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Reviewed by:
  • Japanese Language, Gender, and Ideology: Cultural Models and Real People
  • Nanette Gottlieb (bio)
Japanese Language, Gender, and Ideology: Cultural Models and Real People. Edited by Shigeko Okamoto and Janet S. Shibamoto Smith. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004. xiv, 300 pages. £45.00, cloth; £21.50, paper.

This volume is a welcome addition to the body of research that, since the 1990s, has set out to dispel stereotypes and more generalized "common knowledge" about language use in Japan. The subtitle, promising as it does an emphasis on "real people" which the authors claim has been lacking in much earlier research, makes the book particularly inviting. The studies presented in its 15 chapters recognize the shifting patterns of use that characterize the standard everyday fluidity of gender roles and individual linguistic practices and discuss them within the framework of very different views on the nature and functions of gender from those current in earlier periods of research.

The book brings together a list of contributors, many of them well known in the field, who cover a wide range of topics pertinent to the central theme. Their project is to investigate the practices of real speakers within the context of and in relation to overarching linguistic ideologies, i.e., to show what they do rather than to talk about what they may be assumed by the model to do. Through this, they seek to dispel the ideological constraints of previous [End Page 471] models in which speech acts at odds with the prevailing normative constructs of gendered speech were dismissed as aberrant rather than as valid markers of identity. Strengths of the collection include a translation of an article by noted Japanese scholar Orie Endō and a focus not just on women's language but on men's and boys' as well (Wim Lunsing and Claire Maree, Yumiko Ohara, Ayumi Miyazaki, Cindi Sturtz Sreetharan).

The book is structured into three sections: Historical and Theoretical Foundations, which presents chapters reviewing theoretical and policy aspects of gendered language studies (Sumiyuki Yukawa and Masami Saito, Shigeko Okamoto, Miyako Inoue, Rumi Washi, Lunsing, and Maree); Linguistic Ideologies and Cultural Models, where the studies investigate romance fiction, fashion magazines, cute femininity, and sexism in dictionaries in Japan (Janet Shibamoto Smith, Momoko Nakamura, Laura Miller, and Orie Endō); and Real Language, Real People, in which the chapters range across farm women, lesbian bar talk, workplace interaction, middle-aged mothers, junior high school students, and men's speech (Yukako Sunaoshi, Hideko Abe, Ohara, Yoshiko Matsumoto, Miyazaki, and Sturtz Sreetharan). Sections One and Two, the editors point out, closely examine "the ideologies and cultural models that underlie our conceptions of the idealized Japanese woman and man, as these may have significant regimenting effects on speaking practices of real women and men," while Section Three "calls into question these very ideologies and models via a close examination of socially and ideologically diverse Japanese women and men and real verbal interactions" (p. 5).

The aims of the book are twofold: to advance Japanese language and gender studies in the recent direction of recognizing linguistic diversity (pp. 4, 5) by challenging the homogeneity of binary distinctions in gendered language categories, and to "present a methodological challenge to the field of Japanese language and gender" (p. 6) by moving away from the earlier reliance on introspection and survey data toward a reliance on discourse analysis supported by ethnographic data in the studies in Part Three. The intention is to close the gap between ideology and practice by examining one in the light of the other. By and large, the collection succeeds in these aims, and many of the studies bring a fresh and innovative perspective to the discussion.

I could not help feeling a little irritated, though, by some of what I call the many "d'oh!" moments (statements of the obvious) in the book. For example, when the editors describe the findings of the Part Three studies in the introduction, they tell us: "They convince us that speakers do not blindly follow social norms and expectations but rather relate to them variously . . . and then choose expressions that they think most appropriate in a given context" (p. 14). That individual speakers make strategic...


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