R. L. Starr

The Role of Voice Quality in Performing Stylized Femininities in Japanese


Abstract of paper to appear in Language in Society: “Sweet voice”, a distinctive Japanese vocal style, illustrates the role played by voice quality as a marker of authenticity in the construction of linguistic styles. The acoustic properties and socio-pragmatic functions of sweet voice, as performed by professional voice actresses, are analyzed using data from anime programs, paraphernalia, and fan discourse. Sweet voice is shown to be connected to a traditional notion of Japanese femininity, and licenses the positive use of grammatical features of Japanese Women’s Language. The mature, traditional image conveyed by sweet voice contrasts with the youthful cuteness of burikko and related vocal styles, illustrating that multiple notions of femininity operate within Japanese popular culture. The interplay of voice quality and grammatical features suggests that perceptions of conscious control at different levels of language play a crucial role in social meaning.