Culture

What Is Japanese Women’s Language?

Did you know that Japanese women speak differently from Japanese men? It’s a combination of both the words that they use and also the way that they communicate. So what is Japanese women’s language?

That’s what I’ll be going over today. If you’re a girl learning Japanese, then these are some of the things you can learn in order to sound like a Japanese woman when speaking.

And if you’re a boy then you can learn some words not to use, so that you sound more like a Japanese man.

Japanese Women’s Language

In Japanese there are two words that get used when referring to Japanese women’s language.

The first one is 女性語 (joseigo) which takes the word 女性 for “female” and combines it with the word 語 for “language.”

The other word that gets used is 女言葉 (onna kotoba) which takes the word 女 for “woman” and 言葉 for “word.”

Now, you’ve probably heard about “gendered languages” before such as Spanish that uses the masculine and feminine genders in order to be grammatical correct for words.

For example, in Spanish the word for “the telephone” is “el telefono” and the “el” part before the word and the “o” at the end of the word are what makes them masculine.

On the flip side, if you wanted to say “the beach” in Spanish you would say “la playa” and the “la” part before the word and the “a” at the end make them feminine.

But Japanese is not like this.

Instead of the gender differences appearing in the grammatical part of the language, they appear in the word selection.

In two of the sections below I’ll cover specific words that are used exclusively by women, and some of the counterparts that men would use.

Japanese women also communicate differently from Japanese men, which is what we will cover next.

Women Communicate Differently

In Japan there is still a big emphasis on being masculine if you’re a man and being feminine if you’re a woman.

The concept of “being feminine” in Japanese really shines through in a couple specific ways during conversation. The first way that I’ll mention is that women tend to talk in a higher register than normal.

Now, almost all women have a higher voice than men, but what I’m talking about is intentionally speaking at a higher pitch than where your voice rests naturally.

People do this in other countries (like America) in certain situations such as speaking to a baby, a puppy, or a kitten.

It’s also common for people in certain positions like customer service to speak in a bit of a higher voice as it conveys a soft feeling or gentleness towards the listener.

Another way that Japanese women communicate differently is that they tend to be more respectful. This appears in situations like adding the polite お (o) or ご (go) in front of words that don’t necessarily need them.

It also appears in using honorifics like さん (san) and speaking in “polite language” through the use of です (desu) and the ます (masu) verb-stem in situations where a guy wouldn’t use them.

The thing to keep in mind is that using these polite words in and of themselves don’t make you sound feminine, it’s when a guy would normally use a more informal or vulgar version of the word that the politeness comes across as feminine.

If you’re a man, but you’re not Japanese then you probably won’t ever sound feminine when speaking with these polite forms of words since Japanese people don’t expect you to understand the subtleties of the language.

It’s really only in this next section, where we talk about the exact words that are used by women, where you might sound like a girl if you use them.

Specific Words Women Use

There are certain words that have multiple forms and each one brings with it a different feeling. In this section I’m going to be covering some of them that are specific for women.

The first one is the word for “I” in Japanese. Most student learn to use 私 (watashi) which is the gender-neutral, polite way to say it.

However, there is another word that is sometimes used by young girls (think high school or younger). That word is あたし (atashi) and it means the same thing.

Another word is あなた (anata) which means “you” in Japanese, but when a Japanese woman says it to her husband or boyfriend it is actually more like she is calling her man “dear” when speaking to him.

Then there is あら (ara) which is kind of a soft exclamation like “oh” or “ah” and is only used by women.

Another word very similar to this is まあ (maa) which means “oh dear!” or “oh, my!” and is a female term.

But by far the most common place to find words used exclusively by girls is in sentence ending particles.

Ending Particles

There are four ending particles that are used by women:

  1. わ (wa)
  2. の (no)
  3. かしら (kashira)
  4. もの (mono)

Let’s take a quick look at each one of these now.

The particle わ is used by women to add some feeling or emotion to a sentence, similar to how よ (yo) gets used. Interestingly enough, these two particles can be combined to say わよ. It’s always in this order, too.

わ can also be used to soften a sentence in much the same way that ね (ne) does.

This leads to the next one in our list. The particle の can also be used to soften statements like ね. In addition to that, the particle is often used as an informal question mark, similar to か (ka), and it’s pretty common for girls to use.

The particle かしら is used to indicate uncertainty and is like saying “I wonder” in Japanese. It functions just like the word かな (kana), but of course the かしら version is more feminine.

The last one is もの which means “because” or “the reason is” and is generally used when a girl is providing a reason or an excuse for something that she did, said, or desires.

To learn more about these and other Japanese particles check out my review of All About Particles by Naoko Chino.

That’s All For Today

I’m sure there are additional words, phrases, and means of communicating that fall under the category of Japanese female language that I’m missing in this post.

But this ought to be a pretty nice introduction into this aspect of the Japanese language.

If you know of any more 女性語 or 女言葉 then be sure to let me know by leaving a comment down below.

Thanks!

2 Comments

  • Riaz Shah

    Hey Nikku,

    I’m still a bit blurry, correct me if I’m wrong but joseigo is a way for Japanese women to speak right? Very interesting! I love watching anime too and I never noticed this.

    I think it’s a way to make them sound more feminine, more sexy, more cute or something like that. Do their tones change as well during joseigo?

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Riaz, yeah you are exactly right! It’s a way of talking that is used pretty much only by women, so it gives the words a very feminine quality. And yeah, their tones actually do change, although not the same way that a “tonal” language would work, per se. Generally speaking, Japanese women will talk in a higher register to give them that feminine sound.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *