17:11, 25/03/2021
Theterm“kogal”wascoinedinJapanaroundthebeginningofthe1990s to addressanemerginggroupofyoungJapanesewomenwhostandoutinsocietynotonlybecauseofthewaytheychoose to dress,butalsobecauseofhowtheychallengedominantmodelsofgenderedlanguage.Byaaaarrghh.com.

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From 2001 to 2002 I spover one year as a second-grader at a Japanese high school in the Kankhông nên area. It was about the time when schoolgirls my age, 16/17 years old, were only taken seriously by other girls if they wore the lathử nghiệm type of “loose socks” (stuck to lớn the legs with glue paste), dyed their hair a lighter color (which remained secret for teachers by spraying on blachồng hairspray before school), and rolled up the regulated school-skirts (although there would be sanctions for it).

My blond-haired friend Miya (xanh contact lenses, mini-skirt, Trắng eye shadow) was the most extreme in this- & the trendy girls all had similar customs like her that somehow tied them together. However, I always felt one of the most important things that identified them was not necessarily their appearance, but the way they spoke. Because they spoke in a certain way, they were able to identify who belonged to their group, & who did not. Their community, in this way, was marked by their language. My fascination with Japanese girl’s language started here.

The term “kogal” was coined around the beginning of the 1990s to address this group of young Japanese women who st& out in society not only because of the way they choose to dress, but also because of how they challenge dominant models of gendered language (Miller 2004: 225). Generally, the kogal is seen as a more extreme size of the “gal”, which was a considered a broader subculture (Gagné 2007: 132).


Here I want to explore how the use of kogals’ language identifies a certain subculture, & how their identity is reflected in the way they speak. I will use some examples of kogals’ speech to build on. I will firstly, however, bring in the theoretical framework we are dealing with: that of gender và linguistics, & more specifically: gendered language in nhật bản. The red thread, eventually, is kogals’ identity through language, và her place in Japanese society today.

Gendered Language in Japan

Gender & Language

What actually is gender? Whilst sex is a biological categorization that is based on the reproductive potential we already have at birth, gender is not something we are born with or have. It is something we persize (Eckert và McConnell-Ginet 2003: 10). In other words: we “do” gender, we don’t “have” it. Gender builds on biological sex. In Holl&, for example, this already starts when we eat toast with pink sprinkles to celebrate the birth of a baby girl and blue sprinkles to celebrate that of a baby boy. The minute a baby is born, in this way, the process of “genderizing” starts. As Eckert and McConnell-Ginet put it: “There is no obvious point at which sex leaves off and gender begins” (10). Gender is a social construction where certain qualities are ascribed to being male or female.

Language is essential in the social construction of gender. Gender is a system of meaning, và language is the most important way through which old & new meanings are maintained, challenged, or constructed (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet 2003: 6). We can think of the way a parent talks differently to either son or daughter. Eckert & McConell-Ginet use Gleason’s research (1994)to emphaform size this point. Gleason found that parents use more diminutives like “kitty” or “doggy” when talking to girls than to boys, along with using more words that touch upon one’s feelings, like “happy” or “sad”. On the other side, boys are more often talked at with prohibitives and emphatic prohibitives (“Don’t vì that!” or “No! No! No!”) (Gleason 1994). It is crucial to point out that these usages have sầu nothing to do with the way the children behave sầu (Bellinger&Gleason: 18). And so it has much more to bởi with the way we think of a gender instead of with the actual sex of the child.

Given the gendered environment in which children are raised, it is not surprising that males & females grow up to develop different ways of conducting language. Since evidence for sex-linked brain differences is still based on very small samples & not that much is known about the connections between brain physiology & cognition, it is problematic to hold brain-differences accountable for these differences (2003: 12).

The example of voice backs up the idea of gender performance. Although children have sầu identical vocal apparatus, boys và girls start to use different frequencies in their voice from 4 to 5 years of age. Girls start to speak with a higher pitch, while boys lower theirs. In addition, boys tend to round & extend their lips, lengthening the vocal tract, whereas girls shorten their vocal tract by spreading their lips (with smiles, for example) (2003: 18).

This all points out that the study of ‘gender & language’ as a separate category is of great importance to both the field of linguistics as to gender studies.

The case of Japan

Within the study of gender và language as a special category, Japan deserves proper attention. Most cultures or nations have sầu some sort of “women’s” or “men’s” language. As Lakoff suggests (as quoted in Eckert và McConnell), women have sầu a different way of speaking from men in general.

Women’s language then has more mitigators lượt thích “sort of” or “I think” and inessential qualifiers (“really happy”, “so beautiful”) than men’s language has. In nhật bản, the hegemonic constructs that this type of gendered language is part of, are widely spread as linguistic norms in Japanese society, both through popular truyền thông media as through language policy makers và linguistics (Okamoto lớn và Shibamolớn 2004: 4). I am not suggesting that the Japanese language is different from other languages that construct gender through language, but the way the nation giao dịch with this idea of a “feminine” or “masculine” language is of particular interest. As Sreetharan (2004) puts it:

(…) both Japanese women và men easily và quickly articulate ideas and images of what is masculine & what is not. This is interesting because, in their articulations of linguistic styles và gender, Japanese people reflexively position themselves & others within or outside the traditional gender structure of Japan by referencing stereotypical male và female language styles (2004: 82).

This “traditional gender structure” Sreetharan speaks of, is especially noticeable in the Japanese “women’s language”. As Japanese nationalism grew stronger in the first half of the 20th century, the traditional speech style of Japanese women also became growingly important in society. As one prominent linguist wrote during WWII:

It is now being noted that the way of Japanese women is beautiful and superb, standing out from the ways of women throughout the world. Related to the way of Japanese women, Japanese women’s language also seems to be a rare phenomenon in the world (Yukawa và Saito lớn 2004: 24).

Scholars in National Language Studies (kokugogaku) assume that Japan has a distinct women’s language, & that all Japanese women speak it, or should speak it (Yukawa và Saito 2004: 24). Through time, Japanese women’s language has been turned inlớn a national symbol (Inoue 2002: 393).

What actually is this “women’s language” we speak of in the Japanese case? Firstly it is important to note that it is not entirely clear where the “women’s language” came from. Was it that women actually spoke a kind of language that later was identified as their language, or was it that some use of language was considered “feminine” & thus said to be “women’s language”? In her article, Inoue (2002) explores this question. Although scholars of kokugogaku date the origin of women’s language back to the fourth century, Inoue tries to show that particular types of speech were selected and constructed as women’s language in the light of Japanese growing nationalism and modernization in the late 19th và early 20th century (Inoue 393-395). The main characteristic of this type of language is that it is deferential; the proper honorific speech is used. Furthermore, females are expected to use a high pitched voice to represent a feminine image (Ohara 2001). In addition, certain final particles (like wa) are considered especially female, since they indicate softness. Inoue indicates that various particles were originally gender-neutral, which further exemplifies the idea that “women’s language” was created rather than being a natural order.

Cho Beriba! – Kogal & Her Language

It has been since the middle of the 1990s that a new trkết thúc in Japanese women’s language emerged. This new type of slang was used by girls that were labeled “kogals”. The last part derives from the English ‘girl’, transliterated as gyaru or garu, usually rendered in English as “gal”. It is disputed where the prefix ‘ko’ comes from. It could come from the English ‘cool’ or ‘colored’, but most probably it refers to the Japanese ‘ko’ as in ‘high school’ (koukou) (Miller 2004: 228).

“Kogal” commonly refers to high school girls who buy branded goods and often hang out in Shibuya, one of the most famous downtown areas of Tokyo (Tanabe 2005: 1). This type of high school girl was the center of attention during the 1990s. Apartfrom similar consumption patterns, the girls also nội dung a similar appearance: they bleach their hair, wear “loose socks” & put on a distinct type of make-up, as the image below demonstrates.


The kogal has two key characteristics. Firstly, her look is transnational. Her style is eclectic; it is a blend of, amongst others, Caribbean themes, black culture and L.A. beach style; the kogal is culturally hyrid. According to Miller (2004), we could see this ‘globalist’ style as a disturbance of mainstream notions of national identity; it represents a statement that Japan is not as pure và homogenous as it supposedly is (229). Secondly, technology plays an important role in the life of a kogal. The prominent use of cell phones và cyberspace is the most common practice aước ao the girls (Tanabe 2005: 1). These characteristics have sầu both contributed to the distinct style of kogals’ language, that mixes up styles and is partly formed in cyber-space.

Making it up

Kogals’ speech is full of special words và expressions. As Kazuko Tanabe (2005) says, most of these irregular expressions sound Japanese but are unintelligible to the average Japanese person (2); the jargon is created by the gals themselves. Here I will elaborate on the specific types of jargon created by the kogal.

1. Emphatic prefixes. The frequent use of emphatic prefixes và other intensifiers is a characteristic feature of the kogals’ speech. Examples are the liberal use of majicho, or meccha, meaning ‘really’. A well-known expression is cho-beri-ba, a mixture of Japanese & English meaning ‘very bad’. The other variation to this is cho-beri-gu, meaning ‘very good’. (Miller 2004: 232; Tanabe 2005: 2).

2. Lexical truncation or clipping. Both initial as bachồng syllables are often clipped in kogal speech. Kimođưa ra warui (‘bad feeling’) is shortened into kimoiuzattai (‘noisy’) clipped to uzaimuzukashii (‘difficult’) turns into muzui (Kazutaka 2006: 100)

3. Compounding. Kogal speech is also known for combining and blending words together, both Japanese words and Japanese and English words. An example of mixing Japanese words is shibutaku, which came from an outlet selling public lottery tickets (takarakuji) in Shibuya (2004: 233). The ubiquitous convenience store ‘Am.pm’ was mixed into anpan by kogals (2006: 100). A well-known example of how Japanese and English are mixed is the word ikemen; iketeru (‘cool’) combined with the English ‘men’, meaning ‘a cool dude’ (2005: 2).

4. Affixation. New words are also created by attaching the verb-class suffix ru to words. Makuru is a word made up of English and Japanese, meaning ‘to go to a McDonald’s’. Another size of affixation is adding ‘a’ to a word; this derived from the English ‘-er’ (as in master or learner) that is pronounced as ‘a’ by Japanese. In this way, there is naruraa to refer to the fans of the singer Namie Amuro; kurabaa (‘club-goer’) or furitaa (‘free-lancer’) (2005: 2; 2004: 234).

6. Ra-deletion. The process of ra-deletion, or ra-nuki, is common among muốn kogals. The avoidance of certain infixes is an example of kogals’ structural changes to Japanese (2004: 234, 235). The potential size of ‘to eat’, taberareru, then becomes tabereru.

Sharpening it up

Apart from bringing in specific jargon or made-up words, kogals’ speech also has another distinct character; the kogal, as other new female identities, “challenge prescriptive norms of gendered talk” (Gagné 2007: 132). These norms of gendered talks are longstanding và deeply rooted in Japanese speech. In their own way, kogals break this “tradition” and sharpen up their language by creating new forms of expressions & acquiring a “masculine” form of speaking. Using the masculine first-khung pronoun boku is a clear example of this khung of speech, as is using the gender-neutral atashi instead of the more polite watashi (2007: 132).

Kogals’ speech is also linked to some type of vulgar language, as they clayên ổn some taboo words as their own (Miller 2004: 236), as ‘female masturbation’ or ‘my own fetish’ (teman and mii feichi). They bởi vì not only openly disregard traditional female forms & speak out taboos; they quite openly express their sexuality. In the magazine dedicated to gal subculture, Egg, an article appeared on “how to have sex in a kimono” (Japanorama 2007). Along with this, they flout honorific forms of Japanese speech (Eckert & McConnel-Ginet 2003: 330).

To the Gal & Beyond

We have sầu now demonstrated some examples of the quality style of kogals’ speech. In order to explore the place and meaning of the kogal và her language in present-day society, we have to ask ourselves what has happened to the kogal & her speech style, and where it goes from here.

In the 1990s and 2000s youth cultures have continued to spring up, & then disappearing just as quickly. What started as “gal” culture, went from “kogals” via “ganguro” (black-faced girls) to “yamanba” (an even more extreme form) (Japanorama 2007). The ganguro và yamancha st& even more apart from the crowd through their radically different skintones. The truyền thông has put a spotlight and a magnifier on the gal-subculture. TV shows have been going to Shibuya to go ‘kogal-spotting’, & have sầu overly exposed all aspects of gal culture.

Positioning kogals’ speech

Kogals have invented new jargon, have sầu mixed up words, have avoided honorific use of language & have developed a tendency touse ‘vulgar’ or taboo terms. What does it matter?

In fact, it matters a lot. Kogals & other gal-subcultures have sầu, in their own way, affected the discourse of “women’s language” in Japan. We have previously mentioned how Shigeko and Shibamoto lớn (2004) say that Japanese people reflexively position themselves and others within or outside the traditional gender structure of Japan by using stereotypical male và female language styles. In this way, the kogal has clearly placed herself outside the traditional gender structure by using new words & acquiring a speech that was not considered feminine, and thus not considered to be part of Japanese “women’s speech”. There has been a great giảm giá khuyến mãi of worry about this kind of speech in both the truyền thông media as in the (Japanese) academic world. Kazutaka’s article (2006) uses the word midare (‘disarray’, ‘disturbance’) to address this issue. However, the author says, we need not “worry” about this type of “disturbance”, since it is a natural thing and many regard change in language as inevitable (2006: 105). Although I agree that change in language use is unavoidable, I bởi not believe this is a “natural” thing; resistance to existing gendered language forms does not come accidentally or naturally; it is a conscious process.

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The women’s liberation movement in the 1970s started off women’s resistance to gender norms in language in the 20thcentury. The women’s movement started to recognize và act against the oppressive force of language that, as Inoue (2002) indicates, was in fact constructed in the light of growing nationalism. These women started to challenge traditional gender ideologies, & called themselves uuman ribu (from the English “women’s lib”) (Yukawa & Saikhổng lồ 2004: 25). What is important to note here, is that these women were very aware of the fact that they were represented in a derogatory manner, & that, as Yukawa & Sailớn mention: “(…) feminine speech style forced them to speak as respectful subordinates & prevented them from forcefully asserting themselves as the equals of men” (2004: 25). What started with the uuman ribu evolved and eventually helped the kogal build further on this idea of self-assertation. The language she used helped creating a new identity.

The identity of the kogal was both condemned and applauded by truyền thông. Whilst some media would trace down kogals sitting on the streets & express disapproval of their life-style<1>, other truyền thông would latch on to terms commonly used in kogals’ speech. Many television programs, for example, started using the term cho beriba (Miller 2004: 238). Another kogal aspect that caught the eye of the truyền thông was the exploration of their sexual identities. The idea that some kogals offered sexual favours to elderly men in return for money (commonly referred to as enjo kosai, ‘subsidized companionship’) both fascinated and irritated the truyền thông and the Japanese people. What started with a group of girls hanging out in Shibuya district, ended in complete truyền thông frenzy.

In positioning the kogal và her speech in the broader perspective sầu of “women’s language” it is key to understand that the kogal is a screw in a wider construction. The kogal has contributed to the process of making a new construction of “women’s language”. Although many truyền thông suggest it all started with the kogal, it actually did not. In addressing the objectification of kogals’ speech, Miller (2004) remarks how truyền thông ignore at least four decades of construction and domestication of language that preceded the kogal. The kogal is not the beginning, nor is she the end.

From Gal to Lady

As old subcultures slowly die out, new ones come up. As the media lavished on the kogal, she slowly disappeared from the sceneas her identity no longer belonged to her own “community”, but was taken by the whole nation to be objectified and made inkhổng lồ whatever the people wanted. The “kogal” now is mainly sexualized; a short search on Google shows that the term “kogal” now is mostly linked to erotic entertainment or vulgar images and words.

An article by the Yomiuru newspaper in 2007 named “The original kogals who have sầu left Tokyo” (Tokyou kara ijuu no gen-kogyaru) explains how former kogals (gen-kogyaru: ‘original kogal’) now have sầu grown up to be young mothers who want something more from life than hanging around Shibuya. The article features an original kogal who has moved to a village and works in the ricefield every day.

The power of kogals’ speech was that they created a “unified speech community” (Gagné 2007: 134) that created their own community. Now that their speech is spread throughout the nation, và now that the former “gal” has grown into a lady, this specific kogals’ speech is slowly vanishing.

Vanishing, in this sense, however, does not mean extinguishment. Kogals’ speech has contributed to the discourse of “women’s language” and to a different construction in the speech style of modern Japanese women. In a small way, the kogals may contribute to the way Japan “thinks” gender. Furthermore, she has disturbed mainstream notions of national identity, và has stated that Japan and Japanese “women’s language” are in no way homogenous, but multifaceted.

Growing from gal into lady, the kogal has revolutionized her own gendered consciousness, & has, in this way, found her place in the discourse of Japanese “women’s language”, which is, after all, a work in progress.


My frikết thúc Miya has turned 25, và is now wearing a neat office skirt và wears natural make-up, as she started working behind an information desk at a big company. She does not continuously use her old language anymore, although a shimmering of the kogals’ speech will shine through when we go out drinking beer. She, along with a lot of other former kogals, has grown inkhổng lồ a self-assertive lady. Although the former kogal might not use the exact same speech as she did ten years ago, something is different from before: she has become conscious of the language she speaks, và what this implicates for her role in society.

The kogal has gone beyond the traditional ways of women’s speech, và has created her own language. In a way, this is a Catch 22, since her non-traditional language has now, through the media’s frenzy, indeed become a part of Japanese “women’s language”: most modern evaluations of Japanese women’s language dedicate a part of their work on the language of young Japanese girls. Nevertheless, it is all right for the kogals’ speech to get her part in the historical discourse of women’s speech. If nothing else, it at least shows that the history of “women’s language” is in no way singular.

“Women’s language” knows many histories, và the kogal, in her way, has written her own colorful chapter in the discourse of Japanese women’s speech. Which is definitely cho-beri-gu.


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