Suwako Watanabe

Date of Award

Fall 12-16-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Japanese


World Languages and Literatures

Physical Description

1 online resource (vii, 146 pages)


Japanese language -- Usage, Interpersonal communication, Speech and social status




This study examines style shift between formal and informal styles in first- encounter conversations between Japanese native speakers and demonstrates how the speakers shifted the speech style in the context. Many researchers have studied this type of style shift and demonstrated that style shifts occur within a single speech context where social factors, such as differences in age, status, and formalness remain constant (e.g., Cook, 2008; Geyer, 2008; Ikuta, 1983; Maynard, 1991; Okamoto, 1999). This study contributed support to these previous studies. In this study, both quantitative and qualitative analyses focusing on Japanese native speakers' use of style shifting in first-encounter conversations were conducted.

The data came from four dyadic first-encounter conversations between Japanese female speakers. The conversations were audio-recorded in a room where the researcher was not present. After recording the four conversations, the researcher conducted follow-up interviews in person or by phone in order to check the validity of my analysis collected for this study.

Overall, all the speakers shifted between formal and informal styles at least ten times, indicating that they did not speak exclusively in one style or the other in the current data. The frequency of style shifts varied depending on the speakers, but in each conversation, the older partners of the pairs shifted their speech style more frequently than the younger partners of the pairs.

Furthermore, this study found six factors that accounted for style shifts between the formal and informal. When (1) introducing a new topic and (2) closing a topic, speakers shifted from informal to formal style. This signaled the opening of a new topic directly to the addressee. On the other hand, they shifted from formal style to informal style when (1) expressing feelings, (2) using self-directed utterances, (3) asking questions for confirmation or inference, and (4) adjusting to the context (formality and/or deference). The follow-up interviews revealed that the factors referred to as (1) expression of feelings, (2) self-directed utterances, and (3) questions for confirmation or inference were used by some speakers unconsciously. The self- directed utterances of factor (2) were divided into three types: soliloquy-like remarks, asking oneself a question, and recalling something. Factor (4) adjusting to the context (formality and/or deference), formal style was used to show politeness toward the addressee, and informal style was used to show friendliness, casualness, or empathy. Friendliness, casualness, or empathy was conveyed by use of informal style when the speakers' utterances brought laughter to the context and/or when the speakers showed empathy for the addressee.

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