Gender and Language, Vol 2, No 1 (2008)

Young women in the Meiji period as linguistic trendsetters

Mariko T. Bohn, Yoshiko Matsumoto
Issued Date: 22 Feb 2008


The normative speech associated with Japanese women today has been identified as a product of the Meiji government’s modernization project in the early 20th Century. In this article, we examine the speech style in question, which is found in novels, magazines, and other print media during the Meiji period (1868--1912), in conjunction with other notable expressions of the time (e.g. foreign borrowings). We also examine other cultural expressions of femininity, for example, female students’ clothing and hairstyle. The analysis reveals that female students’ speech style that is now categorized as ‘feminine’ was part of the vernacular, rather than emanating from the context of the school, as is generally asserted. It was criticized by older linguistic norm holders (e.g. educators, novelists) as being coarse, crude and unladylike, in contrast to upper-class women’s speech in the preceding Edo period. Drawing comparisons with the linguistic innovation of current young Japanese women, we suggest that young female speakers of the Meiji period can be viewed as the trendsetters of the era, not simply as passive targets of ideological conditioning.

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DOI: 10.1558/genl.v2i1.51


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