Script choice and indexicality in Japanese manga

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This study investigates the use of script as an index within written Japanese. More specifically, it attempts to identify and explain how script is used to index meaning throughout three series of Japanese manga comprising 22 total volumes. Building on a large body of research into how script contributes to the meaning of Japanese writing, the study analyzes script selection in a context-sensitive manner to explore its potential as a socially meaningful act. The dialogue in the three manga make up the primary data source of this study. Each lexeme was coded based on whether it was written in the kanji, hiragana, or katakana script, and the resultant corpora were used to establish each author’s individual preferences for script use in their manga. The study then examined the contexts where locally nonstandard selections of script occurred, and contrasted them with the contexts where other variants were selected, or the manga’s standards were maintained. Repeated use of a variant within a particular context was examined as a possible use of script to index something about a character or their self-presentation in a particular scene. For two of the three manga series, analysis of the orthographic variation was complemented by a stimulated-recall interview with the manga’s author regarding uses of script within their works. The study found that the use of script as an index in Japanese writing is a far more complicated and intricate process than has been described to date. The creation of meaning through script often went beyond any single marked selection, and relied heavily on patterns of script use that ran throughout each manga. The effects intended by any script’s use were more targeted and interactive than has been previously recognized, as authors indexed specific differences between characters or character types through using contrasting conventions for script use to represent different social voices. Furthermore, the study uncovered multiple techniques that the authors used to adjust the meaning created by the marked use of a particular script, such as varying the extent of the script’s use, or combining lexical and orthographic variants to create effects that draw upon elements of each item’s indexical field. Ultimately, the results of this study found that script selection is an intricate and ever-present part of the creation of meaning in the analyzed texts. Rather than just a method of adding color to an individual word or sentence, script selection is shown to be a versatile channel through which authors are able to create multiple distinct effects, and index a number of defined social voices and registers. The findings have important implications for how we understand orthography as an avenue for indexing meaning within writing, and how we engage with and attempt to explain the indexical use of kanji, hiragana, and katakana in contemporary Japanese.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Monash University
  • Spence-Brown, Robyn, Supervisor, External person
  • Iwasaki, Shimako, Supervisor, External person
Award date14 Dec 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • linguistics
  • script
  • comics
  • indexicality
  • Japanese
  • manga


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