And kanji with manga
Thursday, June 13, 2019

Female Language

In Japanese, "female language," or joseigo 女性語, refers to words and manner of speech predominantly used by women in Japan, that, consequently, would sound weird if used by men.

It's also called "women's language," and onna-kotoba 女言葉, "women's words."

Usage

The concept of "female language" is a cultural and historical one.

In the past, certain women spoke in a certain way, which influenced how the next generations of women spoke, until we got the mess we have today.

There's nothing special about the meaning of words in female language. Everything that can be said using feminine words can also be said in a non-feminine way.

It's merely a matter that, if a lot of women speak in a way and you speak like them, you sound like you speak like a woman. And if you're a woman, then you're fitting right in and that's great. If you're not a woman, however, you'll sound unusual.

Not all female language is strictly female. Some words are simply more commonly used by women than men. Some words are used by both genders, but in one specific way used more by women. There are words that were used more by women and then started being used by men afterwards.

In anime, the use of language is often stereotypical and exaggerated: male characters often speak in a very male way, and female characters often use a lot of female language. Notably, female language in more traditional forms is often used by certain types of characters.

For example, ojousama お嬢様, "rich girl," characters often use it conspicuously, probably to hint they received a different education based on traditional manners compared to the rest of the female cast.

As do their mothers, and other rich, refined ladies. Anachronistic characters, those always wearing traditional kimonos, specially geisha and so on, often use a set of female language from their era.

Examples

First Person Pronouns

Japanese has various first-person pronouns—"I," "me"—some of which are feminine and some of which are masculine.

Feminine pronouns, typically used only by women, include:

Some pronouns can be feminine in casual contexts, but neutral in formal contexts:

Others are masculine:

If a female character uses a masculine pronoun such the above, they're labelled an orekko オレっ娘 or bokukko ボクっ娘 depending on the pronoun.

Among second-person pronouns, this one is often used by women (not toward women, by women).

  • anata
    あなた
    You.
    • Can also be used by wives to refer to their "husband."
  • anta
    あんた
    (same meaning.)

てよだわ言葉

The term te-yo-da-wa kotoba てよだわ言葉 refers to the "words te, yo, da, wa," which are often used by women at the end of their sentences.

It originated in the Meiji period (1868–1912) and is said to be the source of most female language used in modern Japanese today.

  • ~te
    ~て
    (morpheme the end of the te-form of verbs.)
    • The te-form used as an imperative is gender-neutral, but used as a question is female language.
    • kaette
      帰って
      Go home. (neutral, imperative.)
    • dou nasatte?
      どうなさっ
      Did something happen? (female.)
    • dou nasaimashita ka?
      どうなさいましたか?
      (same meaning.)
    • dou ka shite?
      どうかし
      (same meaning.)
    • dou ka nasaimashita ka?
      どうかなさいましたか?
      (same meaning.)
  • yo

    (assertive particle.)
    • sou yo
      そう
      That's right!
  • da wa
    だわ
    (da だ copula plus wa わ sentence ending particle.)
    • muri yo
      無理よ
      [It] is impossible.
    • muri da wa
      無理だわ
      (same meaning.)
    • sou da wa
      そうだわ
      That's right.
      It's so.
    • sou desu wa
      そうですわ
      (same meaning.)

Note: you may have read somewhere that the wa わ sentence-ending particle is used exclusively by women. This isn't true. Men use wa わ, too, however, to express bewilderment instead.

At Sentence End

Some other sentence-ending particles also often used by women include:

  • kashira
    かしら
    I wonder. (sentence-ending particle.)
    • nani kashira?
      かしら
      What is it, I wonder?
    • nan-darou?
      何だろう?
      (same meaning.)
  • ~de
    ~で
    (e.g. naide ないで.)
    • akiramenaide
      諦めない
      Don't give up.
    • akiramenai de kudasai
      諦めないでください
      Please don't give up.
  • nasai
    なさい
    (creates imperatives. The usage is female when attached directly to nouns rather than to verbs.)
    • benkyou shi-nasai
      勉強しなさい
      Go study. (neutral.)
    • benkyou nasai
      勉強なさい
      Go study. (female.)
  • ne

    (neutral when after a copula, female otherwise.)
    • sou da ne
      そうだね
      That's right. (neutral.)
    • sou ne
      そう
      That's right. (female.)
    • kirei da ne
      綺麗だね
      It's pretty, isn't it? (neutral.)
    • kirei ne
      綺麗
      It's pretty, isn't it? (female.)
    • muri wa ne
      無理わね
      Yep, it's impossible.
    • muri wa yo ne
      無理わよね
      Yep, it's impossible.
  • no

    (nominalizer normally used to ask questions. In fiction it's used more by women. It's also used assertively to explain things.)
    • dou natteru no?
      どうなってる
      What's going on?
    • watashi wa kaeru no!
      私は帰る
      I'm going home! (bye!)
  • no yo
    のよ
    (nominalizer plus assertive particle.)
    • baka na no yo
      馬鹿なのよ
      [He] is an idiot.

There's a trio of words that are normally gender-neutral nominalizers, but that are used by women as sentence-ending particles instead.

  • koto
    こと

    (used in diverse ways.)
    • {kirei na} koto desu
      綺麗なことです
      It's a thing [that] {is pretty}. (neutral.)
      It's a pretty thing.
    • kirei desu koto
      綺麗ですこと
      It's pretty. (female.)
  • mono
    もの
    (only when used to explain why things are somehow, because.)
    • {kirei na} mono desu
      綺麗なものです
      It's a thing [that] {is pretty}. (neutral.)
    • kirei da mono 綺麗だもの
      kirei da kara 綺麗だから
      Because it's pretty. (female.)
  • mon
    もん
    (contraction of mono もの. Specially used by small children.)
    • kirei da mon
      綺麗だもん
      Because it's pretty.

A few other words:

  • kudasai-mase
    くださいませ
    (kudasaru くださる in masu form in meireikei 命令形, "Imperative form.".)
    • kudasai-mashi
      くださいまし
      (same meaning.)
  • choudai
    ちょうだい
    (same meaning as kudasai ください.)
    • okane choudai
      お金ちょうだい
      Give me money.
    • okane kudasai
      お金ください
      (same meaning.)
    • yamete choudai
      やめてちょうだい
      Please stop.
    • yamete kudasai
      やめてください
      Please stop.

美化語

The o- お~ prefix is often used by women in order to create bikago 美化語, "beautified language." In the sense that simply by using the suffix the words sounds prettier (i.e. more feminine). Some examples include:

  • ote

    Hand. Hands.
  • te

    (same meaning.)
  • okashi
    菓子
    Sweets.
  • kashi
    菓子
    Sweets.
    (same meaning.)
  • oniku

    Meat.
  • niku

    (same meaning.)

In particular, the prefix is used in plural words for body parts featuring reduplication, which are generally used when talking to babies, presumably, by mothers more than by fathers.

  • otete

    Hands.

山の手言葉

Historically, old Tokyo 東京, called Edo 江戸, was divided in the upper-class, Yamanote 山の手, "mountain's hand," and the lower-class, Shitamachi 下町, "down-town."

The language used by the the upper class was called Yamanote Kotoba 山の手言葉, "mountain's hand words." In other words, the following words were used by rich ladies of the era:

  • zamasu
    ざます
    (from gozaimasu ございます.)
  • gokigen'you
    ごきげんよう
    How are you? (greeting. Also used particularly used by ojousama characters in anime.)
  • asobasu
    あそばす
    (from asobu 遊ぶ, "to play," "to have fun," but used as an auxiliary.)
    • gomen-asobase
      ごめんあそばせ
      [I'm] sorry.
    • shitsurei-shimashita
      失礼しました
      (same meaning.)
    • oide-asobase
      おいであそばせ
      Welcome. Please come in.
    • irasshai
      いらっしゃい
      (same meaning.)

ありんす詞

Another set of historic words are the arinsu-kotoba ありんす詞 used by prostitutes in the Edo period (1603–1868). It's also known as:

  • kuruwa-kotoba
    廓詞
    Red-light district words.
    • A synonym for kuruwa is yuukaku 遊廓, of which Yoshiwara 吉原 was a famous one.
  • sato-kotoba
    里詞
    Village words. Countryside words.
  • oiran-kotoba
    花魁詞
    Courtesan words.

Although this set has many historic words in it, there's really only one that's important to know about:

  • arinsu
    ありんす
    (contraction of arimasu あります)
    • kirei de aru
      綺麗である
      It's pretty.
    • kirei de arimasu
      綺麗であります
      (same meaning.)
    • kirei de arinsu
      綺麗でありんす
      (same meaning.)
    • koko ni aru
      ここにある
      It's here.
    • koko ni arimasu
      ここにあります
      (same meaning.)
    • koko ni arinsu
      ここにありんす
      (same meaning.)
    • mondai ga aru
      問題がある
      There's a problem.
    • mondai ga arimasu
      問題があります
      (same meaning.)
    • mondai ga arinsu
      問題がありんす
      (same meaning.)

A character using this word may hint a courtesan background. For example, Yūgiri ゆうぎり from Zombieland Saga.

However, since arinsu is merely a contraction, it's not exclusively used by courtesans. There are many exceptions, even in anime, like Holo from Spice and Wolf, who is a goddess, and Shalltear from Overlord, who is a vampire.

Furthermore. arinsu comes from the polite arimasu, which means it's not used casually. For example, Tsukuyo 月詠, one of the Yoshiwara's guardians from Gintama 銀魂, uses arinsu when speaking politely with clients, which happens almost never in the series.

Interjections

There's a bunch of interjections often used by female characters in manga, for example:

  • ara
    あら
    Oh.
    • arara
      あらら
      (same meaning.)
    • ara ara
      あらあら
      (same meaning.)
  • maa
    まぁ
    Well.
  • ufu' うふっ
    *giggle*
    • ufufu
      うふふ
      (same meaning.)
  • ohoho
    おほほ
    *the infamous ojousama laugh*
  • kya' きゃっ
    *shriek*
    *squeal*
    *fangirling noises*
    • kyaa
      きゃー
      (same meaning.)
  • hidooi
    ひどーい
    (a longer pronunciation of:)
    • hidoi
      酷い
      Horrible. Cruel. Mean.
  • iyaan
    いやーん
    (this is a weird one.)
    • yaan
      やーん
      (same meaning.)
    • Literally, it's supposed to work like these:
    • iya yo

      It's unpleasant. (literally.)
      Do not want. I'd rather not. No, thanks.
    • iya no yo
      のよ
      (same meaning.)
    • Which mean you'd use it when you disagree with an idea or find something unpleasant, you don't want it.
    • However, iyaan いやーん, deliberately dragged out like that, is often used in joking or flirting tone instead.

Lastly, there's this:

  • ee
    ええ
    Yes. No. (agrees with whatever the other person asked.)
    • Also used by men in formal contexts.

Male Language

The "male language," danseigo 男性語, or "men's language" is the opposite of female language: words predominantly used by men that women wouldn't normally use.

It essentially boils down to:

  • Feminine words:
    • Prettier.
    • Polite.
    • Weak.
  • Masculine words:
    • Uglier.
    • Rude.
    • Strong.

Yep, that's a lot of stereotypes. Masculine words are alright in casual contexts, but they tend to be avoided in formal contexts because they sound impolite.

Which kinda sounds like in order to present yourself as serving your superiors, your boss, your clients, and not present yourself as above them, you have to sound less masculine than usual, which hints how sexism is ingrained in society, language, and blah blah blah.

On the other hand, the idea that ladies shouldn't use filthy (masculine) words seems to be international.

Anyway, as for words that are used more by men:

  • zo

    (expresses emphasis)
    • katta zo!
      勝った
      [I] won!
  • ze

    (zo ぞ and ne ね merged into one.)
    • issho ni ikou ze
      一緒に行こう
      Let's go together. (how about that?)
  • yatsu

    Guy. Person.
    • baka na yatsu da
      バカなヤツ
      [He's] an idiot guy.
  • ano yatsu
    あの奴
    That guy.
    (third person pronoun.)
    • ayatsu
      あやつ
      (same meaning, not used.)
    • aitsu
      あいつ
      (same meaning.)
    • aitsu wa baka da
      あいつはバカだ
      He's an idiot.
  • omae
    お前
    You. (pretty much any second-person pronoun that's not anata.)
  • oi
    おい
    Hey. (interjection.)
    What are you doing? Stahp!
  • kora
    こら
    (used to call someone's attention. In fiction, it's the staple of gangster characters.)
    • aan? yannoka, kora?
      ああん?やんのか、こら?
      Ahmm? Wanna fight, huh?!

There are many female characters that will use the words above and speak "like men" to sound strong in a fight, but the opposite never happens: nobody attempts to appear weak by using feminine words, despite the obvious strategic value in doing so. (Sun Tzu, ~500 B.C.)

オネェ言葉

The term onee-kotoba オネえ言葉 refers to female language used by male gays, transgender women, okama オカマ, and so on, but it's a bit more complicated than that. It involves a disproportional use of words like:

  • yada
    やだ
    (often used when someone does something unexpected, that the speaker can't believe is happening, being said. "No way.")
  • mou
    もう

    (diverse meanings.)
  • chau
    ちゃう
    (contraction of te-shimau てしまう, "ended up doing.")
  • ttara
    ったら
    (used after names of people, pronouns, to say something about them.)

The act of using onee-kotoba is referred to by the verb hogeru ホゲる. Some okama think you're supposed to use onee-kotoba if you're an okama, but not all think this way.

Furthermore, there are also men that aren't gay, or trans, but use onee-kotoba. They're simply called onee オネエ.

えっ やだ それじゃあ パニックでオネェ言葉
Manga: Handa-kun はんだくん (Chapter 3, 半田くんと委員長)
  • Context: a guy panicked so hard he started speaking in onee-kotoba.
  • panikku de onee-kotoba
    パニックオネェ言葉
    [Using] onee-kotoba due to panic.
  • e' yada sore jaa
    えっ やだ それじゃあ
    [Eh, no way, then that means...]

In anime, okama characters often use female language or onee-kotoba, which counts as a form of gender expression.

By contrast, "trap" characters (otokonoko 男の娘) generally look and unconsciously behave femininely, but don't consciously use female language, reinforcing the idea that they ultimately identify as men in spite of being drawn like girls.

References

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  1. This topic was really helpful. Sometimes it's tricky to know the difference between male and female language.

    ReplyDelete