Language in Society

Research Articles

“She thinks you’re kawaii”: Socializing affect, gender, and relationships in a Japanese preschool


a1 Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, Swarthmore College, 500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA 19081-1390,

a2 Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Hoshi University, 2-4-41 Ebara, Shinagawa, Tokyo 142-8501, Japan,


Kawaii, an adjective meaning ‘cute’, ‘adorable’, and ‘lovable’, is an important aspect of Japanese material culture and a key affect word used to describe things that are small, delicate, and immature. While “cuteness” has been widely discussed in relation to Japanese society and psychology and the globalization of Japanese culture, there has been little analysis of the word kawaii in interaction. This article explores the use of kawaii in interaction in a Japanese preschool. In particular, it analyzes ways teachers use multimodal resources, including talk, embodied actions, material objects, and participation frameworks, in making assessments of things in the social world and in “glossing” children’s actions as thoughts and feelings, and it examines children’s emerging use of kawaii with teachers and peers. The findings shed light on ways everyday communicative practices shape children’s understandings and use of language in relation to affect, gender, and relationships in preschool.

(Received August 28 2008)

(Reviewed July 22 2009)

(Accepted August 04 2009)

(Online publication August 07 2009)