A cultural-linguistic look at Japanese ‘eye’ expressions

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The present study examines Japanese expressions related to the human eye, specifically the eye’s behavior as well as its various appearances. Among the meanings of these expressions, one finds an emphasis on judgment – of the object viewed or of the viewer’s emotional reaction or basic personality. The eye also forms the basis for an image schema motivating metaphoric uses of ‘eye’ to describe non-bodily matter. The schema of Japanese social hierarchy, which underlies a wealth of pragmatic variation in utterance forms (and has consequences for behavior), is based on a verticality metaphor that classifies people as ‘person/s above/below [the] eye’. Thus, expressions regarding eye contact between interlocutors reveal important details about the nature of their social interaction. Gender norms are also reflected in certain ‘eye’-related expressions. The findings of this study further our understanding of embodiment in language and culture in general as well as in Japanese in particular.


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