In this article, Laura Miler analyses the evolution of girls’ writing culture in Japan and elucidates on its growth and contribution to the Japanese linguistics. She does this by examining a note scribbled by a young student in her Graffiti photo. Girl graphs, she says, has been heavily influenced by the internet culture and many of the new syllabic characters used by young Japanese girls, are borrowed from English, Roman and even Egyptian hieroglyphs. She observes how the growing usage of mobile phones has further fuelled the inherent interest in innovative script writing among Japanese school girls. The desire for secrecy and gender socialization, are seen as the primary motive behind the usage of girl graphs by adolescent girls, and to maintain this secrecy they have developed some interesting ways of orthography.
Miller compares the Japanese girl graph system to the English ‘Leet’, which is an alternate alphabet system mainly used in internet communications, such as emails and chats. But she adds that girl graphs have in its repertoire a more extensive substitution system compared to the Leet system. In Japan almost 95% of girls under the age of 20 possessed a mobile phone according to a survey in 2003, and girls put their natural interest in orthographic innovation to best use in sending text messages. Since the Japanese phones support the use of a wide range of characters and symbols, the girl graphs flourished and obtained many new styles of scripts and expressions thanks to the ‘thumb generation’. The easily moldable nature of the Japanese script elements was also a significant reason behind these new experimentations.
The main method used in girl graphs is to substitute normal Japanese letters, with symbols from a different graph set. For instance they use the symbol ‘=’ for the kana (a Japanese script style) symbol of ‘ko’ and x for ‘me’ etc. They substitute traditional Japanese symbols (Kana and kanji) by English alphabets, mathematical symbols, Chinese characters and even Greek and Cyrillic symbols. Girl graphs have different notations to denote voiced, non-voiced and partially voiced emotions. Since text messages send by teen age girls are abundant in emotions, special stress is given in creating symbols to depict different emotions. There are symbols not just for expressing emotions but also for indicating the extent of the emotions. The author gives an example for this concept by saying that the word ‘kirai’, which means hatred, can expressed in many different ways, to show how much the thing is being hated by the speaker.
Miller says that these girl graphs are not born just out of the need for secrecy, but it also captures the inherent rebellion among adolescent girls for the established rules. It shows their yearning to do something out of the ordinary, and deviate from the conventional rules of the writing system. This is their way of disregarding their traditional role of caretakers of the ‘correct’ system (in this case writing system). Japanese girls claim they use this script because it is cute and it reveals their perception about the world around them. They use girl graphs to uphold their group identity and in their own way of oppose the orderliness set by the male dominant print media.
Conclusively, Miller opines that the popularity of girl graphs have recorded a decline since 2009, and as with any forms of youth culture they have been substituted with more current and trendy past times. She states that girl graphs are the embodiment of how borrowed culture and globalism can influence the local culture, and leaves the reader’s to decide whether girl graph can be termed as language mutilation or creativity.
Miller, Laura. Language & Communication pg. 16-26. Subversive script and novel graphs in Japanese girls’ culture. 2011. Web. Accessed on July 1, 2013.