Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login

New from Oxford University Press!


Style, Mediation, and Change

Edited by Janus Mortensen, Nikolas Coupland, and Jacob Thogersen

Style, Mediation, and Change "Offers a coherent view of style as a unifying concept for the sociolinguistics of talking media."

New from Cambridge University Press!


Intonation and Prosodic Structure

By Caroline Féry

Intonation and Prosodic Structure "provides a state-of-the-art survey of intonation and prosodic structure."

The LINGUIST List is dedicated to providing information on language and language analysis, and to providing the discipline of linguistics with the infrastructure necessary to function in the digital world. LINGUIST is a free resource, run by linguistics students and faculty, and supported by your donations. Please support LINGUIST List during the 2017 Fund Drive.

Review of  Style Shifting in Japanese

Reviewer: Julie Bruch
Book Title: Style Shifting in Japanese
Book Author: Kimberly A. Jones Tsuyoshi Ono
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): Japanese
Issue Number: 20.2585

Discuss this Review
Help on Posting
EDITORS: Jones, Kimberly; Ono, Tsuyoshi
TITLE: Style Shifting in Japanese
SERIES: Pragmatics and Beyond New Series
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2008

Julie Bruch, Department of Language and Literature, Mesa State College

Volume 180 of 182 in the Pragmatics and Beyond New Series, the papers in this
book were written by highly distinguished researchers in the field of Japanese
linguistics. Many of the papers reflect work that was first presented at the
March, 2002 University of Arizona Japanese Speech Style Shift Symposium. The
book is a rich compendium of work of obvious significance to scholars of
Japanese pragmatics, of style shifting as a broad phenomenon, and of style
shifting in other languages. The twelve papers present new methodologies as well
new data from Japanese which is firmly grounded in the already well-established
paradigms of discourse analysis and style shifting studies as well as important
summaries of extant work and models upon which to base further study.

Chapter 1, ''The messy reality of style shifting'' by Kimberly Jones and Tsuyoshi
Ono, outlines the main thesis of the book, which is that style shifting cannot
be explained as neatly as has been assumed in traditional treatments. While
descriptions of style shifting in the past typically focused on social
constraints, factors external to discourse, editors Jones and Ono point out that
while external social factors, such as rank, distance, and register, play a
distinct role in discourse events, they are not sufficient explanations for
style shifts occurring in natural spoken and written discourse. They emphasize
that in a typical discourse unit, contextual factors may not shift, and that
alone, they rarely determine the most appropriate style to be employed. The
writers claim that context and linguistic structure are ''mutually constitutive,''
and that speakers and writers actively shape discourse context through dynamic
choices of styles. This introductory chapter specifies the book's working
definition of style shifting as: ''...the use of two or more styles, even
ostensibly mutually exclusive styles, within a single speech event or written
text.'' It also expresses the editors' hopes that examining style shifting in
Japanese will advance understanding of style shifting in general and provide
ideas for continued study of the phenomenon. The overriding question guiding all
of the ensuing chapters is how to explain the occurrence of style shifts within
single discourse events when social constraints remain static. The comprehensive
answer suggested unanimously by the research in these chapters is that style
shifting is dynamic rather than static, it is multi-dimensional rather than
monolithic, and it is mutually constructed by discourse participants rather than
dictated by a context and social rules of politeness.

Each of the next six chapters examines style shifting involving the Japanese
''desu/-masu'' predicate forms (the so-called ''polite, addressee honorific,
formal'' markers) versus the ''da''/plain predicate forms (''non-polite, informal''

Chapter 2, ''Style shifts in Japanese academic consultation'' by Haruko Minegishi
Cook, looks specifically at video/audio recordings of students and professors
meeting to discuss academic work. In this context, the social rules of use
prescribe that the exchange be non-reciprocal, with students using the more
polite ''-masu'' forms to professors, and professors using the more informal plain
forms to students. Cook does not find the predicted non-reciprocality. Instead,
she finds a preponderance of shifts between the two forms both at the discourse
level and at the utterance level. Her findings accord well with the social
constructivist view, which explains that interlocutors' identities are not
inherent to a situation, but rather created through interaction. She compares
her findings to Bakhtin's (1981) notion of ''heteroglossia'' in which speakers
reveal multi-faceted aspects of their own social identities. In short, she shows
that both professors and students use reciprocal ''-masu'' forms to co-construct
an official relationship or to mark a mutually professional, non-hierarchical
feeling in the exchange, and further, that both use plain forms when engaging in
''self-talk'' asides or when indexing hierarchical (coach-like) moments or when
adding a more personal, private, or spontaneous affect to the exchange. Cook
reports that participants in the discourse intentionally employed style shifting
to define and co-construct their roles and to index shifting identities as
discourse developed.

Chapter 3, ''Interpersonal functions of style shift: The use of plain and 'masu'
forms in faculty meetings'' by Naomi Geyer, lends support to the above findings.
It summarizes a study of audiotaped discourse from semi-formal faculty meetings
at Japanese secondary schools. Geyer reports that all participants in the
discourse events employed style shifting for various functions. The dominant
reasons for shifting from the base-line ''-masu'' polite forms to the plain forms
were: 1) to create ''interactional solidarity-building speech,'' and 2) to
mitigate the force of face-threatening acts (FTAs). Reasons for shifting from
plain forms to polite forms included: 1) mitigating a FTA, 2) indicating a shift
back to the business at hand following more informal talk, and 3) creating
solidarity by using the polite form theatrically in a meta-message. Geyer
concludes that the use of the polite vs. plain forms together with other
indicators such as tone of voice, use of particles, and speech act force work in
conjunction to create patterned outcomes of style shifting.

In Chapter 4, ''Speech style shift as an interactional discourse strategy: The
use and non-use of 'desu-/masu' in Japanese conversational interviews'', Shoko
Ikuta analyzes interviews between female interviewers and male interviewees from
traditional Japanese professions (such as fishmonger) and finds, similar to
Geyer in the previous chapter, that a shift from polite to plain form is used to
mitigate potential FTAs, challenge something an addressee said, or provide
additional information or details for clarification. She also finds that the
same type of shift is used as a back-channeling utterance to indicate surprise
or involvement in the conversation. Ikuta's data show that these shifts often
occur within a single turn, and thereby create an ''embedded subspace'' in plain
style within a larger polite style context space. Most interestingly, Ikuta
points out that the style itself does not establish the politeness level of the
interaction, but rather it is the fact of shifting between styles that
accomplishes the politeness.

In Chapter 5, ''Playing with multiple voices: Emotivity and creativity in
Japanese style mixture'', Senko K. Maynard echoes some of the above findings but
also adds to the data by discussing ''multivoicedness'' (as conceived by Wertsch
1991) as she analyzes the use of the Japanese ''self quotative'' structure ''to
yuu'' when it is embedded in larger descriptive sentences in written discourse.
She also shows how writers use a mix of gendered, regional, and age-based forms
to creatively ''interanimate'' and shift between different voices within discourse
units. Her plentiful language samples taken from internet bulletin boards and
contemporary writing clearly support the argument that style mixing and shifting
is an intentional strategy that writers choose to create and express affect,
irony, and humor, rather than something that is prescribed ''a priori'' by social
and situational factors.

In Chapter 6, ''Riyuu 'reason' for nai desu and other semi-politeness forms'',
Mutsuko Endo Hudson introduces linguistic forms belonging to a less-studied
third level of politeness. She found that the 1998 novel ''Riyuu'' contains an
overwhelming proportion of these semi-polite forms that consist of plain form
plus ''desu.'' Hudson gives a fascinating and very helpful overview of the
historical evolution of ''desu'' and ''nai desu.'' She also summarizes work in
Japanese linguistics that tracks not only the emergence of the semi-polite form
but also the evolution of linguists' attitudes towards this form over time,
starting with work from 1942 and going through 1998. Next, she cites data from
three fairly recent large-scale studies that compare the use of ''nai desu''
(semi-polite) and ''–masen'' (polite) predicates. Finally, Hudson presents her own
data, which support and parallel the findings of the other studies mentioned. In
short, she concludes that the semi-polite form is used to avoid sounding too
familiar while at the same time expressing a sense of equal standing with the
addressee, and that it is also used to explain a situation while keeping the
form of the sentence stative rather than active. All of her data reveal
instances of style shifting and mixing, sometimes between all three forms,
within a single exchange and within a single turn.

Chapter 7, ''Masen or nai desu – That is the question: A case study into Japanese
conversational discourse'' by Satoshi Uehara and Etsuko Fukushima, reports
findings from one of the large-scale studies cited by Hudson in the previous
chapter. The authors examine natural discourse between strangers to see when and
why speakers choose ''nai desu'' (the semi-polite form) over ''–masen'' (the polite
form). They show that while strangers are traditionally thought to be required
to use polite forms, every participant in their study used semi-polite forms
part of the time, and some participants did not use the polite form at all. The
most interesting part of this paper is its explanations for the increasing use
of the semi-polite form and the patterns governing its use. The data show that
between strangers the ''–masen'' form is used to open the exchange, but that the
longer the conversation continues on the same topic, the more both speakers seem
to prefer the ''nai desu'' form. If there is a topic change, or if one of the
speakers feels less comfortable with a particular topic, the speakers ''retreat''
to the ''–masen'' form. Uehara and Fukushima conclude that the two forms are not
synonymous and that they are used systematically. They also ask some fascinating
questions about the future evolution of these forms, pointing out that based on
current usage trends, the semi-polite form may become so common in the future
that the polite forms may be eliminated, which would make Japanese revert back
to the older two-tiered predicate politeness system.

Starting with Chapter 8, ''The power of femininity: Can Japanese gender variation
signify contradictory social meanings?'', by Yuka Matsugu, the book moves into
other areas of style shifting in Japanese. Matsugu analyzes conversations
between female interlocutors as well as mixed gender conversations and found
that the so-called ''super feminine'' morphemes of Japanese are not always used to
index powerlessness or politeness as traditionally supposed. Her data show that
female speakers intentionally shift from use of neutral or regular feminine
(unmarked) morphemes to super feminine (marked) morphemes to assert power in
such contexts as expressing opinions, defending face, persuading, expressing
displeasure, or invoking a mature persona. Matsugu concludes that gendered
language goes beyond representing gender.

Similar to Matsugu's paper, in Chapter 9, ''Tuning speech style and persona'',
Yoshiko Matsumoto demonstrates that style shifting between what she terms
''delicate'' and ''forceful'' (i.e., feminine and masculine) styles occurs both
inter and intra-sententially and is motivated by internal factors rather than
dictated externally by gender. Upon analyzing her conversation samples,
Matsumoto suggests that delicate style is used to assert opinions, be ironic,
maintain an upper-class traditionally feminine image, and show respect. In
contrast, the forceful style is variously used to show agreement, project an
image of someone who is innovative or straightforward, or convey camaraderie.
Matsumoto emphasizes that these results indicate that individual styles are not
limited to pre-determined membership in a gender category, but rather chosen
according to speaker stance at any given point in a conversation. She concludes
by arguing that ''stance-oriented'' and ''gender-oriented'' styles are distinct.

In Chapter 10, ''Speech style and the use of regional (Yamaguchi) and Standard
Japanese in conversations'', Shigeko Okamoto looks closely at style shifting
between standard Japanese and regional Yamaguchi dialects by analyzing
conversations between speakers of the Yamaguchi dialect. She reports that all
speakers used forms from both dialects, and that the mixing of dialect variants
regularly occurred even at the intra-sentential level. Similar to the previous
papers, Okamoto claims that dialect variants used in speech index more than
social factors (here regionality of the speakers) and therefore, the choice of
forms is not automatically determined in discrete ways. Her results show that
standard dialect is used more near the beginning of conversations and with
non-intimate interlocutors, indicating that its use can indirectly index levels
of formality and that switching between forms has a pragmatic function. One of
Okamoto's important points with implications for future research is that speech
variants are often gradients rather than discrete forms, so in addition to
concluding that speakers do not use standard and regional forms as discrete
codes, she maintains that at times it is even difficult for researchers to
clearly separate which forms belong to which code since they lie on a continuum
with certain forms shared by both.

In Chapter 11, ''Involved speech style and deictic management of spatio-temporal
and textual reference: A case of ko/so-deictics in Japanese'', Kuniyoshi
Kataoka's unique strategy of examining style shifting between the proximal and
medial domains of the ''ko-, so-, a-'' deictics involved recording monologues of
rock climbers describing climbing routes. He finds that choice of deictic is
correlated with degree of emotional and psychological involvement in the
activity being described. He reports that use of ''ko-'' and ''so-'' corresponds in
patterned ways to the difficulty ranking of climbing sections being described,
namely that ''ko-'' or shifting between ''ko-'' and ''so-'' were used most when the
most difficult sections were being described, showing greater speaker
involvement (as outlined conceptually by Tannen 1989:12). Two key strategies of
this research are the use of an external criterion (difficulty rating of
climbing routes) rather than subjective judgments and the analysis of
intrapersonal speech, which minimized the social effects on style. While some of
the data is contradictory, which Kataoka explains as indicating simply that
shifts are not a ''one-way mechanism'' and the sample is fairly small for the
quantitative claims made, this is an intriguing study because of its originality
and the careful comparisons made to work from many other languages.

The final paper, Chapter 12, ''Variation in prosodic focus of the Japanese
negative nai: Issues of language specificity, interactive style, and social
situations'' by Shoji Takano, outlines statistically quantified results of an
empirical study of spectrographic analyses of prosodic features of the Japanese
negative morpheme ''-nai'' in discourse. The study includes recordings of
televised political debates (interactive, informational-based speech) and
informal conversations between friends (also interactive, but rapport-based),
and finally, news read on TV, (serving as a control with non-interactive
speech). First, Takano debunks the idea that focal prominence is normally given
to new information in an utterance. He finds that this does not occur in
Japanese, and suggests that focal prominence is governed by language-specific
rules. Another finding is that the prosody of ''-nai'' within a socio-linguistic
grammar is constrained by the intersection of linguistic structure, speaker's
stance, speech act footing, and the sociolinguistic context. Takano emphasizes
that the myth of interpersonal harmony in Japanese should also be rethought, as
his findings indicate open disagreement and the use of positive (rather than
negative) politeness appropriate to given situational settings. He concludes
that a variationist approach which relies on both interactional and linguistic
dimensions come closest to accounting for style shift within prosody.

The papers in this book address the topic of style shifting in a highly
interrelated yet multi-faceted way, giving the reader both depth and breadth of
understanding. By covering Japanese style-shifting from the perspectives of
morpho-syntax, prosody, social dialects, and pragmatics, the book's form echoes
its main point, which is that style shifting is multi-layered yet systematic.
The research methodologies represented are solid, innovative, and helpful in
articulating directions for future work. There is also broad reference to extant
research, which helps to ground the reader theoretically. The paper on rock
climbers' speech was highly original and a bit off the beaten track, while the
last paper in the volume was much more technical than the other papers,
challenging the reader to interpret statistical results based on spectrographic
analyses. This contributes greatly to the variety of approaches represented and
helps the editors reach their goal of providing fodder for future methodological

While the weighty tradition of simplistically perceiving style shifts as largely
constrained by external social factors is a view that needs addressing and
criticizing, the reiteration of the inadequacy of this approach in many of the
papers became a bit redundant. This redundancy was, however, not apparent in the
authors' many varied ways of characterizing the collaborative, persona-building,
and choice-based nature of style shifting. Some of the problems identified in
this work include, the need for continued work using authentic discourse,
further inquiry into ways of exploring the systematicity of constraints on a
phenomenon that is inherently highly flexible, and more extensive study of
additional complexities beyond the traditional social context characterizations,
such as the moment-to-moment attitudinal changes occurring in speakers or
writers as they construct discourse. The analyses in this work have important
implications not only for studies of style shifting, but also for the field of
pragmatics as a whole. The significance of psychological and interactive factors
in addition to contextual or social factors was amply illustrated. This will
certainly contribute to the formulation of future work on style shifting, and it
may be that this type of analysis will have application to additional areas of

Bakhtin, M. (1981) _The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays_. M. Holquist (ed.),
C. Emmerson and M. Holquist (trans.). Austin: University of Texas Press.

Tannen, D. (1989) _Talking Voices_. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wertsch, J. V. (1991) _Voices of the Mind: A Sociocultural Approach to Mediated
Action_. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Julie Bruch teaches linguistic diversity and beginning Japanese. Her research
includes work on conversational implicature and politeness in Japanese as well
as comparative analysis of speech acts in Spanish and Japanese. She is currently
working on morphological shifts in post-modern English.