LINGUIST List 31.1798

Fri May 29 2020

Diss: Japanese; Sociolinguistics: Hannah E. Dahlberg-Dodd: ''Social Meaning in Virtual Space: Sentence-final expressions in the Japanese popular mediascape''

Editor for this issue: Sarah Robinson <>

Date: 24-May-2020
From: Hannah Dahlberg-Dodd <>
Subject: Social Meaning in Virtual Space: Sentence-final expressions in the Japanese popular mediascape
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Institution: Ohio State University
Program: Department of East Asian Languages and Literature
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2019

Author: Hannah E. Dahlberg-Dodd

Dissertation Title: Social Meaning in Virtual Space: Sentence-final expressions in the Japanese popular mediascape

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics

Subject Language(s): Japanese (jpn)

Dissertation Director:
Mineharu Nakayama
Charles Quinn
Anna Babel
Mie Hiramoto

Dissertation Abstract:

Often cited as one of the most salient indices of sociocultural meaning, “sentence-final expressions” (bunmatsu hyōgen) have long been a subject of analysis in Japanese linguistics. These units are a kind of what Bolinger and Sear (1981) more broadly refer to as an “audible gesture,” or a linguistic unit that conveys paralinguistic meanings, i.e. meaning that includes neither denotational nor propositional content. Named for their frequent and typical appearance at the end of utterances, in Japanese an immense number are deployed to a wide variety of sociocultural ends. Because of the large number of available expressions, however, previous research has struggled to develop a method of sociolinguistic analysis that is capable of capturing their multivalent nature. This is a difficulty that has been compounded by an array of different degrees of use, resulting in highly skewed levels of academic attention being given to certain expressions and nearly none to others.

In this dissertation, I explore alternate means of addressing the intersection of sentence-final expressions and sociocultural meaning through a hybrid approach that utilizes statistical methods informed by cultural analysis. Drawing on frameworks developed for understanding “role language” (Kinsui 2003) and “character language” (Sadanobu 2011, Kinsui and Yamakido 2015), the series of studies presented in this dissertation approach these expressions from the perspective of their role in the performance of characterological figures and the history of use that these expressions have within mass media genres. By utilizing mass media genres, in particular popular entertainment media, I focus not simply on the use of these expressions, but the sociocultural ideologies that inform their use with regard to both creator and audience. Moreover, careful study of these expressions in popular media sheds light on the boundaries of their potential meanings, since we find them at work in such a variety of situations, ranging from the mundane to the fantastical.

Each of the included studies presents a close examination of the phenomenon it focuses on in a particular medium of popular culture. Taken together, these studies propose a more broad-based, holistic approach to sociocultural meaning in mass media genres as it is constructed through the multivalent indexical possibilities of sentence-final expressions. The linguistic units and usages that contribute to the construction of a persona, fictionalized or otherwise, are many, and in Japanese, sentence-final expressions provide a wide variety of options to that end. Analyzing not only their use, but in the process exploring alternative means of researching their utilization in a variety of contexts will help establish and clarify the value of better understanding mass media discourse both as a target for linguistic inquiry and as a key part of our language socialization.

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