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Language and Sexuality in Japan: An Introduction to Linguistic Relativity Dr. Marlen Elliot Harrison, copyright 2013 University of Tampa JPOP

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Presentation on theme: "Language and Sexuality in Japan: An Introduction to Linguistic Relativity Dr. Marlen Elliot Harrison, copyright 2013 University of Tampa JPOP"— Presentation transcript:

1 Language and Sexuality in Japan: An Introduction to Linguistic Relativity Dr. Marlen Elliot Harrison, copyright 2013 University of Tampa JPOP

2 OVERVIEW Forming hypotheses Definitions About Japan Birth of the study Linguistic relativity Stories/Data samples Research conclusions image from

3 GETTING STARTED First, let s form a hypothesis… I m not gay in (insert language), I m only gay in (insert other language). For example, I m not gay in Japanese, I m only gay in English.

4 DEFINITIONS Next, let s define our main concepts… – What is Langauge? – What is Gender? – What is Sexuality?

5 LANGUAGE 1. a. Communication of thoughts and feelings through a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures, or written symbols. – b. Such a system including its rules for combining its components, such as words. – c. Such a system as used by a nation, people, or other distinct community; often contrasted with dialect. 2. a. A system of signs, symbols, gestures, or rules used in communicating: the language of algebra. 3. Body language; kinesics. 4. The special vocabulary and usages of a scientific, professional, or other group: "his total mastery of screen language camera placement, editing and his handling of actors" (Jack Kroll). 5. A characteristic style of speech or writing: Shakespearean language. 6. A particular manner of expression: profane language; persuasive language.

6 6 GENDER & SEXUALITY World Health Organization: The word gender is used to describe the characteristics, roles and responsibilities of women and men, boys and girls, which are socially constructed. Gender is related to how we are perceived and expected to think and act as women and men because of the way society is organized, not because of our biological differences. World Health Organization: The definition of sexuality is: A central aspect of being human throughout life & encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, and social well-being that relates to one s sexuality (WHO, 2002). The way people experience and express sexuality is different for each individual & can be influenced by biologic, psychological, social, cultural, and religious factors (Southard & Keller, 2009).

7 JAPAN Some facts about Japan: y/publications/the-world- factbook/geos/ja.html y/publications/the-world- factbook/geos/ja.html

8 BIRTH OF THE STUDY … I ask him if he is out and he looks at me, moves his head slightly forward and asks, Pardon? Are you out of the closet? I explain. He shakes his head from side to side a little, leans in and says slowly, I m not gay in Japanese, I m only gay in English. The above excerpt introduces Marlen Elliot Harrison s Discovering Voices, an examination of language, sexuality, and identity in 21 st century Japan. After living and teaching in Western Japan for 4 years, Harrison returned to the United States to complete a doctoral program in applied linguistics. When considering a dissertation topic, he recalled a conversation in which a friend discussed being gay in one language and not in another (above) and wanted to further explore why this might be. By weaving together his own narratives about Japan and sexuality with the autoethnographic narratives of queer Japanese individuals, Harrison showcases the intersection between linguistic repertoire and those critical moments when we conceptualize, reveal, and perform our sexualities.

9 LINGUISTIC RELATIVITY Many thinkers have urged that large differences in language lead to large differences in experience and thought: each language embodies a worldview, with quite different languages embodying quite different views, so that speakers of different languages think about the world in quite different ways. This view is sometimes called the Whorf-hypothesis or the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, after the linguists who made it famous. But the label linguistic relativity, which is more common today, has the advantage that makes it easier to separate the hypothesis from the details of Whorf's views… The suggestion that different languages carve the world up in different ways, and that as a result their speakers think about it differently has a certain appeal. But questions about the extent and kind of impact that language has on thought are empirical questions that can only be settled by empirical investigation. And although linguistic relativism is perhaps the most popular version of descriptive relativism, the conviction and passion of partisans on both sides of the issue far outrun the available evidence… (Swoyer, 2003) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

10 WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do you agree that language has an effect on cognition? Think about how you view the world and how the languages you use affect those views… Do you ever feel like a different person when using a second language?

11 RIKA S STORY The most comfortable thing in speaking in English was that I call myself I. In Japanese, there are so many words refer to yourself and it differs by their sex and age. For instance, women usually call themselves Watashi or Atashi or sometimes Uchi (Osaka dialect) and men call themselves Boku or Ore or Washi (older men ). When I was in Japan, I hated and refused to call myself Watashi because I did not recognize myself as a girl. But I did not want to call myself Boku either because it was too weird. In Canada, the problem was easily solved. I just call myself I. Everybody call themselves I regardless of their sex or age. Through using English, I was able to become a person with no sex. The words She or Her were kind of new words for me, so I accepted them naturally. People around me, mostly Canadian, Hong Konger, Korean never minded what I wore or how I acted. They accepted me as I was. I was true me in a little town. Rika, 36 year old female, English instructor from Osaka, Japan

12 JAPANESE PERSONAL PRONOUNS Three examples: 2.html 2.html

13 OTHER STORIES On my third day in New York, I met one of my roommates for the first time. After a while, he asked me if I was gay. I was totally at a loss but tried to be cool about it and said, Did I give you a hint? He said it was just because of my [theater] major. This could never come up if I had been in Japan and been talking in Japanese. By saying, Did I give you a hint? I somehow admitted that I was gay. I would never reply, Doushite wakatta no? (How did you know?) if someone asked me of my sexuality in Japanese. It s the language, atmosphere of New York, and my excitement in the foreign city that made me admit my sexuality so naturally. I had come out to my close friends in Japan but that coming out to the roommate I had just met was by far the smoothest one. Akihito, 34 year-old male, university instructor from Nagoya, Japan

14 OTHER STORIES Speaking Japanese put me a hesitation to be honest. It may be because of my inborn personality, of my childhood experience, or of my having developed defense mechanism. It was long after I started studying English when I realized it s much easier for me to express my honest feelings in English. Even after having studied hard, not being perfectly fluent left me a protection because I still had to intellectually think before putting the emotion into words or words into the emotion. Since I d found out that English was an easier way for me to express emotions, I had an obsession to learn more about it. For quite a long time, I just kept studying without knowing why I had to study, but it was a path to re-integrate myself, and probably sexuality resided in the emotional part. Katsuya, 28 year old male, mental health counselor from Saitama, Japan

15 CONCLUSIONS Throughout the narratives and analyses, all of the participant- researchers mention their perception of English-speaking communities as more accepting of sexual diversity. As such, speech acts such as the coming out proclamation, are reported to have been easier or less fearful in non-Japanese communities. Moreover, English proficiency and the quest for greater proficiency have been reported by half of the participants to have been motivating factors to reveal sexuality to others. Yet two other participants find their motivation to acquire language directly mediated by their desire to perform their sexualities. In all eight examples, participant-researchers reported the perception that it is easier to perform queer sexuality in all of its manifestations in English-language or non-Japanese environments, supporting Moore s (2007) conclusions about extending oneself via imagination and participation into another community. I have labeled this phenomenon linguistically-contextual sexual identity.

16 THANK YOU! All uncredited images are copyright-free or were created by the researcher. References may be found at the end of the thesis. Click me to review the complete doctoral thesis.Click me You can find these slides by visiting either or More on Linguistic Relativity: – Rethinking Linguistic Relativity Rethinking Linguistic Relativity – Linguistic Relativity, Whorf, Linguistic Anthropology Linguistic Relativity, Whorf, Linguistic Anthropology Dr. Marlen Elliot Harrison

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