Bending the "rules" : strategic language use in role and status negotiation among women in a rural northeastern Japanese community

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Ogren, Holly

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This dissertation focuses on shifts in women’s use of three sets of linguistic features – gender-marked language, speech levels (desu/-masu and plain), and a local language variety - in Japanese within naturally occurring conversational interactions as sites where speakers negotiate role and status. The analysis complicates previous models that limit research on women’s language usage in Japanese to a focus on gender-marked forms, by broadening the focus to women’s language use, rather than women’s use of “Japanese women’s language. It also contributes to work that argues for more fluid models of status and hierarchy by showing how speakers use linguistic resources to negotiate roles, including shifting status within the same interaction. The methodological approach integrates close analysis of particular interactions with background information on the participants and settings of these interactions, and is situated within the larger context of gender relations in contemporary rural Japan. The findings on speech level shifts attest that speakers shift levels both as a means of marking discourse shifts (e.g., when closing a topic) and for particular interactional ends (e.g., to make critiques). This aspect of the analysis also highlights the importance of including local language variety forms in interactional analysis, as these forms are an integral resource for speakers. In terms of gender-marked features, this dissertation demonstrates that women use feminine-marked features in interactionally effective ways, and that they make strategic use of masculine-marked features as well. Taken together, these findings suggest the need for a reconsideration of women’s language use in Japan, and a more complicated model of how role and status are created and modified by participants in interactions. This work also highlights the importance of future research that would examine regional ideologies about gender, and gender and language use, particularly in the face of current central-government programs aimed at promoting “gender equality”.




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