Usage Of Gendered Language In Japan Cultural Studies Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Almost everyone encountered the same problem when they first studied Japanese --- the wrong usage of gendered language. Different from Spanish which is "grammatically gendered", Japanese gendered language refers to gender role. Therefore, a man using feminine language will not be considered 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 embarassment.

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 femine 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 pronoun 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 use for apology). This word is extremely feminine and not something a man supposed to say.

The national language classes in Japanese schools educate students that the history of gendered language in Japan was developed 1500 years ago. Endo(2006) argues that it has only been started in the late 1800s. He digs out the actual commencing time of it by analysing the two Japanese literatures which are Ukiyoburo 1813 and Sanshiro 1909. Endo realises the different speech patterns were occurred only based on social classes but not sex distinction before 1887. According to Endo, the true starting time of feminine speech was actually between the peroid of Meiji Era.

The linguistic differences make Japanese female sound politer, softer and smissive. Some linguists carry contrary opinions on women using feminine languages. McGloin (1993) suggests that the feminine sentence-enders would act as a function of maintain 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 are 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 young female are no longer manacled by the old traditional language, they have started to find their own way of expressing themselves. Regarding to 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 the real life that the usage of joseigo is being faded out. They both agree that shojo manga make 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….These constitutes the qualities of fugen (female speech) and fugyoo two of the s hi gy oo four ways". Therefore, some people particularly older men criticize the phenomenon of women not using appropriated gendered language nowadays as they think it will eventually erode the Japaneseness. They think the young generation should be taufgt at school of speaking appropriare feminie speech and the traditional Japanese women language deserves upbringing and preserve in order to get hold to the unique Japanese culture.

Aizawa, Manami (2003). Shoujo manga ni miru onna kotoba. Meikai Nihongo, 8, 85-99.

Hasegawa, Yoko.2006. A Study of soliloquy in Japanese. Proceedings of the 31st Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society.

Ide, S. 1990. How and why do women speak more politely in Japanese? McGloin(Eds), Aspects of Japanese women's language (pp. 63-79). Tokyo: Kuroshio.

Okamoto, Shigeko. 1997. Social context, linguistic ideology, and indexical expressions in Japanese. Journal of Pragmatics 28:795-817

Ueno, Junko (2006). Shojo and adult women: a linguistic analysis of gender identity in manga (Japanese comics). Women and Language, 29(1), 16-25.


Regarding to the Edo Period (1603-1868) 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 definition of an ideal Japanese women's languaged has been changed and can be divided into three groups

Here I defined the group as kawaii, kirei and kakkoii


This is what the Japanese so called "bijin"

This style of speech emphasize on the beauty and femineity of Japanese women. The actual time of the original source still remains uncertain. It is said that the speech it was formed in the fourteen century based on nyoobo kotoba, (a code language created by the courtesans.)

During 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) and eventually push ahead the develpoment of japanese women's language in japan.

In order to be qualified as onnarashisa(Japanese womenliness), 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 Japanese society is unreplaceable as it is said that onna no miryoku wa hanashi-katashidai (women's attractiveness depends on how they speak), Japanese believe that women who utiliz the feminine style of speech will definitely become more 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 impression of well educated.


Women who dressing up in girlish style and use the form of burikko to speak

Instead of using the traditional Japanese women's language, young Japanese are now switching to wakai mono no kotoba (young people's speech) or even using a new form of speech called burikko inorder to keep the balance between masculine and feminine. The meaning of this word means "to pretend child", this is a term to describe adult woman who "feign naivete" and regards herself as excessively cute.

This term is originally created by Matsuda Seiko. The stardom continusly appealing on the tv show wearing child-like clothes aiming to attract men viewers

It is a common place to see young Japanese women acting like she is a child or even infant and saying"iya" in the daily life. Japnese 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 is a strongly desirable characteristics by women in Japanese culture and hence, it is often seen young females utilize burikko speech as it helps women appear younger and more attractive


A lot of young Japanese female defy the stererotype gendered language as it implies the inferiority of a woman to a man. They not only choose to exploit the use of traditional women 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 fairly compete with other boys

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

Intead 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 od wakaru. This style of speech would act as a function of expressing strong emotion and hence desensitizing oneselves 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 these stlye of speech as it is seen to be wakamono kotoba(young people's world) and appearing ultra moodern to their peers.

Young females who use this form of speaking style are said to be "kakoii" cool expecially at school as they sound outspoken, rebellious and crude. This behaviour is "kakoii" simply because the user are appearing like doing something that a normal girl would not dare to do

Some new generation even seen that kind of "vulgar" speech as a modern icon as only conforming the traditional language pattern wounld be too outmoded

I conduct interview with 4 young Japanese girls studying english in perth age between 19 to 23, they all agree that the level of Japanese gendered language they use are mostly depending on how they want to stress their femininity and how they wish to project their image

"I use traditional women's language when I sort of asking a favor from someone

Some girls are using ladylike speech to attract boyfriends, this is what we call burriko, they pretend to be innocent in order to appeal to their male peers, it is 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."

"Almost all japanese girls know how to "alter" their speaking style depends on situation, when we are at school, we tend to use more manly speech style as the traditional language is too old-fashion, peer presure is another reason for us to use the mascline language as other peers are uing it and you don't want to be left behind"

"I always switch back to "normal" when I go back home as I know my father wouldn't want to hear I call myself"ore",

"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 talk in a "kawaii" style"

"we also know that we need to use the conservative speaking style when we start working in a kaisha simply because it makes me sound more mature and older. I also employ this tyle of speech when I want to keep a distance with someone. As girls in japan ,we are all well trained"

The reason of why genered language remains in Japan

According to Endo (2006), after the rapid modernization and westernization of Meiji era, Japaneseness was graudually 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 indicates the beauty and femininity of Japanese women which is strongly related to the traditional culture. Therefore, people realize the importance of preserve the specific notions of onnarashisa (Japanese womanliness) that is known as "uniquely Japanese".

Hillary (2002) indicates that Particularly older men insist to preserve the jwl and they criticize the education system of upbringing female not using appropriate feminine speech these days. They even said the phenomenon of neutralization of 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)