NYAS Lecture 3/25: Where Has “Japanese Women’s Language” Gone?

On March 25th the New York Academy of Sciences lecture series returns when Dr. Miyako Inoue, Associate Professor at Stanford University, will present “Where Has ‘Japanese Women’s Language’ Gone? Language and New Forms of Gender Inequality in Post-bubble Japanese Society.” Dr. Jillian Cavanaugh, Professor and Department Chair of Anthropology and Archaeology at Brooklyn College will act as discussant. The event will be held at 5:45 PM at the Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065.

Please note: the lecture begins at 6:30 PM, and while the event is free to attend pre-registration is required for entry into the building. Early registration is strongly recommended, since seating is limited. For the buffet supper, registration is also required.

In this lecture, I will focus on what is called “women’s language” in Japanese, an ideology of a set of speech forms associated with femaleness and its accompanied cultural meanings of womanhood, and will discuss how its modality of reproducing gender inequality has been shifting in post-bubble Japanese society.  During the bubble economy of the mid 1980s through early 1990s, the discourse of women’s language proliferated with public passion, the effect of which was simultaneously to discipline women as mothers, wives, daughters, and laborers, and at the same time to incentivize and to seduce them with the promise of upward mobility and of aestheticized self-making.   In the post-bubble economy, however, public discourse on women’s language  has lost steam in the media.  This does not mean that somehow the reign of the indexicality of language and its ability to mark distinction has been diminishing, or that the population of women—in a demographic sense—who speak “women’s language” has been “decreasing.” Nor is it to be taken as any indication that sexism has eased.  Rather, I will discuss how the modality of power to govern the articulation between language and gender has been shifting in the post-bubble Japanese political and economic context.  Taking a cue from Gilles Deleuze’s notion of control societies, I will ask what has happened to “women’s language” as the society shifts from disciplinary society (Foucault) to control society (Deleuze).  In control society, language re-emerges as a robust site in which, and means by which, gender inequality is performed and reproduced.  We then need to forge a new mode of critique that undermines and disrupts this new mode of linguistic sexism.

About the Speakers:

Miyako Inoue is an Associate Professor At Stanford University where she teaches linguistic anthropology and the anthropology of Japan. Her interest in women’s language dates back to her first book, titled, Vicarious Language: the Political Economy of Gender and Speech in Japan (University of California Press), where she offers a genealogy of women’s language showing its critical linkage to Japan’s national and capitalist modernity. Professor Inoue is currently working on a social history of “verbatim” in Japanese.  She traces the historical development of the Japanese shorthand technique used in the Diet for its proceedings since the late 19th century, and of the stenographic typewriter introduced to the Japanese court for the trial record after WWII, drawing the connections between such technologies and liberal governance. Professor Inoue’s research interest span multiple areas, including linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics, semiotics, and linguistic modernity.

Jillian Cavanaugh is Professor and Department Chair of Anthropology and Archaeology at Brooklyn College, and Professor in the Anthropology Program at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is a linguistic and cultural anthropologist whose geographical area is northern Italy. She has done extensive field work in Bergamo, Italy, on language shift, language ideology, gender, accent, materiality, food production, and social transformation. She is interested in the ways in which people use the symbolic and material resources at their disposal to live meaningful lives. Her list of publications includes “The Blacksmith’s Feet: Embodied Entextualization in Northern Italian Vernacular Poetry,” in 2017 and “Documenting Subjects: Performativity and Audit Culture in Food Production in Northern Italy,” in 2016.

All talks in this series take place at Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065. A dinner and wine reception will precede the talk: Buffet dinner at 5:45 PM. ($20 contribution for dinner guests/free for students).  Lectures begin at 6:30 PM and are free and open to the public, but registration is required

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