The notion onna-rashisa 'womanliness' and the sentence-final particle wa in Japanese

This study discusses the use of the Japanese sentence-final particle wa, which is widely known as a female-speech marker in the language. In Japanese, sentence-final particles are one of the most frequently used linguistic items in spoken conversation, and as pointed out by many studies (McGloin, 1990; Ide and Sakurai, 1997; Hayashi, 2000; Katagiri, 2007), it is difficult and unnatural to have a conversation without using these particles. Reflecting their significance, numerous studies have been dedicated to the issue of these particles from an early stage in the study of modern Japanese. However, the attention has mainly been paid to ne and yo, which are the most frequently used among the sentence-final particles, and many aspects of the other particles, including our target particle wa, are still to be unveiled.

This study aims at investigating the function of wa and its connection with the specific gender, i.e. female. Invoking the interactive nature of wa, the study first clarifies that the function of the particle is to convey the speaker's attitude of delivering an utterance towards the hearer in a firm manner. The study further discusses its relationship with the notion onna-rashisa 'womanliness', which was nation-widely established and promoted as the representation of female-specific values such as gentleness, non-assertiveness and gracefulness during the Meiji era (1868-1912). It will be shown that the development of wa as the female-speech marker for the notion onna-rashisa 'womanliness' was not directly motivated by the linguistic property (or the function) of the particle, but rather it was deliberately established in order to differentiate female speech from male speech in response to the need at the Meiji era.

In short, the study will suggest that wa is a unique linguistic tool in the Japanese language which possesses ambivalent functions; that is, on the one hand it conveys the speaker's firm attitude towards the hearer, and on the other hand it indicates the feminised values of womanliness, which were arbitrarily associated with the particle. 

Updated:  27 November 2018/Responsible Officer:  JI Management Group/Page Contact:  Japan Institute