Understanding Japanese culture through a semantic analysis of kawaii 'cute', itai 'pitiful' and ita-kawaii 'pitifully trying to be cute'
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This paper examines three Japanese words kawaii 'cute', itai 'pitiful' and ita-kawaii 'pitifully trying to be cute'. Japanese women frequently say kawaii to show positive feelings towards objects or people. However, too much kawai is considered undesirable. A compound word, ita-kawaii, is used to describe women who dress or wear make-up in an overly kawaii way. Especially when older women try to loek kawaii, they are criticised as itai, or ita-kawaii. From a linguistic perspective, kawaii, itai, and ita-kawaii are not lexicalised in other languages. Although the kawaii phenomenon has been thoroughly discussed by many scholars, there has been no rigorous semantic analysis for the three words. In this study, the framework of the Natural Semantic Metalanguage approach was applied to explicate the exact meaning of kawaii, itai, and ita-kawaii. The corpus was information about the paraphernalia provided for Japanese women who are between school age and middle age. The analysis indicates that the meaning of ita and ita-kawaii is related to the social norm which criticises someone for being conceited. The kawaii and ita-kawaii syndrome reveals a Japanese cultural characteristic which enforces people not to be out of place in society.
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