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Difference Between Male and Female Japanese Speech (“How-to avoid sounding too girly or boyish in Japanese?”)

Difference Between Male and Female Japanese Speech (“How-to avoid sounding too girly or boyish in Japanese?”)

Preface: “How do I avoid sounding too girly/boyish when speaking Japanese?” is one of the most common questions we get; and to be completely honest, it is usually asked by learners of the Japanese language who are at a fairly beginner level. Our guess is that most people asking this question have started learning Japanese by somewhat unconventional means (e.g. befriending a native Japanese speaker and starting to learn from them as opposed to beginning from a textbook). In these cases, probably the best general response to this concern is:

Inadvertently sounding too masculine or feminine in Japanese isn’t a big deal at all, so there’s no need to fret over it.

One, because native Japanese speakers-and even non-native Japanese speakers will surely understand if you don’t have a mastery of gender-based speech when just starting out. You can stick to gender-neutral speech instead of having to worry about mastering female and male speech too when you already have so much vocabulary, grammar, kanji, etc. on your plate to learn.

Two, because a fully fleshed out answer to the question “How do I avoid sounding too girly/boyish when speaking Japanese?” involves referring to a lot of Japanese language topics, including some that are relatively intermediate level and thereby some that you might have trouble following if you’re still fairly new to the language.

Nonetheless, we are still indeed going to go into said fully fleshed out answer in this lesson below; and having said that, now is perhaps the best time to provide a list of prerequisite lessons before we begin.

Prerequisite(s):

Prerequisite(s):
*specifically for the examples incidentally provided below, not necessarily required to understand the key concepts of this lesson

 

In many languages across the world, there is a clear distinction between masculinity and femininity.

For example, the Spanish language assigns a “grammatical” gender to every single noun word, even nouns words that represent inanimate objects with no physical gender.

The Japanese language employs a difference based upon gender in a much lighter sense, in that male speakers and female speakers tend to speak in a slightly different way in certain points in their speech; but even if a male speaker chooses (inadvertently or not) to sound like-or come off as, a female speaker with more feminine speech (or vice-versa) their language will still be one-hundred percent grammatically correct.

In this sense, gender-based Japanese speech is quite stylistic, which is to say it only appears in casual Japanese speech. Due to this, beginner-level learners of the Japanese language are likely not to come across this topic if their curriculum is textbook-heavy, as textbooks use formal and written language, which is both considered the more standardized Japanese and essentially gender-neutral.

All in all, the differences between male and female speech in the Japanese language are not prominently observable until first, what is being observed is an actual conversation and not just textbook content; and two, the participants of said conversation have transitioned from polite speech to casual speech and have become comfortable enough with their addressees to convey their personality more by speaking in a more masculine or feminine manner.

We separate the differences between male and female Japanese speech into three categories, in order of most distinguishing of gender:

  1. Usage of Pronouns (First and Second Person)
  2. Sentence Enders (Particles)
  3. Select Vocabulary and Phrases

We also make a general distinction between male and female Japanese speech that these categories will follow:

  • Female-to-male speech can also be interpreted (perhaps more reliably so, in terms of a mnemonic device) as polite-to-rough speech. As unfair as it may seem, female speech in Japan is often associated with being more polite, reserved, and respectful, while male speech is considered more forward, rough, and crude.

 

#01. Usage of Pronouns (First and Second Person)

Female:

あたし (atashi) – First-person pronoun derived from the gender neutral 私 (watashi), considered more cute

*The use of one’s own name to address oneself (i.e. referring to oneself in the third person) is also considered more habitually done by female speakers, as it can come off as cute.

Male: 

僕 (boku) – The most commonly used first person for male speakers

俺 (ore) – Considered even more masculine than 僕 (boku) and more present in especially casual conversations amongst male friends as opposed to formal situations

*Female speakers may be heard using both male pronouns above for whatever reason.

Second Person Pronouns:

While first person pronouns are more indicative of one’s self identity, second person pronouns are more dependent on the addressee of the speaker and what relationship the speaker has with them. As such, second person pronouns can vary heavily even when focusing on the topic of gender. Refer to Second-Person Pronouns, or, Ways to Say “You” in Japanese (Post | Video) for more information.

 

#02. Sentence Enders (Particles)

Female:

Using わ (wa) in place of よ (yo) – Naturally has a softer sound. わよ (wayo) is also a possibility.

*One of the female points of speech representative of an older female generation and may become rare when transitioning from fictional Japanese media (anime, movies, drama, etc.) to real life conversation

*This should also not to be confused with the common Kansai dialect usage of わ (wa), which is not female-specific

Sentence-ending particle の (no) used for statements – While the sentence-ending particle の (no) is commonly used by both genders when asking questions, it is more habitually used by female speakers when making statements. のよ (noyo) is also a possibility.

Using かしら (kashira) in place of かな (kana) – Expresses more wonderment, more feminine

*One of the female points of speech representative of an older female generation and may become rare when transitioning from fictional Japanese media (anime, movies, drama, etc.) to real life conversation

Example(s):

これが本当かしら
Kore ga hontou kashira
“Could this be true?”

Male:

だ (da) – The copula with loads of grammatical context. When viewed specifically through the lens of female-male speech, だ (da) is considered to add masculinity to speech because it is emphatic and declarative. So, while in a lot of cases the presence of だ (da) is grammatically required, it can be construed as masculine when it is used in a case wherein it is optional (e.g. after a NOUN or な-Adjective word). Since だ (da) has such an integral grammatical function that transcends gender-based speech and thereby female speakers are naturally bound to use this effect as well, there are select cases wherein male speakers will use an emphatic and declarative だ (da) to avoid sounding too feminine (e.g. before the sentence-ending particles ね, な and よ).

Example(s):

素敵だね
Suteki da ne
“Isn’t It Wonderful?”
[masculine]

素敵ね
Suteki ne
“Isn’t It Wonderful?”
[feminine]

*Of course, let’s take note here that the Final Fantasy X video game ballad entitled 素敵だね does in fact exist and is quite probably written from the prospective of a female character to remind us this isn’t a one-hundred percent reliable indicator of gender. 

素晴らしいね
Subarashii ne
“Wonderful, huh?”
[gender neutral]
*Considered gender-neutral because it is grammatically incorrect to include the copula だ (da) after an い-Adjective at all, so there’s no way to deem this sentence as either more feminine or masculine. 

Changing the あい sounds into えぇ – Most commonly done for the Negative-ない Form of words and い-Adjectives, e.g. のまない (nomanai) into のまねぇ (nomanee) and たかい (takai) into たけぇ (takee) into “do not drink” and “tall” respectively (notice how the definition does not change whatsoever).

*May branch out to other adjective words with slightly different sound endings as well, e.g. すごい (sugoi) into すげぇ (sugee).

Adding い to the end of certain sentence-ending particles – Most apparently done with the sentence-ending particle for marking questions, か (ka), and the copula だ (da), to form かい and だい respectively. Meaning does not change. 

Example(s):

いいかい!
Ii kai!
“Listen, you!”

そうかい!
Sou kai!
“Is that so!”

一緒に行くかい?
Issho ni ikukai?
“Shall we go together?”

調子はどうだい?
Choushi wa doudai?
“How are you?”

Sentence-ending particles ぞ and ぜ – Considered very masculine, commonly used in imperative statements. While heavily used in fictional Japanese media (anime, movies, drama, etc.) to emphasize boyish and masculine characters, also considerably present in real life conversations.

*ぜ is considered to be used more by children as opposed to adults-and further, is said to have greatly dwindled in usage in real life conversation.

Example(s):

やっぱ あんた すげぇぜ。
Yappa anta sugee ze.
“You really are amazing.”

修業の成果だぜ!
Shuugyou no seika da ze!
“This is the fruits of my training!”

わくわくしてきたぞー!
Waku waku shite kita zo-!
“I’m getting more and more fired up!”

一緒に帰るぞー!
Issho ni kaeru zo-!
“Let’s head back together!”

Changing the sentence-ending particle ね to な – The affirmation seeking sentence-ending particle ね is changed to な, invoking a rougher sound. The multi-faceted ね here, while commonly considered to express seeking affirmation to your statement, changes more into affirming your own statement or desire as な. The same tone of kind of throwing a thought out into the air is still present.

Example(s):

いいな
Ii na
“That sure sounds nice (I’m envious)!”

旅行したいな
Ryokou shitai na
“I sure would love to go on a trip.”

 

#03. Select Vocabulary and Phrases

  • Beautifiers
  • Phrases
  • Words

Beautifiers:

Female speakers are considered to much more habitually use what are called word beautifiers (美化語), which entails adding the character お (o) or ご (go) before certain noun words in order to express a politeness.

Example(s):

  • お買い物 (‘okaimono/shopping’)
  • お花 (‘ohana/flower’)
  • お部屋 (‘oheya/room’)
  • お友達 (‘otomodachi/friends’)
  • お料理 (‘oryouri/cooking’)

*Note that you cannot simply do this for any given noun word, there are select ones in which this can apply. Also, you can not freely choose between using お (o) or ご (go); depending on the noun word being “beautified,” you must use the appropriate character.

*Also note again that this method is not completely restricted to female speakers. Male speakers may apply this method when in formal situations, it is just that female speakers are more inclined to even in everyday conversations.

 

Phrases:

Some phrases that exist purely in the realm of spoken Japanese (utterances similar to in the English language) are also considered gender-indicative.

Example(s):

あら – “Oh my” [feminine]

 

Words:

Perhaps as it is with any other language, some words in the Japanese language have multiple versions-or rather, synonyms that are considered either more polite or impolite. In line with the aforementioned construct of Japanese female speech being focused upon politeness, female speakers are much more inclined to use the polite synonyms of words.

*This may apply even when said female speakers are speaking amongst close friends and family.

Example(s):

  • “rice, food” – 飯 (‘meshi’) [masculine] | ご飯 (‘gohan’) [feminine]
  • “to eat” – 食う (‘kuu’) [masculine] | 食べる (‘taberu’) [feminine]
  • “stomach, belly” – 腹 (‘hara’) [masculine] | お腹 (‘onaka’) [feminine]
    *common in the expressions はらへった [masculine] and おなかすいた [common, feminine] to express “I’m hungry”
  • “butt, ass, hips” – けつ (‘ketsu’) [masculine] | お尻 (‘oshiri’) [feminine]

 

Example Sentence(s):

“I don’t want to eat sushi.”

僕寿司食たくねぇよ
Boku sushi kuitakuneeyo.
“I don’t want to eat sushi.”
[masculine]

あたしお寿司食べたくないわ
Atashi osushi tabetakunaiwa.
“I don’t want to eat sushi.”
[feminine]