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A Cultural History of Japanese Women's Language
by Endō Orie

Among Japanese nostalgic for older times, as well as students and scholars of Japanese, it is commonly assumed that the Japanese language possesses special words reserved for women. Did these “women’s words” actually exist at the very beginnings of the Japanese language? If such words were in fact part of the language, what kinds of attitudes and treatment toward women were inscribed in them? In her endeavor to address these questions, Endō Orie explores Japan’s early literary works to discover what they have to say about the Japanese language. Among her most significant conclusions is the finding that “womanly” language in Japan was socially mandated and regulated only with the beginning of warrior rule in the Kamakura period. Now, in contemporary Japan, critics charge that women’s language has lost its “womanly” qualities and has veered perilously close to men’s language. However, if we look at the evidence of history, what we may actually be witnessing is a return to the origins of the Japanese language when no sexual distinctions were made between users.

Endō Orie is a professor in the Department of Cultural Linguistics at the Koshigaya Campus of Bunkyō University (Tokyo) with a teaching specialization in social linguistics and Japanese language pedagogy. Her best-known works are Ki ni naru kotoba: Nihongo no saikentō (Words That Concern Me: A Reconsideration of the Japanese Language) (Nanundō, 1987); Onna no kotoba no bunka-shi (Gakuyō shobō, 1997), the book on which A Cultural History of Japanese Women’s Language is based; and Chūgoku onna moji kenkyū (A Study of Chinese Women’s Script) (Meiji shoin, 2002). She is also co-author of Senjichū no hanashi kotoba: rajio dorama daihon kara (Spoken Japanese during Wartime: Radio Drama) (Hitsuji shobō, 2004). Professor Endō’s recent research projects include a historical study of a Chinese women’s script referred to as “Nushu” from Hunan Province and a project that draws on radio drama scripts and family magazines as a source for examining Japanese language usage during the Asian Pacific War, and its legacy for contemporary speakers of Japanese.

Published by Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan
Michigan Monographs in Japanese Studies No. 57
Published 2006, 146 pp.
ISBN 978 1 929280 39 1, hardback, £25.00