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Review of  Japanese Language, Gender, and Ideology

Reviewer: Çiler Hatipoğlu
Book Title: Japanese Language, Gender, and Ideology
Book Author: Shigeko Okamoto Janet S. Shibamoto Smith
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Ling & Literature
Anthropological Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Japanese
Book Announcement: 16.1676

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Date: Wed, 25 May 2005 12:31:06 -0700 (PDT)
From: Çiler Hatipoglu <ciler2@yahoo.com>
Subject: Japanese Language, Gender, and Ideology

EDITORS: Okamoto, Shigeko; Shibamoto Smith, Janet S.
TITLE: Japanese Language, Gender, and Ideology
SUBTITLE: Cultural Models and Real People
SERIES: Studies in Language and Gender
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2004

Çiler Hatipoglu, Department of Foreign Language Education, METU, Ankara,


This book is an important and refreshing addition to the existing work on
Japanese language and gender. It not only scrutinizes the language and
gender topic from a newer and broader perspective but it also aims at and
succeeds in showing the reader that Japanese language and gender research
is a continuous dynamic rather than a sequence of unrelated stages. In
addition to these, the book also introduces the reader to the work of a
number of key Japanese scholars who have influenced the research on
language and gender in Japan and put it on a sounder, more innovative
track but whose work has not been readily available in English.

'Japanese Language, Gender, and Ideology: Cultural Models and Real People'
consists of three main parts: Part I: Historical and Theoretical
Foundations, Part II: Linguistic Ideologies and Cultural Models and Part
III: Real Language, Real People. Each of these parts includes 4 to 6
chapters. Every chapter is a separate paper dealing with Japanese
language and gender research from a different perspective, and, as is
usual in such collections, instead of presenting all references at the end
of the book, the notes and lists of works cited are placed after each
paper. This review will present a chapter-by-chapter description,
followed by a few comments on the book as a whole.

The first chapter in Part I presents a comprehensible summary of the
developments in Japanese language and gender research from the latter
parts of the 20th C until present day (Chapter 1: Cultural Ideologies in
Japanese Language and Gender Studies: A Theoretical Review, by Sumiyuki
Yukawa and Masami Saito, pp. 23-37). Sumiyuki Yukawa and Masami Saito
start by explaining when and how the persistent essentialism that views
Japanese women and men as two opposite categories (e.g., dominant-
subordinate) was first introduced. A number of the following sections in
the chapter are devoted to valuable information that has not yet been
widely available in English: (1) the work of Japanese feminists on issues
concerning language and gender and (2) the pioneering work of Jugaku Akiko
(1979). When presenting the work of Japanese feminists, Yukawa and Saito
focus on two groups: activists in the 'uuman ribu' 'woman's lib' movement
in the early 1970s and feminist scholars in the 1980s and 1990s. Yukawa
and Saito emphasise the fact that these two groups of feminists had
different goals. The 'uuman ribu' feminists struggled against oppression
through language and fought against it by employing 'subversive' language
while the latter group's main objective was to
eliminate "institutionalised manifestations of gender ideologies".
Sections dedicated to Jugaku Akiko's work, present cogent discussions
revealing why her work is important for language and gender research in
Japan and how it is different from other studies conducted in this area.
One of the most prominent features of Akiko's work, according to Yukawa
and Saito, is her approach to the problem of language and gender. Akiko
argues that when the topic of language and gender is in scope then it
should not be forgotten that the language used to women and the topics
deemed suitable for women are as important as the language used by women.
In the final sections of this chapter, Yukawa and Saito, first review the
Western-influenced Japanese language and gender research of the 1980s and
1990s, and then propose new research trends which they believe will serve
better the goal of identifying the relationship between language, gender
identity and ideology.

Shigeko Okamoto focuses on one of the most controversial topics in
pragmatics and sociolinguistics in the last 50 years - language, gender
and politeness - and her analyses interrogate the generalisation
that "women speak more politely than men" (Chapter 2: Ideology in
Linguistic Practice and Analysis: Gender and Politeness in Japanese
Revisited, pp. 38-56). By a well-balanced comparison of (1) the widely
accepted and well rehearsed claims that in order to be feminine
(i.e., 'onnarashii'), Japanese women should speak in ways that are gentle,
polite and refined and (2) the actual speaking practices, the author
demonstrates the complexities involved in the studies of the relationship
between politeness, use of honorifics and gender. Okamoto maintains that
the differences between the real and the expected (i.e., the norm) are
results of the fact that the following three assumptions are usually
adopted as bases for theorizing about the characteristics of women's
language in Japan:
(i) Japanese women form a homogeneous group, therefore, the members of
this group have to/should utilise language in the same way
(ii) Employment of a number of linguistic devices, among those especially
honorifics, makes utterances more polite
(iii) 'Women should speak more politely than men, using honorifics and
other formal expressions' (p. 41)

Okamoto's detailed analysis aims to show that these three non-neutral
assumptions perpetuate the gender and class inequality in Japan. At the
end of her chapter, she postulates (1) that what is seen as "the norm" may
change depending on the interlocutor, on the context and across the time,
and (2) that femininity and masculinity are exhibited at both ideological
and practical levels. Therefore, even the use of honorifics may not
always be interpreted as polite or 'onnarashii' speech.

Chapter 3 is the first of the two papers (the other one is Chapter 4) in
Part I that examine the genealogy of "Japanese women's language" (Chapter
3: Gender, Language and Modernity: Toward an Effective History
of "Japanese Women's Language", pp. 57-75). Miyako Inoue, who is
interested in the period from the late 19th and the early 20th C, begins
her paper by stating that '"Japanese women's language" is a critical
cultural category and an unavoidable part of practical social knowledge of
contemporary Japan' (p. 57). That is, Japanese women's language is viewed
as 'cultural heritage' by many researchers and, according to them, it
should not be changed since 'it is being recognised as beautiful and
excellent beyond compare' (Kindaichi 1942:293). The crucial question that
Inoue asks and tries to answers in this paper, however, is when and how
this "metalinguistic gaze" upon women was instigated, and whether or not
it is related to the standardisation of Japanese and the developments in
modern narrative prose (i.e., the novel) in the late 19th and the early
20th C. The following detailed analysis of the language used by male and
female characters (e.g., final particles), in different novels belonging
to the period chosen for scrutiny by Inoue, shows readers that
the "Japanese women's language" as it is known today is a product of the
writers' believes and expectations more than a historically developed
reality. This is a stimulating and provocative paper which can have
important consequences for the sociolinguistics studies since it opens to
discussion what is claimed to be natural and obvious.

Rumy Washi's paper '"Japanese Female Speech' and Language Policy" (pp. 76-
91) studies the history of the "Japanese female speech" in the period
between 1920 and 1945. She argues that the period before and during the
World War II was skilfully used by the government, media (e.g., radio,
newspapers), national language scholars and commentators to create an
artificial construct called "female speech", disguised under the name
of 'language standardization policy', which actually aimed at
promulgating 'gendered speech for women' (p. 88). She also examines why,
when and how the prominent female educators of that period agreed to join
forces with the National Language Association. The rationale that Washi
presents for this cooperation is compelling: those who promoted
the "female speech" associated it with higher status and better positions
for women in Japanese society. What is more, female leaders viewed this
partnership as a part of a broader pattern of collaboration with the war
effort. It was not until after the World War II that Japanese women
realised that "female speech", which they hoped to gain them equal status,
only demoted them to subordinate position in the larger social order.

The last chapter in Part I focuses on groups of speakers whose language
use has not yet received enough attention from linguists and other
researchers: gays and lesbians (Chapter 5: Shifting Reference: Negotiating
Referentiality in Relation to Sexuality and Gender, by Wim Lunsing and
Claire Maree, pp. 92-109). The authors begin their paper by presenting a
number of illustrative examples revealing how homosexuality is viewed in
Japanese society and how this might affect the interpretation of gendered
language. Lunsing and Maree argue that gender and sexuality are often
conflated and that there are gendered and sexual stereotypes of language
use. Therefore, according to them, lesbians and gay men use a "highly
strategic" language to deal with these stereotypes. After that they
present detailed discussions of the 'uses and abuses of terminology for
male homosexuality' (p. 93) and introduce concrete examples related to the
ways in which male homosexuals, lesbians and other groups studied by the
authors choose to refer to themselves. The most memorable sections of
this chapter are the ones in which authors present the personal stories of
both gay men and lesbian women whose every day struggle is to match their
non-normative sexual identities with the limited choices they have for
self-reference determined by the social norms and expectations (e.g., the
feminine self-reference 'watashi' vs. the manly self-reference 'boku').
Lunsing and Maree end their paper asserting that the self-reference
choices for the group of informants examined by them are determined
neither by norms and prescriptions nor by the speakers' gendered
identification. According to them, how gays and lesbians refer to
themselves is a combination of their individual senses of self and other
contextual variables. Therefore, when analysing women's and men's
language use, it is important to accept that personalities are established
after periods of negotiation and that they may and should vary across
situations and time.

Part II opens with Janet S. Shibamoto Smith's paper (Chapter 6: Language
and Gender in the (Hetero)Romance: "Reading" the Ideal Hero/ine through
Lovers' Dialogue in Japanese Romance Fiction, pp. 113-130). The author
works with 'unusual' data (i.e., nine Japanese love stories) and looks at
the language and gender topic from a different angle. She studies how
masculinity and femininity of men and women falling in love is conveyed in
the language they utilize when in the company of their loved ones.
Bringing together the analysis of first- and second-person references, and
sentence final particles, Shibamoto Smith demonstrates that novelists make
their leading characters use normative gendered speech extensively and,
according to her, they do that deliberately. Shibamoto Smith postulates
that love story writers hope that this way of speaking will be imitated by
real men and women when interacting with people they are in love with.
Shibamoto Smith also presents an interesting comparison of how main
characters are depicted in Western and Japanese love stories. She points
out to the fact that while in Western romances non-linguistic attributes
(e.g., physical features) are emphasised, in Japanese culture, in the
portrayal of model heroes and heroines, language is a crucial factor.
Shibamoto Smith argues that it is clear that the writers of romances she
examined have a special agenda: to perpetuate gender roles and gender
politics, and to keep men and women as two distinct groups from each
other. Her study is important, therefore, due to two main reasons: first,
because it presents the intricacies involved in the studies of sex and
gender to language; and second, because it shows how important language is
in building/shaping cultural models of gendered subjects involved in
particular activities such as falling in love.

Chapter 7 in this book is entitled "'Let's Dress a Little Girlishly!'
or 'Conquer Short Pants!' Constructing Gendered Communities in Fashion
Magazines for Young People" and it is authored by Momoko Nakamura (pp. 131-
147). Nakamura describes the aim of her paper as follows: 'Focusing on
the notion of a magazine community, I demonstrate that magazine discourse
constructs gendered communities by incorporating stereotypical gender
organizations and conceptual frameworks' (p. 131). To prove her claim,
she examines data drawn from four fashion magazines (two for young women
and two for young men) published between 1999 and 2000, and she uses the
reformulated version of Fairclough's (1989) model of the dialectic
relationship between social structures and discourse as her analytical
framework. Nakamura's thorough analysis shows that the language used in
magazines (i.e., magazine discourse) attempts to construct specific and
clearly differentiated female and male reader identities. That is,
communities described in the examined magazines not only follow specific
styles of fashion but they also have clearly defined gender identities.
Therefore, structures such as exclamation marks, sentence final particles,
hortative and interrogative expressions, that are stereotypically
associated with female patterns of speech, are more frequently used
in 'Junon' and 'Non-no' (i.e., in female magazines) than in male magazines
(i.e., in 'Popeye' and 'Men's Non-no'). Similarly, features usually
associated with male language (e.g., imperatives and use of assertive 'da'
forms) are more regularly used in young men's magazines. According to
Nakomoto, these dialectic relationships are mediated by ideologies and
even when some new identities are invented (as in magazines, for example)
some characteristics of gender ideology are reproduced.

The penultimate chapter in Part II examines cute femininity and
the "behavioural paradox" in Japanese (Chapter 8: You Are
Doing 'Burikko'! Censoring/Scrutinising Artificers of Cute Femininity in
Japanese, pp. 148-165). Laura Miller first presents the stylistic
characteristics of 'burikko' which is a belittling name used to describe
women whose language and behaviour exhibit artificial and exaggerated
naïveté/cuteness. After that, with the help of examples from comic books,
magazines, novels and TV programmes, she shows how 'burikko' images are
created in the mass media. Miller's analysis of 'burikko' features
clearly shows, however, that Japanese women are faced with
the "behavioural paradox" which stems from the fact that many of the
attributive qualities of 'burikko' speech are also features that are
prescribed and expected from Japanese women. This in turn forces young
professional Japanese women to reject 'cute' language and to adopt a more
masculine way of speaking which also has a special name in Japanese,
i.e., 'oremeshi onna' 'me-food woman'. Miller argues that the fact that
there are different names for the different speech styles used by women
indicates that they are closely watched every step of their way and
constantly judged whether or not they obey the desirable social traits.
Miller's paper is enjoyable, challenging and well thought through.

Part II ends with Orie Endo's work entitled "Women and Words: The Status
Of Sexist Language in Japan as Seen through Contemporary Dictionary
Definitions and Media Discourse" (pp. 166-184). This paper examines
another area that has been researched very little so far: the relation
between the language used in Japanese dictionaries and sexist speech.
Endo starts by describing how women are represented in something very
special: dictionaries. That is, in the ultimate sources of reference for
understanding the 'real' meaning of words. Endo presents a detailed
analysis of three (of the many) derogatory terms used to describe women in
Japanese in sample dictionaries and in media. The terms chosen for
analysis are: 'onnadatera (ni)' 'despite being a woman', 'rooba' 'old
woman/old crone' and 'oorudo misu' 'old maid/spinster'. Endo's careful
comparison of data drawn from the 66-volume dictionary corpus reveals how
far behind dictionaries fall from the language used in magazines and
novels and other (semi)official documents in eliminating sexist language.
She ends her paper by expressing regret that feminist movements and
governments re-evaluation process of the bias lexicon failed to reach and
influence the language used by dictionary writers who still continue to
include sexists terms such as 'onnadatera (ni)', 'rooba' and 'oorudo misu'
in their dictionaries without indicating their sexist nature. She rightly
rejects the claim that dictionaries should be excused from reform efforts
because they simply describe word meanings rather than prescribe their
uses since this statement overlooks the fact of their textual authority
which according to Cameron (1985), is political rather than linguistic.
Orie Endo argues that since dictionaries give words authorised timeless
meanings, they should take a more active role in redefining women's roles
and images in Japanese life.

Papers in this part of the book examine language used by real men and
women in real interactions. Instead of restricting their studies only to
female and male speakers of Standard Japanese, the authors also include
women and men who are considered as linguistically "others" and whose
language use has been overlooked so far.

One of these linguistically "other" groups is under scrutiny in Yukako
Sunaoshi's work entitled "Farm Women's Professional Discourse in Ibaraki"
(Chapter 10, pp. 187-204). Sunaoshi studies the interaction of three
farmwomen, living in a farming community in Ibaraki Prefecture, with an
Agriculture Extension Advisor. One important positive side of this study
is that, together with the linguistic analysis, the author presents
readers with detailed information about the social context within which
the interaction takes place. This extra information makes it easier for
readers to comprehend the character and the importance of the
communications under scrutiny. Another point that adds to the value of
this study is that Sunaoshi identifies the characteristics of the language
used by each of the interacting parties and explains why they use that
type of language. Analyses show that farmwomen employ Ibaraki dialect,
which lacks the phonological, morphological and lexical features of
standard "Japanese women's language", but it is employed by these women
since it is a powerful linguistic tool that helps them to build their
identities and relationships. The Agriculture Extension Advisor also uses
the Ibaraki dialect because it helps him to demonstrate his solidarity
with farmwomen and shows that they are treated as representatives of their
households. At the end of her paper, Sunaoshi argues that researchers
interested in "Japanese women's language", before talking about deviations
from expected norms, should carefully consider how valid these rules are
for women who do not belong to the groups usually studied in such research
(i.e., middle class, educated women who usually live in one of the big
cities in Japan). Therefore, instead of trying to formulate and identify
deviation rules, language and gender researchers should examine language
used by linguistic "others" as language or linguistic practice in its own
right and start analysing and discussing the features of the language
adopted by these "other" female users of Japanese language.

The second chapter in Part III, authored by Hideko Abe, focuses on two
important features of the language utilised by women in lesbian bars in
Shinjuku, Tokyo: (1) use of a variety of category names to classify
themselves and others (e.g., 'rezu' 'lesbian' vs. 'futsuu' 'ordinary'),
and (2) employment of linguistic features such as sentence final
particles, self-reference and address terminology, stereotypically
associated with male speakers (Chapter 11: Lesbian Bar Talk in Shinjuku,
Tokyo, pp. 205-221). The analyses of these characteristics reveal that
for informants of this study gender identities are neither fixed nor
natural. Hideko Abe argues that lesbian speakers constantly negotiate
these variables among themselves and their gender identities as well as
their power relationships might shift depending on the context within
which the interaction takes place. This is a stimulating and provocative
paper which asks readers to consider new variables when examining the
language and gender topic.

Differently from the first two studies in Part III, Yoshiko Matsumoto's
paper (Chapter 13: Alternative Femininity: Personae of Middle-aged
Mothers, pp. 240-255) examines the language of women that have been
assumed to use stereotypical feminine language, i.e., middle-class, middle-
aged standard Japanese speaking housewives. Matsumoto sets to uncover how
members of this group of subjects utilise expressions of forcefulness and
delicacy, each of which has been associated with male and female speech
styles respectively. Findings of the study show that each of the examined
individuals has her own linguistic repertoire and even "typical" women do
not use the traditional feminine speech style all the time. Moreover,
some participants were found to employ delicate expressions more
frequently than others. According to Matsumoto, the observed disparities
can be explained with the multifaceted pragmatic and social meanings
conveyed by forceful and delicate expressions. They can successfully be
utilised, for instance, to signal either friendship or deference and women
make use of these linguistic devices to assemble complex and flexible
personae and relationships. This, according to Matsumoto, shows clearly
that the level of feminine language observed in each woman's speech
depends more on the observed speaker's social characteristics and
communicative objectives than on their gender. Stated differently, she
shows that femininity should not be treated as a single or simple concept.

Chapter 12 and Chapter 14 in Part III set to observe not only women's but
also men's language used in real social situations. The first of these
chapters (Chapter 12: Prosody and Gender in Workplace Interaction:
Exploring Constraints and Resources in the Use of Japanese, pp. 222-239),
authored by Yumiko Ohara, examines the voice pitch level used by women and
men interacting either with company customers or friends. When presenting
the outcomes of her study, Ohara states that even though high-pitch voice
is usually associated with polite speech and femininity, her female
informants did not use this prosody exclusively and that male participants
in her study were also observed to use it. When defining the similarities
and differences between the ways/areas in which men and women use high-
pitch voice, she states that both gender groups concur that high-pitch
voice should be used to emphasise certain parts of their utterances. The
most striking difference between males and females was, however, the fact
that females (but not males) consistently used considerably higher pitch
voice in more formal contexts (i.e., when speaking to customers) when
compared with informal contexts (i.e., speaking to close friends).
Therefore, the author concludes that there is a complex relationship
between gender, voice pitch and the identity of the participants in
interaction. That is why, when the aim is to find whether or not there is
a relationship between prosody and gender in a specific cultural
environment, a special care should be taken to define the contexts within
which the interaction takes place. As demonstrated in this study, women
may be more sensitive to changes in some variables (e.g., level of
formality) related to the situation than men and vice versa.

The second paper that compares the speech styles utilised by females and
males is titled "Japanese Junior High School Girls' and Boys' First Person
Pronoun Use and Their Social World" (Chapter 14, by Ayumi Miyazaki, pp.
256-274). It is an extensive ethnographic study which aims to compare the
similarities and differences in the ways female and male junior high
school students employ first-person pronouns. In Japanese there are
strict rules that define the normative usage of first person pronouns. It
is assumed that some forms are gentler and, therefore, more appropriate to
be used by women (e.g., 'atakushi' and 'atashi') while others are rougher
(e.g., 'boku' and 'ore') and are more suitable for men. The assumption is
that it is socially unacceptable for men and women to cross these
boundaries and to utilise linguistic forms inappropriate for their
gender. Miyazuki's findings indicate just the opposite tendency,
however. That is, far from obeying the social norms junior high school
students challenged existing norms and adopted non-normative use of
pronouns (e.g., girls used masculine first person pronouns such as 'boku'
and 'ore'). So, the question asked by Miyazuki was 'Why?'. After
examining the social relationships among students within the classroom and
students views of the pragmatic functions of these pronouns, she found
that which first-person pronouns students use to refer to themselves
depends on contextual features such as level of formality, power and
solidarity as well as gender. This study is important in showing once
more that the relationship between gender and linguistic forms is very
complex, and in order to uncover some of the vital factors affecting this
relationship we have to conduct as detailed analysis as possible otherwise
some of those factors might be overlooked.

The last paper in this book is very different from the rest since it
focuses on men's language (Chapter 15: Japanese Men's Linguistic
Stereotypes and Realities: Conversations from the Kansai and Kanto
Regions, by Cindi Sturtz Sreetharan, pp. 275-289). Sturtz Sreetharan
explains the rationale behind this study by saying that there is very
little empirical research examining "Japanese men's language". She aims
to uncover how men who speak standard Japanese as well as those who use a
regional dialect (Kansai, or Hanshinkan dialect) utilise sentence-final
particles. Sturtz Sreetharan's detailed analysis reveals that there are
individual and regional differences in the use of sentence-final
particles. What is more interesting, however, is the fact that she found
her informants to deviate considerably from the prescribed (i.e.,
normative) usage of sentence-final particles. This, according to Sturtz
Sreetharan, weakens the claim that there is a single "Japanese men's
language". The fact that all of her informant utilised relatively small
number or sentence-final particles, leads her to conclude that differently
from the social expectation about male language, those men do not view
sentence-final particles as linguistic devices that express only
traditional masculinity. She lists examples in which sentence-final
particles were employed to show anger, authority or camaraderie. When it
comes to speakers of the regional dialect, it becomes clear that they
avoid using some forms existing in standard Japanese in order to create a
sense of friendliness or solidarity.


"Japanese Language, Gender, and Ideology: Cultural Models and Real People"
is a fresh, interesting and groundbreaking addition to the work in the
language and gender area. The papers brought together in this volume are
all exciting, motivating and different from what we have been accustomed
to read about Japanese culture and the speech patterns/styles of Japanese
men and women. The book presents a more diverse and more inclusive
picture of the language and gender relationship in Japan which broadens
our understanding of the roles of women and men in Japanese culture. The
standard of all of the studies included in the book are consistently and
noticeably high. The high quality data collected from widely ranging
groups of subjects and sources and the detailed analysis employed in the
studies allow researches to uncover and describe vital features that
affect the way Japanese women and men use language that have been
overlooked in some of the previous studies.

The way in which papers are ordered in the book allows readers to move
from one area into another smoothly. The first part of the volume present
readers some important facts related to the history and culture of Japan.
Against the background established in Part I, it is easy to understand and
enjoy the work presented in the following parts. The language used in the
book is easy to comprehend and the book could be recommended to both
novices in the field of language and gender research as well as to
language and gender experts. Topics covered in the book will be of
interest to culture, cross-cultural communication, politeness as well as
phonology experts.


Cameron, Deborah. (1985). Feminism and Linguistic Theory. New York: St.
Martin's Press.

Fairclough, Norman. (1989). Language and Power. London: Longmna.

Kindaichi, Kyosuke. (1942). Zooho Kokugo Kenkyuu (A Study of the
National Language, Additional Supplement). Tokyo: Yakumoshorin.


Dr Çiler Hatipoglu is a lecturer at Middle East Technical University,
Ankara, Turkey, where she teaches various linguistics and ELT courses.
Her main areas of interest are language and gender, politeness, cross-
cultural communication and interlanguage pragmatics.

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