Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Gender-Specific Honorifics in Japanese: A Comparative Study

Gender-Specific Honorifics in Japanese: A Comparative Study

Frankie Johnson

This paper will examine various Japanese honorifics to determine the extent to which linguistic expressions differ based on the gender of the speaker in Japanese. In order to determine this, linguistic expressions that are gender specific will be analyzed along with the ways in which these expressions relate to the gender roles of the speakers within Japanese society. The paper will focus on honorifics in various social settings to showcase similarities and differences among the speakers, constructing generalizations and exceptions, if any, to those generalizations.

Honorifics are referred to in Japanese as “keigo” and are understood as being words, parts of a word (prefix, suffix), or expressions that speakers use to convey some form of respect to the individual that they are addressing or referring to. Gender-specific honorifics take this concept one step further by altering the ways in which male and female speakers show respect, such as when females use more polite or super-polite honorific verbs to speak to a superior whereas males often use the most basic humble verb forms. This paper will examine historical factors that have contributed to the distinctions in gendered speech which may have ultimately contributed to the availability of as many gender-specific honorifics in Japanese as there are today. To analyze the gender-specific honorifics, this paper will look at various factors such as what is said, which gender says it, why it is said, what the expressions say about that gender, whether age is a factor, and whether any alternatives to the expressions exist. Lastly, various misconceptions about the use of these gender-specific expressions will be examined.

Keywords: Gender-specific, honorifics, gender roles, linguistic expressions, onna kotoba, otoko kotoba

April 23, 2010 - Posted by | abstract

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