Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 2, May 1999
Focus on Endo Orie
Each of the three volumes presented here focuses upon a different aspect of the Japanese vocabulary used by and in reference to women in Japan. Orie's writing is aimed at the general reader, and does not assume specialist knowledge of linguistic terms.
Stimulated by questions from, and errors made by, her international students of Japanese language over more than 20 years, Endo Orie discusses the linguistic and cultural significance of a number of loaded Japanese expressions including 'husband', by opposition to 'wife,' and the different nuances of titles such as '-san,' '-shi' and '-joshi.' She also devotes a chapter to evolving grammar, such as the change from 'da' to 'na,' and the particle '-sa.'
Endo employs a wide variety of examples from Heian times to the present day and many charts to illustrate the linguistic and statistical information she presents.
In this text, Orie Endo raises the question of what constitutes so-called 'women's language' in Japanese, and whether it has really occupied a special and inalienable place throughout the history of the tongue, as invariably claimed by other publications on Japanese linguistics.
Her examination begins with the myths of Japan's creation, and traces the relationship between women and the Japanese language through the Heian, Kamakura/Muromachi and Edo periods to the Meiji and Showa eras. Orie finally describes Japanese language use at the end of the 20th century, which is characterised by the popularisation of playful slang expressions and neologisms.
Do words used in Japanese to refer to women restrict women's participation in society and negatively influence their happiness? Endo Orie, as editor of this volume and author of three of its six chapters, argues that women need to 'untie the strictures of language that bind them,' in order to live as their true selves and to regain their carefree identity.
'Omae' and other words for 'you' in a spouse/lover relationship, followed by 'ojousama' and related expressions for young, unmarried women are examined by Kobayashi Emiko in the initial two chapters, while, in the third chapter, Takasaki Midori, laments the disuse of women's names after marriage. Endo Orie discusses 'obasan [auntie],' used to address unrelated adult females, then links the illusion of intimacy conjured by such words as 'obaasan' and 'ojiisan' with ageism. In her final chapter, she presents a wealth of examples from other languages and cultures, and ends with a personal anecdote, describing her exhilaration at a German friend's calling her 'Orie,' her own given name, but seldom uttered throughout the decades of her adult life.
Other works by Endo Orie include Chuugoku no Onna Moji [The Women's Script of China], published by San'ichi Shobo, and Gaisetsu Nihongo Kyouiku [An Outline of Japanese Language Education], which she edited for Sanshusha. Endo also co-edited Shogakukan's Tsukaikata no Wakaru Ruigo Reikai Jiten [A Dictionary of Synonyms with Examples to Elucidate Usage] and Shinchosha's Nihongo o Manabu Hito no Jiten [A Dictionary for Learners of Japanese].
Orie Endo's Nüshu website
An excellent annotated bibliography on female literacy, reading and writing in China, as well as Nüshu, can be found on Barend J. ter Haar's website.
This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.
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