Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Identity & Ink: The Analysis of Non-English Tattoos on English-Speaking Bodies

Identity and Ink: An Interpretation of Kanji Tattoos on English-Speaking Bodies

Elizabeth Bonora

Kanji tattoos, “a Japanese system of writing that utilizes characters borrowed or adapted from Chinese writing” (Merriam Webster) represent both “sounds as well as meanings” (Matsunaga, 1996), and have permeated the tattoo culture in the United States. Tattooing in the United States has evolved throughout the 20th century. From its earliest introduction, to modern day representation, this paper analyzes kanji tattoos and its use amongst individuals who do not speak Chinese or Japanese as a primary language. Why do individuals inscribe a language they do not understand on their body? To understand the complexity of non-English tattoos on English speaking bodies, the metalinguistic study of their expression of identity and of the ideals embodied within them is important. An account of kanji tattoo interpretations, significance and the analysis of identities represented by the tattooed individual is necessary to understand how the individual visually communicates their ideas, feelings and cultural identity. This will entail both data collection of current scholarly articles, review of online blogs and first-hand tattoo accounts. This research shows the reasoning behind the decision to tattoo an English speaking body with kanji, and how social context impacts how the tattooed individual identifies with kanji. By analyzing the cultural and linguistic implications of kanji tattoos, future research in tattoo discourse will have a specific example of how tattoos correlate to not just identity, but also social context and cultural representations.

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April 6, 2015 - Posted by | abstract

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