LINGUIST List 15.2431

Wed Sep 1 2004

Review: Socioling/Discourse Analysis: Tanaka (2004)

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  • 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 (1996).

    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: 79-121.

    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.

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    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: Kuroshio.

    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 Shobo.


    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.