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Review of  Soliloquy in Japanese and English

Reviewer: Peter Backhaus
Book Title: Soliloquy in Japanese and English
Book Author: Yoko Hasegawa
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Ling & Literature
Cognitive Science
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 22.2875

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AUTHOR: Yoko Hasegawa
TITLE: Soliloquy in Japanese and English
SERIES TITLE: Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 202
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2010

Peter Backhaus, Waseda University, Tokyo


What does language look like when all interactional elements are removed? This
is the guiding question through Hasegawa's book ''Soliloquy in Japanese and
English''. In other words, what linguistic characteristics can be observed when
people talk to themselves rather than to each other? This problem is scrutinized
focusing on Japanese (chapters 1-5) and, in part, English (chapter 6).

In her introduction (pp. 1-39), Hasegawa first reviews various definitions and
theoretical concepts of soliloquy and related terms. In the most simple terms,
soliloquy can be described as ''the utterance of one's thoughts without
addressing another individual'' (p. 2). Next the author gives an overview of
previous studies dealing (in part) with soliloquy in Japanese speech, before
outlining her own data, which constitute the empirical basis informing her book.
In an experimental design, she audio-recorded soliloquies from 10 to 15 minutes
in length of 24 native speakers of Japanese and 10 native speakers of English.

Chapter 2 (pp. 41-71) takes a closer look at the occurrence of sentence-final
particles in Hasegawa's Japanese soliloquy data, with special focus on ''ne'' and
''yo''. A quantitative analysis reveals that no less than 48.8% of all utterances
end on a sentence-final particle, a ratio that Hasegawa hypothesizes to be about
as high as in ordinary, i.e., interactional discourse. Unlike the latter,
however, the soliloquy data show a conspicuous absence of ''yo'', which was used
only five times (0.1% of utterances) in total. On the other hand, ''ne'' occurred
in over 10% of the utterances. Using a model by Takubo and Kinsui (1997),
Hasegawa interprets this discrepancy by the different functions the two
particles fulfill in soliloquy. While ''ne'' is used for matching internal thought
processes, ''yo'''s main task is to mark an inference, which is not commonly done
when speaker and hearer come in one person.

Chapter 3 (pp. 73-103) is about deixis and anaphora in the Japanese data. The
major part of the chapter discusses the functioning of the ''ko'' (proximal)/''so''
(medial)/''a'' (distal) demonstratives. Hasegawa's main finding from her data is
that, in contrast to common claims, ''ko'' and ''a'' in soliloquy function
deictically, whereas ''so'' is exclusively used anaphorically. One most
interesting hypothesis Hasegawa extracts from her analysis is that ''the very
distinction between deictic and anaphoric uses of pronouns may well be a
communicative phenomenon [...] irrelevant in soliloquy, where no communication
with other individuals is intended'' (p. 205).

The topic of chapter 4 (pp. 105-137) is gendered speech. Examining separately
the speech of her male and female Japanese informants, Hasegawa finds that the
female soliloquies contain relatively few commonly mentioned female-style
expressions such as sentence-final ''wa'', ''kashira'', or NP+''yo''. Instead, her
female speakers' soliloquies abound with expressions that have traditionally
been considered male style (''na'', ''ka'', ''dayo'', etc.). Hasegawa's
conclusion is
that ''for contemporary women, these [...] expressions are neutral, not gendered
forms at all'' (p. 120). The opposite case of male speakers employing female
linguistic tokens does not occur in her data. This testifies to an often
lamented asymmetry of linguistic resources (e.g. Nakamura 2007), in which male
forms can be used by both male and female speakers, but female forms, if used at
all, are strictly reserved for female speakers.

The later part of the chapter deals with the topic of indexicality and how
Japanese women's language, far from being a fixed sociolinguistic variable, in
recent years has increasingly been construed as a strategic device for ''doing
gender.'' In contrast to these studies, Hasegawa finds that, at least as far as
her soliloquy data are concerned, women's language can be considered a
relatively straightforward index of the speaker's gender (and, for that matter,

In chapter 5 (pp. 139-163), ''Soliloquy and linguistic politeness,'' Hasegawa
moves away from her own speech data to take a closer look at the occurrence of
soliloquy passages within ordinary interactions. Drawing from a large amount of
examples from previous studies, Hasegawa demonstrates how brief soliloquy
injections in conversations serve a vital function in bridging a gap between the
desire to express intimacy while at the same time maintaining deference.
Accordingly, the temporary shifts from formal style (in dialogue) to plain style
(in soliloquy) and back again, according to Hasegawa, should best be understood
as discourse mode shifts rather than mere speech style shifts.

Chapter 6 (pp. 165-193) is titled ''The indefinite ''you'' in English soliloquy,''
but actually falls into two, loosely interrelated parts. The first part examines
Hasegawa's English soliloquy data with special regard to the occurrence of the
second person pronoun and how the informants in their speech use it indefinitely
rather than deictically. This leads over to the second part of the chapter,
which examines how soliloquy may help shed light on the age-old question whether
thought exists as language-independent ''mentalese'' or whether all thought is
necessarily processed through some form of inner speech. Giving examples from
both English and Japanese soliloquy data, Hasegawa contends that the idea of
thought as inner speech is but ''a metaphor, albeit a deep-seated one, not
describing reality'' (p. 193). This is not to be taken as a proof for the
existence of mentalese though, but merely shows that thought is not necessarily
done in a dialogic format.


What does language look like when all interactional elements are removed? At
first look, it may seem absurd to make this the main question of a book in a
series called Pragmatics & Beyond. What, if anything, one may wonder, can be
learned from this antisocial, explicitly non-interactional type of speech that
soliloquy happens to be?

Quite a lot, as anyone who has read Hasegawa's book will surely agree. The
strength of her argument is that she considers the topic of soliloquy not in
isolation, but uses her analysis to gain some fresh insight into ordinary
discourse as well, as becomes most obvious in the two chapters on gendered
speech and politeness, respectively. This makes the book much more than merely a
profound analysis of a larger speech corpus of people talking to themselves.

Other strong points of the book are its sound and self-conscious methodology, as
discussed on various occasions throughout the book; the application of both
qualitative and quantitative types of analyses; and a critical reading of the
findings against the backdrop of previous research (though I missed Jones and
Ono (2010) in the discussion on style shift).

One of the most interesting claims the book makes right at the beginning is
that, with respect to the two languages examined, ''the soliloquy mode of
discourse has been grammaticized to some extent in Japanese, but less so in
English'' (p. 3). However, while this idea agrees with this reviewer's
(non-native) intuitions, Hasegawa fails to empirically prove her claim. This is
in part a problem of the experimental design of her survey and the
soliloquy-only data it provides (though, to be fair, it would have been close to
impossible to collect a larger set of soliloquy data within ordinary, dialogic,
interaction). Another problem, which could have been more easily solved, is the
strong bias in the analysis of the Japanese data (4 full chapters) and the
English data (half a chapter). The book might have gained in focus if it had
dealt only with the Japanese data and reserved the English soliloquies for
future research projects.

All in all, however, Hasegawa's book is a fascinating read that is highly
recommendable to anyone interested in the pragmatic, sociolinguistic, and
cognitive functioning of soliloquy, in Japanese and in general.


Jones, Kimberly and Ono, Tsuyoshi (2010). ''Style Shifting in Japanese''.
Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Nakamura, Momoko (2007). Sei to nihongo [Gender and Japanese]. Tokyo: NHK.

Takubo, Yukinori and Kinsui, Satoshi (1997). Discourse management in terms of
mental spaces. Journal of Pragmatics 28: 741-758.

Peter Backhaus is Associate Professor at Waseda University, Tokyo. His research interests include sociolinguistics, conversation analysis, and writing and orthography. His most recent book is 'Communication in Elderly Care', an edited volume to appear August 2011 (Continuum).