The indexical regimentation of a male youth style in Japanese

Two approaches of metapragmatic discourse on a Q&A website


  • Momoko Nakamura Kanto Gakuin University



indexical regimentation, masculinity, metapragmatic discourse, politeness, style


This study explores how metapragmatic discourse denies the potential of a set of linguistic features to be recognised as a legitimate polite style. Examining the ways male students employ a new Japanese speech style involving su, the shortened form of the polite copula desu, and lay people’s evaluations of the style on a Q&A website, I demonstrate that the style’s multiple social meanings in local interactions are reduced in the mediatised website discourse. The analysis shows two main approaches to refuting the politeness of the style. One approach narrows the meanings of the style by positioning the style and its speakers as inferior to the polite style and polite speakers. The other approach reduces the style’s politeness by assigning it a humorous stance through stylised mocking. The findings suggest that the metapragmatic discourse serves to manage two culturally important boundaries between the polite/plain styles and hegemonic/subordinate masculinities.

Author Biography

Momoko Nakamura, Kanto Gakuin University

Momoko Nakamura, PhD, is Professor of English at Kanto Gakuin University, Japan. Her recent publications include Gender, Language and Ideology: The Genealogy of Japanese Women’s Language (John Benjamins)


Agha, A. (2003). The social life of cultural value. Language & Communication, 23(3–4), 231–273.

Bakhtin, M. (1984). Problems of Dostoevsky’s poetics (C. Emerson, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Bauman, R. (1996). Transformations of the word in the production of Mexican festival drama. In M. Silverstein & G. Urban (Eds.), Natural histories of discourse (pp. 301–327). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power (G. Raymond & M. Adamson, Trans.). Cambridge: Polity Press.

Briggs, C. L., & Bauman, R. (1992). Genre, intertextuality, and social power. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 2(2), 131–172.

Bucholtz, M. (2009). From stance to style: Gender, interaction, and indexicality in Mexican immigrant youth slang. In A. Jaffe (Ed.), Stance: Sociolinguistic perspectives (pp. 147–170). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bucholtz, M. (2011). Race and the re-embodied voice in Hollywood film. Language & Communication, 31(3), 255–265.

Bucholtz, M., & Hall, K. (2005). Identity and interaction: A sociocultural linguistic approach. Discourse Studies, 7(4–5), 585–614.

Bucholtz, M., & Lopez, Q. (2011). Performing blackness, forming whiteness: Linguistic minstrelsy in Hollywood film. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 15(5), 680–706.

Bunkacho (1996). Kokugoshingikai hokoku 20 [Report of the 20th Kokugoshingikai]. Tokyo: Bunkacho.

Bunkacho (2000). Kokugoshingikai toshin: Gendai shakai ni okeru keii-hyogen [National Language Council report: Expressions of respect in today’s society]. Tokyo: Bunkacho. Retrieved from

Bunkashingikai (2007). Keigo no shishin [Guidance on keigo]. Tokyo: Bunkacho. Retrieved from

Charlebois, J. (2014). Japanese femininities. London: Routledge.

Connell, R. W. (1995). Masculinities. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Connell, R. W., & Messerschmidt, J. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender & Society, 19(6), 829–859.

Cook, H. M. (1996). The use of addressee honorifics in Japanese elementary school classrooms. In N. Akatsuka, S. Iwasaki, & S. Strauss (Eds.), Japanese/Korean linguistics (vol. 5, pp. 67–81). Stanford, CA: CSLI.

Cook, H. M. (2018). Socialization to acting, feeling and thinking as shakaijin: New employee orientations in a Japanese company. In H. M. Cook & J. S. Shibamoto Smith (Eds.), Japanese at work: Politeness, power, and personae in Japanese workplace discourse (pp. 37–64). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Coupland, N. (2001). Dialect stylization in radio talk. Language in Society, 30(3), 345–375.

Coupland, N. (2007). Style: Language variation and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dasgupta, R. (2013). Re-reading the salaryman in Japan: Crafting masculinities. London: Routledge.

Dunn, C. D. (2011). Formal forms or verbal strategies? Politeness theory and Japanese business etiquette training. Journal of Pragmatics, 43(15), 3643–3654.

Dunn, C. D. (2018). Bowing incorrectly: Aesthetic labor and expert knowledge in Japanese business etiquette training. In H. M. Cook & J. S. Shibamoto-Smith (Eds.), Japanese at work: Politeness, power, and personae in Japanese workplace discourse (pp. 15–36). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Eckert, P. (2008). Variation and the indexical field. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 12(4), 453–476.

Eelen, G. (2001). A critique of politeness theories. Manchester: St. Jerome.

Enyo, Y. (2015). Contexts and meanings of Japanese speech styles: A case of hierarchical identity construction among Japanese college students. Pragmatics, 25(3), 345–367.

Gal, S., & Irvine, J. T. (1995). The boundaries of languages and disciplines: How ideologies construct difference. Social Research, 62(4), 967–1001.

Geyer, N. (2008). Interpersonal functions of style shift: The use of plain and masu forms in faculty meetings. In K. Jones & T. Ono (Eds.), Style shifting in Japanese (pp. 39–70). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Hill, J. H. (1993). Hasta la vista, baby: Anglo Spanish in the American southwest. Critique of Anthropology, 13(2), 145–176.

Inoue, M. (2006). Vicarious language: Gender and linguistic modernity in Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Johnstone, B. (2010). Indexing the local. In N. Coupland (Ed.), The handbook of language and globalization (pp. 386–405). Oxford: Blackwell.

Johnstone, B., Andrus, J., & Danielson, A. E. (2006). Mobility, indexicality, and the enregisterment of ‘Pittsburghese’. Journal of English Linguistics, 34(2), 77–104.

Kiesling, S. F. (2004). Dude. American Speech, 79(3), 281–305.

Kuramochi, M. (2009). Shinkeigo ‘su’ no kino to shiyoho no henka [The changes in functions and usages of the new polite language su]. Gengo to Koryu, 12, 28–40.

Maynard, S. (1991). Pragmatics of discourse modality: A case of da and desu/masu forms in Japanese. Journal of Pragmatics, 15(6), 551–582.

Nagatomi, T. (2012). Shinkeigo ssu ni mirareru danjosa [Gender differences in the use of the new honorific ssu]. Shakai Shisutemu Kenkyu, 10, 81–90.

Nakamura, M. (2007a). Onna kotoba wa tsukurareru [Constructing women’s language]. Tokyo: Hitsuji shobo.

Nakamura, M. (2007b). Sei to nihongo: Kotoba ga tsukuru onna to otoko [Sex and Japanese: Language constructing women and men]. Tokyo: Nihon hososhuppan kyokai.

Nakamura, M. (2013). Honyaku ga tsukuru Nihongo: Hiroin wa onna kotoba o hanashi tsuzukeru [Japanese language constructed by translation: Heroines speak women’s language]. Tokyo: Hakutaku sha.

Nakamura, M. (2014a). Historical discourse approach to Japanese women’s language. In S. Ehrlich, M. Meyerhoff, & J. Holmes (Eds.), The handbook of language, gender, and sexuality (2nd ed., pp. 378–395). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell.

Nakamura, M. (2014b). Gender, language and ideology: The genealogy of Japanese women’s language. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Okamoto, S. (2011). The use and interpretation of addressee honorifics and plain forms in Japanese: Diversity, multipicity, and ambiguity. Journal of Pragmatics, 43(15), 3673–3688.

Okamoto, S., & Shibamoto-Smith, J. S. (2016). The social life of the Japanese language: Cultural discourse and situated practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ozaki, Y. (2002). Atarashi teineigo s(s)u [The new polite form, s(s)u]. In Gendai Nihongo Kenkyukai (Ed.), Dansei no kotoba: Shokuba hen (pp. 89–98). Tokyo: Hitsuji shobo.

Rampton, B. (1995). Crossing: Language and ethnicity among adolescents. London: Longman.

Roberson, J. (1998). Manufacturing men: Working class masculinities in Japan. Hitotsubashi Journal of Social Studies, 30(1), 45–49.

Ronkin, M., & Karn, H. E. (1999). Mock Ebonics: Linguistic racism in parodies of Ebonics on the Internet. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 3(3), 360–380.

Saito, J. (2010). Subordinates’ use of Japanese plain forms: An examination of superior–subordinate interactions in the workplace. Journal of Pragmatics, 42(12), 3271–3282.

Saito, J. (2018). ‘Sarariiman’ and the performance of masculinities at work: An analysis of interactions at business meetings at a multinational corporation in Japan. In H. M. Cook & J. Shibamoto-Smith (Eds.), Japanese at work: Politeness, power, and personae in Japanese workplace discourse (pp. 97–121). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Schippers, M. (2007). Recovering the feminine other: Masculinity, femininity, and gender hegemony. Theory and Society, 36(1), 85–102.

Silverstein, M. (1995 [1976]). Shifters, linguistic categories and cultural description. In B. G. Blount (Ed.), Language, culture and society: A book of readings (pp. 187–221). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.

Silverstein, M. (2003). Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life. Language & Communication, 23(3–4), 193–229.

SturtzSreetharan, C. (2004). Students, sarariiman (pl.), and seniors: Japanese men’s use of ‘manly’ speech register. Language in Society, 33(1), 81–107.

Wahl, A. (2012). The global metastereotyping of Hollywood ‘dudes’: African reality television parodies of mediatized California style. In M. Hiramoto (Ed.), Media intertextualities (pp. 31–55). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Watts, R. (2003). Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Woolard, K. A. (1998). Language ideology as a field of inquiry. In B. B. Scheiffelin, K. A.

Woolard, & P. V. Kroskrity (Eds.), Language ideologies: Practice and theory (pp. 3–47). New York: Oxford University Press



How to Cite

Nakamura, M. (2021). The indexical regimentation of a male youth style in Japanese: Two approaches of metapragmatic discourse on a Q&A website. East Asian Pragmatics, 6(1), 9–37.