LINGUIST List 15.2431

Wed Sep 1 2004

Review: Socioling/Discourse Analysis: Tanaka (2004)

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  1. Patrick Heinrich, Gender, Language and Culture: Japanese Television Interview...

Message 1: Gender, Language and Culture: Japanese Television Interview...

Date: Tue, 31 Aug 2004 12:10:37 -0400 (EDT)
From: Patrick Heinrich <>
Subject: Gender, Language and Culture: Japanese Television Interview...

AUTHOR: Tanaka, Lidia
TITLE: Gender, Language and Culture
SUBTITLE: A Study of Japanese Television Interview Discourse
SERIES: Studies in Language Companion Series 69
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2004
Announced at

Patrick Heinrich, Modern Japanese Language and Culture, Institute for
East Asian Studies, University Duisburg-Essen, Germany.


Lidia Tanaka's book is based on her PhD thesis, which deals with
Japanese conversation analysis. Her corpus consists of twenty
interviews taken from the TV program 'Testuko's room' (Tetsuko no
heya) hosted by the Japanese TV celebrity/writer Testuko Kuroyanagi.
The book consists of seven chapters, two appendixes and an index which
make up for 229 pages.

Chapter 1 introduces the reader to the theoretical framework of
discourse studies in general and conversation analysis in particular.
With regard to conversation analysis the concepts of turn-taking,
floor and adjacency pairs are discussed in the context of
institutionalized language, i.e. interviews on TV. This discussion is
followed by an introduction to politeness and gender in language.
Tanaka's study follows the framework put forth by the 'classic work'
of Sacks, Jefferson and Schegloff (1974) and applies it to gendered
speech in Japanese TV interviews. Tanaka points out that due to the
institutionalized setting of TV interviews, several of Sacks et al.'s
principles do not apply for the organization of conversation, e.g.
the length of conversation is specified in advance. Since it has been
observed in previous studies that differences between male and female
language decrease in formal situations (e.g. Shibamoto 1985), Tanaka
chose to expand the study of language and gender to include
institutionalized interaction. In so doing, her study addresses the
following questions (p.2): ''Do speakers use other strategies such as
interruptions, hedges and backchanneling in order to assert their
maleness or femaleness? Or do they prioritize the situation over
gender? What strategies do speakers use in situations when there is
conflict arising from divergence between age, status and gender?''

Large parts of chapter 2 are also of an introductory character. It
familiarizes the reader with previous research and interview as a
text-type. Tanaka then discusses specific characteristics of the
interviews in 'Tetsuko's room' which includes role allocation, the
participant's identities, asymmetry in interaction, goal-oriented
interaction, one-way flow of information and the fact that interaction
is prepared in advance to a certain extent. At the end, Tanaka
elaborates on the constraints on turn-taking in TV interviews which
were introduced in chapter 1. These constraints originate in the fact
that (p. 33): ''The interviewer (~E) has the power to commence and end
the interview, to initiate and change topics, to refuse to answer,
thus creating asymmetric interaction.''

Chapter 3 is entirely devoted to turn-taking. Turn-taking in Japanese
has received much attention since two principles pointed out in Sacks
et al. (1974) appear to be less relevant: 'overwhelmingly, one party
talks at a time' and 'occurrences of more than one speaker at a time
are common, but brief'. Tanaka's data supports the view that these
turn-taking rules are less relevant for Japanese. She accounts for the
Japanese 'deviations' of turn-taking rules by language typology
(Japanese SOV structure) and by findings of popular
anthropo-sociological studies knows as 'nihonjin-ron' (literally
discourse on the Japanese) and literature inspired by it. According to
these sources it would be insensitive to use syntactically complete
utterances in Japanese and that Japanese would prefer implicit and
intuitive communication instead. Due to the fact that speakers often
overlap and complete each others statements in Japanese, turn-taking
occurs often after incomplete utterances. Tanaka provides for a
comprehensive discussion of turn-taking after syntactically incomplete
utterances (p. 88-95). Her data shows that the interviewees have much
higher percentage of complete utterances (43% vs. 15.9% for the
interviewer) which she attributes to the fact that the interviewees
''are conscious of their role and know the behaviour expected from
them in an interview situation. Guests have to speak clearly in order
to provide information directly to the audience''(p. 83). She
furthermore argues that unfinished utterances in Japanese are a
strategy to imbue utterances with more politeness, functioning in a
similar way as hedges and tag questions in English.

Chapter 4 deals with gender, age and status. Again, this is a topic
which has received much attention in the study of Japanese from the
1980s onwards (e.g. Ide 1982, 1997, Peng 1981, Shibamoto 1985). It has
been argued that female speaker use more honorific forms than men and
that their language is more polite. Japanese men, on the other hand,
are said to interrupt more often and to take control of the
floor. These views are not sustained by Tanaka's data. Female speaker
under 50 interrupt the interviewer most often. She argues that
interruptions in Japanese need not necessarily be associated with
dominance but that many of the interruptions are of cooperative
nature. Such cooperative turn-taking is also frequent with men.
Shifts in style (see Usami 2002) can also not be related to gender.
In Tanaka's data male speakers primarily indicate their masculinity
through the use of pronouns ('boku' for men vs. 'watakushi',
'atakushi' etc. for women). Due to such results Tanaka warns to
associate features of communication to quickly with gender styles.

Chapter 5 is devoted to backchanneling ('aizuchi' in Japanese).
Backchanneling is more frequent in Japanese than in many other
languages (e.g. English). In recognition of this fact, aizuchi has
been extensively studied and various classifications have been
proposed according to its functions in discourse. Tanaka
differentiates between six functions: aizuchi as continuers, as
acknowledgements, as echoers, as newsmarkers, as fillers and affective
aizuchi. She discusses the position of backchanneling in discourse, in
particular the aizuchi 'hai' and, in so doing, demonstrates that the
''timing of aizuchi is crucial and intrinsically related to its
function'' (p. 138). On the basis of her data Tanaka concludes that
aizuchi as continuers can be used at any time while other functions
are more intricate. In addition, her data supports the view that
aizuchi are used to negotiate floor management.

Chapter 6 deals with backchannels too. It looks into backchannel
tokens and asymmetry between speakers. It has been suggested in
literature on Western languages as well as on Japanese that female
speakers give more backchanneling. Again, pervious results on
backchanneling and gender are not reflected in Tanaka's data. She
concludes that despite ''reports that claim clear differences in male
and female aizuchi behaviour, there are no conclusive findings in this
study'' (p. 198) and that ''choice of formal (e.g. 'hai' P.H.) or
informal aizuchi (e.g. 'un' P.H.) is determined mainly by the age of
the interlocutors and their relationship'' (p. 200).

Chapter 7 is titled conclusion but is simply a summary of the major
points made in the chapters 3-6. As these have already been pointed
out above I will directly move on to the critical evaluation.


I'd like to restrict the critical evaluation here to three points: the
data chosen, units other than turn and language ideology within the
field of language, and gender.

The TV show 'Tetsuko no heya' is an unusual choice for the collection
of data. It is a show in which an urban elite appears. To cite Tanaka
(p. 40) Guests are usually ''artists, writers, lawyers, university
professors.'' The data collected is thus one-sided as it does not
reflect diversity in Japanese society and language. Furthermore, there
is only one interviewer, namely Kuroyanagi Tetsuko who gained her
status as a writer and TV celebrity due to her outstanding
individuality. She is known among the Japanese public for a somewhat
idiosyncratic use of language. This also manifests in Tanaka's data.
She observes the complete absence of the aizuchi 'hai' in Kuroyanagi's
language which ''could be attributed to personal style'' (p. 162)'' In
view of the tremendous effort on Tanaka's part to transcribe and
analyse the data, one cannot help but think that the data itself could
have been chosen more carefully.

Despite the fact that Tanaka points out that it has been questioned
whether 'turn' presents a meaningful unit for the analysis of Japanese
discourse, she sidesteps this issue in her own study. Tanaka's
analysis is restricted to the unit turn only. Szatrowski (1991, 1993)
has however convincingly argued that frequent backchanneling,
negotiation of floor management and overlaps hint at units other than
turn. This leads her to propose a unit she calls 'wadan' (literally
parts of speech) which has also been proposed in the study of German
('Teil' = part) Szatrowski, in addition, introduces the unit 'danwa'
(talk) to conversation analysis which constitutes 'kaiwa'
(discourse). 'Danwa' roughly coincides with the unit 'thematischer
Abschnitt' (thematic unit) proposed in conversation analysis of German
(see Sugita (2004: 29-40 for a comprehensive discussion of this
issue). Thus according to Szatrowski, the opening of a conversation
would be 'danwa' and an invitation to go drinking could be furthermore
segmented into 'wadan' such as 'invitation', 'reaction to the
invitation', 'justification for the invitation' etc. She basically
argues that turns, backchannels and overlaps occur within 'danwa'
which are established cooperatively. This conception is remindful of
conceptions such as 'primary speaker', 'secondary speaker' and
'hearer' developed by Bublitz (1988). In short, the notion of
secondary speaker and of 'wadan' could have been fruitfully applied to
Tanaka's data. For an application of these conceptions on Japanese and
German telephone conversation see Sugita (2004).

Although Tanaka is not concerned with theoretical issues a few remarks
might be in place here as they do apply to many other studies on
language and gender too. Tanaka provides for the important insight
that the differences between female and male language are less
pronounced than could be expected from pervious studies. This might be
due to the institutional setting from which Tanaka's data
originates. It might however also point out that many studies on
(Japanese) women's language have been influenced by language
ideological views of what women's language ought to be. As a matter of
fact, many works on Japanese women's language, particularly some of
the works conducted in the 1980s, have come under criticism for having
focused on middle class fulltime housewives in urban centres and to
have taken their language as the Japanese women's language 'tout
court' (see Takano 2000) or for having focussed exclusively on
situations in which (a) women who speak women's language (b) speak
women's language (see Inoue 1996). Although Tanaka discusses the
literature on Japanese women's language in great detail, the critical
literature is missing. Since the study of women's language is often
placed in the context of power inequalities, the consideration of
works conducted by critical discourse studies such as Coulthard 1977
who is concerned with classroom discourse and teacher-pupil
asymmetries, or Fairclough (2001) who is concerned with language and
power in a more general sense would also have been appreciated.

Generally, Tanaka contrasts her data with prescriptive norms of
Japanese grammars rather than pointing out at flaws of prescriptive
accounts on language. At times, she falls at times victim to language
ideological views underlying such prescriptions. After all, even the
shortest stay in Japan suffices to encounter much 'men's language' in
the language use of Japanese women. Contrary to prescriptive grammars
and Tanaka's claims many women use 'male vocabulary' such as 'kuu' (to
eat) or 'yatsu' (thing). In many varieties of Japanese women use 'male
pronouns' such as 'ore' (I), 'boku' (I) and 'om[a]e' (you). Tanaka's
claim that the particles 'zo' and 'ze' ''are exclusively used by men''
(p. 146) is also contradicted by the actual language use of Japanese
women. The question thus arises why such female language is ignored?
It seems as if Tanaka, as many others (e.g. Ide 1982, Shibamoto 1985),
fail to sufficiently take language ideology into account. The absence
of a self-critical stance towards ideological influences is far
reaching as these studies are at risk of sustaining ideologies about
gender and language through their results. When Tanaka writes (p. 133)
that ''female speech can still be observed among the majority of
Japanese women'' she presupposes, without any evidences, that all
Japanese women have always been speaking women's language (''can STILL
be observed''). This implies, by extension, that speaking women's
language is normal and has always been. Such a view on Japanese
women's language has however been convincingly contradicted by Inoue

The above critical evaluation notwithstanding, anyone who endeavours
to study language and gender will find much valuable and insightful
information on Japanese women's language in Tanaka's book. It is an
important contribution for our understanding how discourse is
organized and what factors influence its organization.


Bublitz, Wolfram (1988): Supportive Fellow-Speakers and Cooperative
Conversations: Discourse Topics and Topical Actions, participants
Roles and 'Recipient Action' in a Particular Type of Everyday
Conversation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Coulthard, Malcom (1977). An Introduction to Discourse Analysis.
Lonfdon: Longman.

Fairclough, Norman (2001). Language and Power (Second Edition).
Harlow: Pearson Education.

Hinds, John (1978). Conversational Structure. An Investigation based
on Japanese Interview Discourse. In: John Hinds and Irvine Howard
(eds.). Problems in Japanese Syntax and Semantics. Tokyo: Kaitakusha:

Ide, Sachiko (1982). Japanese Sociolinguistics: Politeness and Women's
Language. in: Lingua 57: 357-385.

Ide, Sachiko (1997). Sekai no joseigo: Joseigo no kenkyuu no
shin-tenkai o momete. In: Nihongogaku 12.6: 6-12.

Inoue, Miyako (1996) The Political Economy of Gender and Language in
Japan. St. Louis: PhD Dissertation.

Peng, Fred C.C. (1981). Male/Female Differences in Japanese. Toyko:
The East ~V West Sign Language Association.

Sacks, Harvey; Jefferson, Gail and Schegloff, Emanuel (1974). A
Simplest Systematics for the Organization of Turn-taking for
Conversation. In: Language 50.4: 696-735.

Shibamoto, Janet S. (1985). Japanese Women's Language. Orlando:
Academic Press.

Sugita, Yuko (2004) Gespr�chserwartungen. Eine kontrastive Studie
�ber die Gespr�chserwartung in deutschen und japanischen
Telefonaten. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Szatrowski, Polly (1991). Kaiwa bunseki ni okeru tan'i ni tusite:
wadan no teian. In: Nihongogaku 10.10: 51-60.

Szatrowski, Polly (1993). Nihongo no danwa no kouzou bunseki. Tokyo:

Takano, Shoji (2000). The Myth of a Homogenous Speech Community: A
Sociolinguistic Study of the Speech of Japanese Women in Diverse
Gender Roles. In: International Journal of the Sociology of Language
146: 43-85.

Usami, Mayumi (2002). Discourse Politeness in Japanese Conversation.
Some Implications for a Universal Theory of Politeness Tokyo: Hitsuji


Patrick Heinrich studies and teaches Japanese linguistics at
University Duisburg-Essen. He received his PhD in 2002 for a study on
the reception of Western linguistics in Japan and is currently working
on a post-doc thesis on language ideology in modern Japan. Research
interests include history of linguistics, language ideology, language
policy and language planning, Japanese minority languages, (critical)
discourse studies and language and gender. He still likes the last of
the rock stars.
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