Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

“She thinks you’re kawaii”: Socializing affect, gender, and relationships in a Japanese preschool


Kawaii, an adjective meaning ‘cute’, ‘adorable’, and ‘lovable’, is an important aspect of Japanese material culture and a key affect word used to describe things that are small, delicate, and immature. While “cuteness” has been widely discussed in relation to Japanese society and psychology and the globalization of Japanese culture, there has been little analysis of the word kawaii in interaction. This article explores the use of kawaii in interaction in a Japanese preschool. In particular, it analyzes ways teachers use multimodal resources, including talk, embodied actions, material objects, and participation frameworks, in making assessments of things in the social world and in “glossing” children’s actions as thoughts and feelings, and it examines children’s emerging use of kawaii with teachers and peers. The findings shed light on ways everyday communicative practices shape children’s understandings and use of language in relation to affect, gender, and relationships in preschool.*

Hide All
Akatsuka Noriko (1991). Affect and Japanese conditional. In Clancy Patricia & Thompson Sandra (eds.), Santa Barbara Papers in Linguistics, Vol. 3: Asian discourse and grammar, 1–8. Santa Barbara: Department of Linguistics, University of California Santa Barbara.
Allison Anne (2006). Cuteness as Japan’s millennial product. In Tobin Joseph (ed.), Pikachu’s global adventure: The rise and fall of Pokémon, 34–49. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Anderson Fred (1995). Classroom discourse and language socialization in a Japanese elementary school setting: An ethnographic-linguistic study. Dissertation, University of Hawaii, Manoa.
Antaki Charles, & Widdicombe Sue (1998). Identities in interaction. London: Sage.
Asano Chie (1996). Onna wa naze yaseyoo to suru no ka: Sesshoku shoogai to gendaa [Why do women try to lose weight?: Eating disorders and gender]. Tokyo: Keiso.
Ben-Ari Eyal (1997). Body projects in Japanese childcare: Culture, organization and emotions in a preschool. London: Curzon.
Besnier Niko (1990). Language and affect. Annual Review of Anthropology 19:419–51.
Besnier Niko (1993). Reported speech and affect on Nukulaelae atoll. In Hill Jane H. & Irvine Judith T. (eds.), Responsibility and evidence in oral discourse, 161–81. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Brown Penelope, & Levinson Steven C. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Butler Judith (1989). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.
Clancy Patricia M. (1986). The acquisition of communicative style in Japanese. In Schieffelin Bambi B. & Ochs Elinor (eds.), Language socialization across cultures, 213–50. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Clancy Patricia M. (1999). The socialization of affect in Japanese mother-child conversation. Journal of Pragmatics 31:1397–421.
Cook Haruko M. (1990). The role of the Japanese sentence-final particle no in the socialization of children. Multilingua 9:377–95.
Cook Haruko M. (1999). Language socialization in Japanese elementary schools: Attentive listening and reaction turns. Journal of Pragmatics 31:1443–65.
Cook-Gumperz Jenny (2001). Girls’ oppositional stances: The interactional accomplishment of gender in nursery school and family life. In Baron Bettina & Kotthoff Helga (eds.), Gender in interaction: Perspectives on femininity and masculinity in ethnography and discourse, 21–49. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Daikuhara Midori (1986). A study of compliments from a cross-cultural perspective: Japanese vs. American English. Working Papers in Educational Linguistics 2:103–34.
Endo Toshihiko (2000). Omoiyari no ‘aru nashi’ to wa doo iu koto? [What does it mean to ‘have/not have’ empathy?]. Jidoo Shinri [Child Psychology] 54:743–48.
Funabashi Kuniko (2004). Jendaa furii no shiten kara kosodate o kangaeru [Considering child-rearing from the perspective of ‘gender free’]. Buraku Kaihoo: Tokushuu Kosodate to Jendaa [Buraku liberation: Special Volume Child-rearing and gender] 535:12–16.
Garrett Paul B., & Baquedano-López Patricia (2002). Language socialization: Reproduction and continuity, transformation and change. Annual Review of Anthropology 31:339–61.
Goffman Erving (1981). Forms of talk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Goodwin Charles (2007). Interactive footing. In Holt Elizabeth & Clift Rebecca (eds.), Reporting talk: Reported speech in interaction, 16–46. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Goodwin Charles,& Goodwin Marjorie H. (1987). Concurrent operations on talk: Notes on the interactive organization of assessments. IPrA Papers in Pragmatics 1(1):1–52.
Goodwin Charles,& Goodwin Marjorie H.(1992). Assessments and the construction of context. In Duranti Alessandro & Goodwin Charles (eds.), Rethinking context: Language as an interactive phenomenon, 147–90. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Goodwin Marjorie H. (2007). Participation and embodied action in preadolescent girls’ assessment activity. Research on Language and Social Interaction 40:353–75.
Goodwin Marjorie H, & Charles (2000). Emotion within situated activity. In Budwig Nancy, Uzgiris Ina C., & Wertsch James V. (eds.), Communication: An arena of development, 33–54. Stamford, CT: Ablex.
Harkness Sara, & Super Charles M. (1983). The cultural construction of child development: A framework for the socialization of affect. Ethos 11:221–31.
Haviland John B. (1989). “Sure, sure”: Evidence and affect. Text 9:27–68.
Hayashi Makoto (1997). An exploration of sentence-final uses of the quotative particle in Japanese discourse. In Sohn Ho-min & Haig John (eds.), Japanese/Korean linguistics vol. 6, 565–81. Stanford, CA: CSLI.
Hendry Joy (1986). Becoming Japanese: The world of the pre-school child. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
Herot Christine (2002). Socialization of affect during mealtime interactions. In Blum-Kulka Shoshana & Snow Catherine E. (eds.) Talking to adults: The contribution of multiparty discourse to language acquisition, 155–79. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Holloway Susan D. (2000). Contested childhood: Diversity and change in Japanese preschools. New York & London: Routledge.
Holmes Janet (1998). Complimenting – a positive politeness strategy. In Coates Jennifer (ed.), Language and gender: A reader, 100–20. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Holt Elizabeth, & Clift Rebecca (eds.) (2007). Reporting talk: Reported speech in interaction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Ide Sachiko (1991). How and why do women speak more politely in Japanese? In Ide Sachiko & McGloin Naomi H. (eds.), Aspects of Japanese women’s language, 63–79. Tokyo: Kurosio.
Irvine Judith T. (1990). Registering affect: Heteroglossia in the linguistic expression of emotion. In Lutz Catherine A. & Abu-Lughod Lila (eds.), Language and the politics of emotion, 126–85. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Joffe Carole (1971). Sex role socialization and the nursery school. Journal of Marriage and the Family 33(3):27–38.
Keenan Elinor Ochs (1977). Making it last: Repetition in children’s discourse. In Ervin-Tripp Susan & Mitchell-Kernan Claudia (eds.), Child discourse, 125–38. New York: Academic Press.
Kinsella Sharon (1995). Cuties in Japan. In Skov Lise & Moeran Brian (eds.), Women, media and consumption in Japan, 220–54. Richmond, VA: Curzon.
Kyratzis Amy, & Cook-Gumperz Jenny (2008). Language socialization and gendered practices in childhood. In Duff Patricia A. & Hornberger Nancy H. (eds.), Encyclopedia of Language and Education, 8:145–56. 2nd ed.New York: Springer Science & Business Media.
León Lourdes de (1998). The emergent participant: Interactive patterns in the socialization of Tzotzil (Mayan) infants. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 8:131–61.
Lewis Catherine C. (1995). Educating hearts and minds: Reflections on Japanese preschool and elementary education. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Loveday Leo (1981). Pitch, politeness, and sexual role: An exploratory investigation into the pitch correlates of English and Japanese politeness formulae. Language and Speech 24:71–89.
Masubuchi Shoichi (1994). Kawaii shookoogun [Kawaii syndrome]. Tokyo: Japan Broadcast Publishing.
Maynard Senko K. (1993). Discourse modality, emotion, and voice in the Japanese language. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
McVeigh Brian (1996). Commodifying affection, authority and gender in the everyday objects of Japan. Journal of Material Culture 1:291–312.
McVeigh Brian (2000). How Hello Kitty commodifies the cute, cool, and camp: ‘Consumutopia’ versus ‘control’ in Japan. Journal of Material Culture 5:225–45.
Mehan Hugh (1979). Learning lessons. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Miller Laura (2004). You are doing burikko!: Censoring/scrutinizing artificers of cute femininity in Japanese. In Okamoto Shigeko & Shibamoto Smith Janet S. (eds.), Japanese language, gender, and ideology: Cultural models and real people, 148–65. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.
Miyazaki Ayumi (2004). Japanese junior high school girls’ and boys’ first-person pronoun use and their social world. In Okamoto Shigeko & Shibamoto Smith Janet S. (eds.), Japanese language, gender, and ideology: Cultural models and real people, 256–74. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.
Morris Ivan (trans.) (1991). The pillow book of Sei Shônagon. New York: Columbia University Press.
Nakamura Keiko (2001). Gender and language use in Japanese preschool children. Research on Language and Social Interaction 34:15–44.
Ochs Elinor (1992). Indexing gender. In Duranti Alessandro & Goodwin Charles (eds.), Rethinking context, 335–58. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Ochs Elinor (1993). Constructing social identity: A language socialization perspective. Research on Language and Social Interaction 26:287–306.
Ochs Elinor (1996). Linguistic resources for socializing humanity. In Gumperz John J. & Levinson Steven C. (eds.), Rethinking linguistic relativity, 407–37. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Ochs Elinor, & Schieffelin Bambi B. (1984). Language acquisition and socialization: Three developmental stories. In Shweder Richard A. & LeVine Robert A. (eds.), Culture theory: Essays on mind, self, and emotion, 276–320. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Ochs Elinor, & Schieffelin Bambi B (1989). Language has a heart. Text 9(1):7–25.
Ohta Amy S. (1994). Socializing the expression of affect: An overview of affective particle use in the Japanese as a foreign language classroom. Issues in Applied Linguistics 5:303–25.
Ohta Amy S (1999). Interactional routines and the socialization of interactional style in adult learners of Japanese. Journal of Pragmatics 31:1493–512.
Okabe Keizo (1987). Indirect speech acts of the Japanese. In Kincaid Larry D. (ed.), Communication theory: Eastern and Western perspectives. 127–36. San Diego: Academic Press.
Okamoto Shigeko, & Shibamoto Smith Janet S. (eds.) (2004). Japanese language, gender, and ideology: Cultural models and real people. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.
Okamoto Yoriko, 2001. Boshi komyunikeeshon ni okeru hahaoya no daiben: 1saiji e no daiben no jookyoo to hatsuwa keitai no kanten [Mother speaking for the child in mother-child communication: Conditions and utterances to 1 yr. olds]. Boshi Kenkyuu [Mother-child Research] 21:46–55.
Peak Lois (1991). Learning to go to school in Japan: The transition from home to preschool life. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Pomerantz Anita (1984). Agreeing and disagreeing with assessments: Some features of preferred/dispreferred turn shapes. In Atkinson John & Heritage John (eds.), Structures of social action, 57–101. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Rabain-Jamin Jacqueline (1998). Polyadic language socialization strategy: The case of toddlers in Senegal. Discourse Processes 26:43–65.
Rice Yoshie Nishioka (2001). The maternal role in Japan: Cultural values and socioeconomic conditions. In Shimizu Hidetaka & Levine Robert A. (eds.), Japanese frames of mind: Cultural perspectives on human development, 85–110. Cambridge, UK & New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sakata Minako (1991). The acquisition of Japanese ‘gender’ particles. Language & Communication 11(3):117–25.
Schegloff Emanuel A. (1996). Turn organization: One intersection of grammar and interaction. In Ochs Elinor; Schegloff Emanuel A.; & Thompson Sandra A. (eds.), Interaction and Grammar, 52–133. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Schieffelin Bambi B., & Ochs Elinor (1986). Language socialization. Annual Review of Anthropology 15:163–246.
Scollon Suzanne (1982). Reality set, socialization and linguistic convergence. Dissertation, University of Hawaii, Honolulu.
Shibamoto Janet (1985). Japanese women’s language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Silverstein Michael (1976). Shifters, linguistic categories, and cultural description. In Basso Keith H. & Selby Henry (eds.), Meaning in anthropology, 11–56. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
Strauss Susan & Kawanishi Yumiko (1996). Assessment strategies in Japanese, Korean, and American English. In Akatsuka Noriko, Iwasaki Shoichi, & Strauss Susan (eds.), Japanese/Korean Linguistics Vol. 5, 149–65. Stanford, CA: CSLI.
Sreetharan Cindi Sturtz (2004). Japanese men’s linguistic stereotypes and realities. In Okamoto Shigeko & Shibamoto Smith Janet S. (eds.), Japanese language, gender, and ideology: Cultural models and real people, 275–89. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.
Suleski Ronald, & Masada Hiroko (2000). Affective expressions in Japanese: A handbook of value-laden words in everyday Japanese. Tokyo: Hokuseido.
Suzuki Ryoko (1999). Language socialization through morphology: The affective suffix –CHAU in Japanese. Journal of Pragmatics 31:1423–41.
Tanaka Hiroko (2000). The particle ne as a turn-management device in Japanese. Journal of Pragmatics 32:1135–76.
Tanaka Hiroko (2005). Grammar and the “timing” of social action: Word order and preference organization in Japanese. Language in Society 34:389–430.
Tobin Joseph J.; Wu David Y.H.; & Davidson Dana H. (1989). Preschool in three cultures: Japan, China, and the United States. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Tobin Joseph J.; Karasawa Mayumi; & Hsueh Yeh (2004). Komatsudani then and now: Continuity and change in a Japanese preschool. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 5(2):128–44.
Tomomatsu Hiroshi (1994). Jidoo no kotoba no jikohyooka: kodomo wa ‘kawaii’ ka? [Child language and self evaluation: Are children kawaii?]. Nihon hoikugakkai taikai happyooronbun shooroku [Proceedings of the Japan childcare conference] 47:90–1.
Ueno Chizuko (1982). Sekushii gyaru no daikenkyuu: Onna no yomikata, yomarekata, yomasekata [Research on sexy girls: How to read women, how women are read, and how to make them be read]. Tokyo: Kobunsha.
West Candace, & Zimmerman Don H. (1987). Doing gender. Gender & Society 1(2): 125–51.
White Merry (1993). The material child: Coming of age in Japan and America. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Yano Christine R. (2009). Pink globalization: Rethinking Japan’s cute/cool trek across the Pacific. Lecture at the International House of Japan, Tokyo (June 1).
Yomota Inuhiko (2006). “Kawaii” ron [Theory of “kawaii”]. Tokyo: Chikuma Shinsho.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Language in Society
  • ISSN: 0047-4045
  • EISSN: 1469-8013
  • URL: /core/journals/language-in-society
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 23
Total number of PDF views: 178 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 422 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 21st October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.