Language and Gender II

September 2007

Language and Gender II: Revisiting this post, it turns out that the Japanese language has some pretty strong encoded gender-roles and stereotypes. For example:

The character for man “otoko” 男 is actually a combination of “ta” 田 (rice paddy) and “chikara” 力 (power).

… “yome” 嫁 , a combination of woman and house means “bride”. The word “kanai” 家内 a combination of “house” 家 and “inside” 内 translates to “wife”. Then, perhaps more demeaning, the word “syujin” 主人 for “husband” is a combination of “lord, chief, master, main thing” 主 and person 人 .

Rice-paddy-power has a ring to it.

Nato commented:

So... 主男人 = Chief-rice-paddy-power man

Sounds like some sort of superhero from the 80s

KT commented:

What's so sexist about saying wives are inside houses? Sounds kind of sensible to me, given the nature of the society in which the language evolved. (because of course all moral values are culturally relative :p)

Matt commented:

I didn't say sexist (did I?). I'd agree, it probably made perfect sense originally. That said, descriptive things tend to have a habit of becoming prescriptive, and language does shape thought. That can become a problem where, for instance, your native language continues to tell you that 'wives belong inside houses' — it's much harder to break a more when it is encoded directly into your everyday language.

Nato commented:

I don't know... When I hear 'gay', I hear 'homosexual', but don't hear 'happy', it's original meaning. The etiology of a word and the connotations a word has can be quite divorced from each other. See also the idea of the genetic fallacy

Matt commented:

True, but what we're talking about here is meanings still encoded within the language. When I hear 'landlord,' I in some way hear 'lord.' 'Housewife,' by way of another example, has certain implications that 'wife' does not.