Gender and Language, Vol 8, No 3 (2014)

Linguistic manifestation of gender reinforcement through the use of the Japanese term kawaii

Yuko Asano-Cavanagh
Issued Date: 14 Oct 2014


This paper examines the Japanese word kawaii. Japanese women frequently use kawaii to express positive feelings towards objects or people. Scholars suggest that Japanese women are making kawaii a part of their gender identity. From a linguistic perspective, kawaii is not lexicalised in other languages. Although the kawaii phenomenon has been thoroughly examined, there has been no rigorous semantic analysis. In this study, the framework of the natural semantic metalanguage approach was applied to explicate the meaning of kawaii. The analysis indicates that the core meaning of kawaii is explained as ‘when people see this thing, they can’t not feel something very good, like people often can’t not feel something very good when they see a small child’. The kawaii syndrome reveals a Japanese cultural characteristic that puts emphasis on being ‘gender appropriate’ in society. The analysis has implications for understanding gender construction and expression in non-Western cultures.

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DOI: 10.1558/genl.v8i3.341


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