Thursday, December 27, 2012

[Rant] Gender in Japanese Language

English is a fairly gender neutral language. There's not much difference between how men and women talk except from perhaps inflection and word choice. In Japanese, however, women and men speak differently in casual situations. Of course, in formal situations, you use formal language, which is not gender specific.

Some examples:
Men have the option of ending their sentences with -dayo, dane (moderately masculine) or -zo, -ze, (strongly masculine). Women have the option of saying -no (moderately feminine) or -wa, wayo, etc. (strongly feminine)

Also, there's more than one way to say "I." 
watashi- polite - used by both males and females, though it's considered more feminine
watakushi- super polite - used by both males and females 
asshi - used by old men (geezers)
boku- used by boys, men, and tomboys
ore- This one separates the men from the boys. *strikes manly pose* 俺はみんな殺すぞ。
ora- a redneck version of ore.
atashi - a valley girl version of watashi *twirls hair* あたし、全然分からないわよね。
atai - rich girl

So even how you say a simple word like "I" is gender specific. There are also different ways to pronounce the same words. Young men will say, for example, urusei instead of urusai. Both mean "loud; noisy," and is a way of telling someone to shut up. If you watch anime and listen to how, say, Kurosaki Ichigo or Naruto speak, you'll know what I'm talking about. Instead of pronouncing things with the standard -nai, they say -nei. I actually really like the way they talk. They sound kakko ii (cool) and, because I'm a dork, I try to mimic them. However, if I talked like this to a Japanese person they'd probably just shake their heads and think I'm ignorant. They would think I didn't know how to talk properly, rather than realize I am purposefully trying to talk like a teenage boy.

I've read using such gendered language is on the decline, however. Younger men and women rarely use strongly masculine and strongly feminine endings. And women will use moderately masculine endings (though I suppose only homosexual men would use feminine endings). However, older women often still speak in strongly feminine ways. But in movies, anime, and comics, the language each character uses is oftentimes exaggerated in order to create certain character identities.  

For some, it's still seen as vulgar for a woman to talk like a man. Despite this, I oftentimes like to use the male endings instead of the female. In fact, I will never use the female endings. I had a discussion once with a guy friend in my Japanese class and he asked me why I didn't want to talk like a female. He thought it was weird I'd prefer speaking like a man. (He even went so far to say if I was with other girls, it was okay to talk like a man, but if I was in mixed company, it would be awkward if I talked like a guy. I should have told him to go [expletive] himself.) I said it was because I didn't want to sound soft and demure, which is exactly how women sound if they talk like that. Their way of speech lessens the impact of what they say. Kind of like how you add a smiley face to the end of your texts when you don't want to sound too mean. 

"You're stupid. :)" 

I don't like the idea of being limited to only women's speech. And I don't think men should be limited to speaking masculine-ly. I'm blunt when I speak in English and I'm going to be blunt when I speak in Japanese. I'd rather my speech sound more forceful and aggressive than weak and docile.

I'm curious, has anyone else encountered this in other languages? Can you think of anything similar to this in English? Or in your writing? Is there a difference between how your female and male characters talk? 

No comments:

Post a Comment