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Vicarious Language

Gender and Linguistic Modernity in Japan

Miyako Inoue (Author)


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This highly original study provides an entirely new critical perspective on the central importance of ideas about language in the reproduction of gender, class, and race divisions in modern Japan. Focusing on a phenomenon commonly called "women's language," in modern Japanese society, Miyako Inoue considers the history and social effects of this language form. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in a contemporary Tokyo corporation to study the everyday linguistic experience of white-collar females office workers and on historical research from the late nineteenth century to 1930, she calls into question the claim that "women's language" is a Japanese cultural tradition of ancient origin and offers a critical geneaology showing the extent to which this language form is, in fact, a cultural construct linked with Japan's national and capitalist modernity. Her theoretically sophisticated, empirically grounded, interdisciplinary work brilliantly illuminates the relationship between culture and language, the nature of power and subject formation in modernity, and how the complex nexus of gender, language, and political economy are experienced in everyday life.
List of Illustrations and Tables
Note on Japanese Names and the Romanization of Japanese Language

Introduction: Women’s Language and Capitalist Modernity in Japan

part one: language, gender, and national

modernity: the genealogy of japanese women’s language, 1880s–1930s

1. An Echo of National Modernity: Overhearing “Schoolgirl Speech”

2. Linguistic Modernity and the Emergence of Women’s Language

3. From Schoolgirl Speech to Women’s Language: Consuming Indexicality in Women’s Magazines, 1890–1930

part two: the nation’s temporality and the death of women’s language

4. Capitalist Modernity, the Responsibilized Speaking Body, and the Public Mourning of the Death of Women’s Language

part three: re-citing women’s language in late modern japan


5. “Just Stay in the Middle”: The Story of a Woman Manager

6. Defamiliarizing Japanese Women’s Language: Strategies and Tactics of Female Office Workers

Afterword: This Vicarious “Japanese Women’s Language”
Miyako Inoue is Assistant Professor in the Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford University.
"Inoue has accomplished an extraordinary task, which is without precedent in the East Asian Fields. To my knowledge, no author has ever demonstrated as persuasively as she does that the issues concerning women's Japanese can be explored in such an innovative, engaging way. Vicarious Language brilliantly displays how effectively Foucauldian archaeology can be introduced to the study of gender and language, and undermines any of the previous studies in English of what is erroneously referred to as the unique feature of the Japanese language. This is a superb model of engaged scholarship."—Naoki Sakai, author of Voices of the Past: The Status of Language in Eighteenth-Century Japanese Discourse

"Miyako Inoue's Vicarious Language is a work of scholarly distinction and cultural insight. She explores the texture of Japanese modernity, its national rituals and social practices, by way of a sustained, semiotic analysis of womens' language—the language of self-expression that women use in intimate and institutional contexts, and the language used to define the gendered roles assigned to women within the powers of patriarchy. Her sources range widely from scholarly studies to the 'popular opinion' fostered by newspapers and advertisements; her excellent ethnography investigates the strategies of institutions and organisations, while inquiring into the politics and poetics of everyday life; her analytic method is, at once, conceptually sophisticated and textually intensive. This is a work that allows you to participate in the lifeworld of the Japanese language, at the illuminating moment when gender relations are writ large in the social syntax of national life. This is a book that will make a lasting impression on a range of disciplines."—Homi K. Bhabha, Anne F.Rothenberg Professor, Harvard University

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