a "search for vocabulary," a vocabulary that can account for keigo as a complex, commonsense system that native speakers feel less than secure in their use thereof.

The first chapter, "Keigo in Linguistics," surveys analytic frameworks concerning the structure and syntax of honorifics within Western linguistics. Wetzel also proposes [End Page 191] one modification to theory, in arguing that it is the subject that should be regarded as the trigger for honorification in all instances, doing away with the notion of "object honorification." There is also discussion of issues that have been targeted in research on pragmatics and in research from sociolinguistic perspectives.

In the second chapter, "Keigo in Kokugogaku," Wetzel locates the inception of Japanese-language studies of keigo in the Meiji period, under the influence of Latin-based Western methodologies, and the move toward universal education. Following Tsujimura's (1992) lead, she identifies three basic frameworks in the early history of the analysis of keigo, namely through "person," "meaning," and "target." Under person-oriented analyses, Wetzel discusses the work of Mitsuhashi, Tokieda, and Tsujimura; under meaning-oriented frameworks, the work of Yoshioka, Hashimoto, and Uchiyama; and under target-oriented approaches the work of Mitsuya and Matsushita. More recently, theoretical discussions have focused on just what is to be included in the analysis of keigo, and have reincorporated the concept of taigū "consideration," first introduced by Okada in 1900. The latter half of the chapter focuses on the recent work of Ō ishi, Minami, and Kikuchi and their debates on whether to incorporate socially meaningful aspects of deportment into the paradigm as well as the vulgar, demeaning, and haughty ranges of expressions.

With chapter 3, "Inventing Keigo: Standardization," Wetzel turns to the ideological aspects of keigo, in an investigation of the history of language intervention in Japan. The late Meiji period witnessed the drive to unify the spoken and written idioms in the genbun-itchi movement. Keigo, like other aspects of spoken language, was part of what needed to be pinned down under the process of codifying a standard language for the nation. Wetzel chronicles the succession of official bodies created to address, first of all, standardization of language and, later, a variety of issues including orthographic reforms and keigo use. Among these official bodies are the Kokugo Chō sakai in 1899, Kokugo Chō sa Iinkai in 1902, Rinji Kokugo Chō sakai in 1921, Kokugo Shingikai in 1950, and Bunka Shingikai in 2001. Wetzel argues that keigo acquired "real salience" and "came of age" only in the postwar period. The Kokugo Shingikai issued two policy statements outlining an optimal system of keigo use: Kore kara no keigo (Keigo from now on) (1952) and Gendai ni okeru keii-hyōgen no arikata (Guidelines for respect expressions in the modern age) (1998), both of which Wetzel translates in their entirety and includes in the book's appendixes, along with the original Japanese.

In chapter 4, "The Modernization of Keigo," Wetzel studies the social phenomenon of keigo anxiety, as reflected in the plethora of popular how-to manuals on keigo usage, and the occasional "manner poster" displayed in public venues. She applies Giddens' notion of "disembedding," Faircloth's notion of "technologization of discourse," and Bourdieu's concept of "linguistic capital" to help understand why it is that people feel the need to be instructed on the proper use of keigo. Wetzel herself attended several...


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