Changes In Womens Language In Japan Cultural Studies Essay

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Almost everyone encounters the same problem when they first study Japanese, the wrong usage of gendered language. Different from Spanish which is "grammatically gendered", Japanese gendered language refers to gender roles. Therefore, a man using feminine language will not be considered as having any grammatical error but might sound effeminate or even homosexual. It is always important to be careful of the usage of gendered speech to avoid being told shitsurei (rude). Unless you want to make a total fool of yourself, simply ignore it to a certain extent you will end up sounding like a different gender and turn your face red with embarrassment.

It is said that gendered speech is the symbol of inequality of males and females in Japanese society. Even though social status of women in Japan is getting higher when comparing to the past, gendered language still exists however in a different way. Nowadays, the new female generation is shifting from the traditional feminine speech to one that employs inconsistent female speech. They even employ masculine form when speaking; this phenomenon indicates that the mix use of gendered speech is not a taboo in Japan anymore. Different females employ different form of women's language for various reasons depends on what kind of image they wish to present.

Literature review

Hasegawa(2006) suggests that the main differences between Joseigo (women's language) and danseigo (men's language) are differentiated morpho-syntactically which normally occur in sentence-final particles, first- and second- person pronouns, interjections, exclamatory particles ,beautiful prefixes or vowel coalescence in pronunciation. For example, women are expected to use sentence-enders like "wa" to sound feminine whereas men add "zo" or "ze" in order to be considered masculine. Say the word samui (cold), a girl may say "samui wa", yet a boy would say "samui zo". When Japanese come to use pronouns to address themselves, women typically use watashi or atashi (most polite) whereas men use boku or ore. Moreover, in order to give a softened feminine touch, girls normally use the particle "no" or "kashira" to end a sentence. Another typical example would be Gomenasobasai (a term used for apology). This word is extremely feminine and not something a man is supposed to say.

The linguistic differences make Japanese female sound politer, softer and submissive. Some linguists carry contrary opinions on women using feminine languages. McGloin (1993) suggests that the feminine sentence-enders would act as a function of maintaining harmony. Ide (1990) however, doubts that the use of feminine sentence-final particles might actually impose a negative speaking strategy as it mollify the force of a statement and therefore a conversation might become less persuadable.

Okamoto (1997) demonstrates that female particularly the young generations would tend to use more neutral words and even masculine forms in their daily conversation. This proves that the traditional feminine speech forms are not commonly used in the Japanese society nowadays. Endo (2006) similarly indicates that the old traditional language no longer manacles young females; young population have started to find their own way of expressing themselves.

Regarding the linguistic change of Japanese gendered language, Manga plays a very important role of it. Aizawa (2003) and Ueno (2006) suggest that the young girl characters in shojo manga (girls' comics) tend to use less and less feminine language, this phenomenon is very similar to real life that the usage of joseigo is fading out. They both agree that shojo manga have made a big contribution to the disappearing of feminine language in Japan.

In Japanese traditional culture, it is important for a woman to consider akotobabijin (language beauty). Shimoda jiro (1872-1938), who made a huge contribution to women's education, says

"Women should display feminity in speech and demeanor. They should be gentle and modest…."

Therefore, some people particularly older men criticize the phenomenon of women not using appropriate gendered language nowadays as they think it will eventually erode the Japaneseness. They think the young generation should be taught at school on speaking appropriate feminine speech and the traditional Japanese women language deserves upbringing and to be preserved in order to get hold of the unique Japanese culture.(Haiilary 2001)

In this paper, I will find out the forms of speech that are commonly used by the young generations according to my research on the shojo manga (young girl's comic) and the women's magazines. I will examine these speech patterns by categorizing them into 3 Ks (Kereii, kawaii and kakoii) and a discussion of how to approach these 3 Ks will be taken next. The next session focuses on the question of how does the shojo manga contribute to the change to the female's linguistic patterns. The phenomenon of female singers use vulgar form of pronoun in their songs will be analysed next. I will also conduct interview with 4 young Japanese females in order to find out how the new generation employs different forms of gendered speech depends on situation. Instead of giving up the stereotyped speech, the reason of why it is still worthwhile to be preserved is investigated after. Lastly, a discussion of whether gendered language will be gradually faded out or even disappeared in the Japanese society would be taken up.

Forms of women's speech patterns found amongst young population

I investigate the recent Japanese shojo manga (girl's comic) and women's magazine and observe how young ladies speak in their daily conservation in order to have more thorough understanding of the gendered speech pattern in Japan nowadays. Regarding to (Endo 2006), the traditional ideal Japanese women focus on discipline, virtues, conduct, and appropriate usage of linguistic forms. The "appropriate linguistic" here means the orthodox of the Japanese feminine speech. However, according to my research, the orthodox form in the manga and magazines is not appear as often as before anymore. I found that the common forms that appears in these areas can be divided into 3 groups and I define these groups as 3 Ks which are kirei, kawaii and kakkoi, this is not uncommon to see the Japanese women's magazines like Zipper and Vivi try to teach young women how to wear make up and dress up in order to fit in one of the 3 Ks.

KIREI (beautiful)

This is what the Japanese so called "bijin".(beauty)

This style of speech refers to the traditional feminine speech, which emphasizes on the beauty and femineity of Japanese women. The origin to this speech can be traced back to the late Meiji period, in order to achieve the ideology of ryoosai kembo shugi (good wife and wise mother), which is based on the idea of Confucian, the then government strongly encouraged females to use more feminine speech for the purpose of modernizing Japan. The objective of this is to reinforce the concept of dan-son, jo-hi (men superior, women inferior) (Endo 2006) and eventually push ahead the development of Japanese women's language in Japan.

In order to be qualified as onnarashisa (Japanese womanliness), women are supposed to speak more politely and indirectly than men. They talk in a high-pitch voice and employ these styles of speech to allow women to sound more elegant and mature.

This traditional form of speech in the Japanese society is unreplaceable as there is a saying that onna no miryoku wa hanashi-katashidai (women's attractiveness depends on how they speak), Japanese believe that women who utilize the feminine style of speech will definitely become prettier as the style beautify words in their daily life by simply adding prefixes like "go" or "o" to some words. Examples are goshujin (husband), okane (money) and ohashi (chopsticks). Putting all these prefixes to words will give the impression of being well educated.

KAWAII (cute)

This group refers to women who dress up in girlish styles and use the linguistic form of burikko (pretend child).

Instead of using the traditional Japanese feminine language, young population are now switching to wakai mono no kotoba (young people's speech) or even using a new form of speech called burikko in order to keep the balance between masculine and feminine. The meaning of this word means "to pretend child", this is a term to describe adult women who "feign naiveté" and regard themselves as excessively cute. This term is originally created by Matsuda Seiko - a famous Japanese celebrity continuously appear on TV shows by wearing child-like clothes aiming to attract men viewers.

It is common to see young Japanese women acting like a child or even an infant and saying "iya"(no) in daily life. Japanese men tend to think if women use falsetto, nasal voice or even talk like a baby would be extremely cute and attractive. Puerility and youthfulness are strongly desirable characteristics of women in Japanese culture and hence, young females are often seen utilizing burikko speech as it helps them to appear younger and more attractive.

KAKOII (cool)

A lot of young Japanese females defy the stereotype gendered language as it implies the inferiority of a woman to a man. They not only avoid using the traditional feminine language but also employ the manlike style speech when they talk. They believe that this form of speech can help them to show their strength and thus make them able to fairly compete with other boys.

A typical example of it is addressing others by using omae (vulgar form of you).

Instead of using the excessive girlish pronoun "atashi", young women prefer to use manly ones like "ore" or "boku", they also tend to use more command form like "wakare" (understand) instead of "wakaru". This style of speech would act as a function of expressing strong emotions and hence desensitizing oneself to make one appear strong.

Girls use it when they want to sound powerful and predominate over a conversation especially with boys and to avoid being told submissiveness to males. Some girls like to stick to this style of speech as it is seen to be "wakamono kotoba" (young people's word) and appearing to be ultra modern to their peers.

Young females who use this form of speech are said to be "kakoii" (cool) especially at school as they would sound outspoken, rebellious and crude. This behaviour is "kakoii" simply because the users would appear to be doing something that a normal girl would not dare to do. Some new generation even see that kind of "vulgar" communication as a modern icon since only conforming to the traditional language pattern would be too outmoded.

Reasons contributing to the change of the speech form


According to the Japanese Agency for Culture Affairs 2010, shojo manga is one of the crucial factors that contribute to the influence of young people's speech, Mizayaki (2004) indicates that a lot of Japanese high school girls start using ore/ boku to address themselves,

She at the same time agrees that the reason of speech change is attributed to shojo manga.

NANA is the highest selling manga in 2008 in Japan. The story was written by Ai Zawa and has also been produced as drama later in 2009. The fourth best selling shōjo manga worldwide tells the story of two girls with the same name Nana. They however have extremely different personalities and their linguistic patterns are completely different as well. The two girls are typical examples represent the different speech pattern of current young Japanese females in contemporary time. Nana Komatsu in the manga is considered as a clear example of the KIREII group ideal Japanese women, which I mentioned in the last section. The long hair Komatsu NaNa is soft, polite good at housework. She goes all the way to Tokyo from her hometown just to follow her boyfriend, she wishes to get marry with him and dreams of becoming a perfect housewife. Whereas Nana Osaki is the lead vocalist of her band who is considered to be a very tough girl, she is a heavy smoker with short hair, always dressed up in so called "punk" style. Different from NaNa Komatsu, her image is rough, outspoken and rebellious which could be referred to the KAKOII type of Japanese ideal women.

The following is one of the dialogs in the manga (vol2, p.67)

Nana Komatsu:

kohan taberu no?

Do you want to have dinner?

Nana Osaki:

mou 10 ji dazo?

It's already 10 pm right?

shigoto no uchiawase ga tara kutte kita

there was a staff meeting for work so I have already eaten

Nana Osaki employs masculine form of sentence-final particles like dazo and the verb "kuu" is a very rough way of saying "to eat", whereas Nana Osaki uses feminine form like "no" when speaking. The above dialog is just one of the example, same speech forms utilise by the two characters can bee seen all over the manga.

According to Katherine (2001) the phenomenon of utilizing mixed gendered speech by Japanese females indicates that there is a desire for them to reject the traditional gendered roles, they are aiming to redefine their gender identity in the society and to create an image of new Japanese modern woman.

Pop music

There are also countless examples of popular female singers use masculine linguistic form in their songs these years. This is not surprise to see boku (vulgar form of pronoun) has been commonly used in their lyrics.

The following are examples of songs utilizing boku in the lyrics

Days by Hamasaki Ayumi


The nonchalantly speech from you


Each one of these words


to me are all


a very precious treasure

Glamorous sky by Nakashima Mika


the full moon disappears at random


They answer me, in my own voice


I want to illuminate your future, so I wipe away the clouds for you

僕らが生きる ¼­¼¹¼¡¼³¼©¼¡ by モーニング娘


At this time after waiting for ten thousand years

æ„›ã-合おうよMY ASIA

My Asia, let us love

僕(boku)らが生きるMY ASIA

My Asia, where we live

All these examples indicate that female songs are no longer linguistically restricted by traditionally encouraged gender norms. The lyrics of the pop songs usually reflect the then social identity and speech patterns, most of them are aimed at teenagers shows more of how young generations are speaking. Morning Musume is a very popular Japanese girl's group, Hamasaki and Nakashima are also the popular singers in recent years in Japan as well .Their lyrics would definitely affect to the use of pronoun for young generation as they are seen to be the role model of high school students.

Interview on young Japanese girls' language use

I conducted an interview with 4 young Japanese girls studying English in Perth between the ages of 19 to 26. Etsuko and Ayako are both High School students from Tokyo, they both live with their parents in Japan. Satoe is a fresh university graduate and was working in a department store in Osaka as her part time job. 26 year old Mariko was a travel consultant in a famous travel agency in Osaka. All these girls agree that the level of Japanese gendered language they determine to use mostly depends on how they want to stress their femininity and how they wish to project their image.

Etsuko admitted that she is one of the practitioners of burriko speech form.

"I use traditional women's language when I am sort of asking for a favor from someone. I too often use ladylike speech to attract boyfriends, this is the so called "burriko", this kind of speech allows us to be conidered as innocent and kawaii in order to appeal to male peers, it is undoubtfully an effective way to catch the attention of a boy a girl is falling for in Japan. The usage of it is a good way to mask oneself."

Ayako thinks almost all Japanese girls know how to 'alter' their speaking style depending on the situation.

"When we are at school, we tend to use more manly speech style as the traditional language is too old-fashion, peer pressure is another reason for us to use the masculine language as other peers are using this form and you don't want to be left behind."

Ayako adds,

"I always switch back to "normal" (traditional form) when I go back home as I know my father wouldn't want to hear me calling myself "ore"'.

Satoe also determines the form of speech depending on situation,

"I try to keep a correct balance between masculine and feminine form of speech when I was a university student. when it comes down to talk to my boyfriend, I would try to make my speech sound more girlish, as I think most of the boys like their girlfriends to talk in a 'kawaii' style."

Mariko thinks it is a woman's responsibility to use a correct linguistic form in Japan.

"I know that I need to use the conservative speaking style when i start working in a kaisha (company)simply because it makes me sound more mature and older. This is just common sense for females to utilize appropriate gendered language in working environment or you will be told shitsureii (rude). I also employ this style of speech when I want to keep a distance with someone who I consider as stranger. As girls in Japan, we are all well trained."

Maintaining traditional gendered language in Japan

Is the traditional feminine speech worthwhile to be preserved? Or would it be gradually faded out time after time? Even though traditional gendered language might refer to the restraint of social obligation, Japanese still realise the importance of the usage of it. The same question was asked to the four young interviewees, none of them think it should be completely defied. They all agree that the traditional speech is unreplaceable and this is the only form of speech can be used when speaking in formal situation like festivals or ceremonies.

Endo (2006) also aware of the importance of preserving tradtional form. After the rapid modernization and westernization of the Meiji era, Japaneseness was gradually disappearing. Thus, instead of only accepting elements from the "outside", people started looking for traditional culture which is unique from the western for them to hold on to. The fade out of feminine language could represent the loss of "Japaneseness" as the style of it represents the beauty and femininity of Japanese women which is strongly related to the traditional culture. Therefore, people realize the importance of maintaining the specific notions of onnarashisa (Japanese womanliness) that is known as "uniquely Japanese".

Hillary (2002) indicates that particularly older men insist to preserve the Japanese women's language and they criticize the education system for the upbringing of female of not using appropriate feminine speech these days. They even said the phenomenon of neutralization of the Japanese language and the masculine statement used by women is unacceptable as it threatens the traditional image of the Japanese women of dan-san, jo-hi (men superior, women inferior).


I personally think Japanese gendered speech will not disappear in the future as it represents the distinctness of "Japaneseness". Allowing it to change may eventually contributed to the loss of the valuable traditional Japanese culture. However, the new form of women speech might that I mentioned in this project might continually transformed in some other different ways according to the changes of the new generations and corresponding to the social norms.

By utilizing various new form of women's speech, Japanese can naturally camouflage themselves in order to keep distance from or approach to the others. Japanese women have seen it as their "privilege" which males do not have.

The shift of traditional women's linguistic to one that employs inconsistent female speech proves that Young women are no longer chained by the tradition social obligation; they are using it as a mean to redefine their identities in the society. The phenomenon of the mixed gendered speech pattern might actually represent a new revolution of women in Japan. Only women who can flexibly utilize different form of female speech could accomplish the image of new ideal Japanese women.