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Gendered language...

I was watching some Japanese kind of soap opera or whatever it was yesterday (Sakura Gakuin, quite unwillingly, I might add), and the realization of my shounen anime-inspired ignorance hit me like a lightning bolt; most of the time, the girls (there were only girls, except for one male teacher) spoke quite 'impolitely', so to say. There were no "desu" at the end of every sentence, or "masu". Instead, many spoke in quite a typically masculine way (and it was not the kind of show where they would be doing that for fun only); there were much more "nan da" than "nan desu ka" and "janai" instead of "dewa/jaa arimasen". So this one goes out mainly to the natives of Nihon who might read this (or someone else with formidable knowledge about everyday Japanese life): just how much more polite, linguistically, are women/girls than boys/men in Japan? (and also, is there a substantial difference between the younger generation (girls) and the older generation (women)? I believe there is a large difference between the ones aged roughly 60+ and the ones below that).



I assume that there are said to be two ways of speaking, that is, a polite and impolite way, but I think there are at least three ways of speaking. I think gender and generation differences have been getting smaller, so old men and young girls don't speak so differently. People choose ways of speaking mainly depending on the circumstances.

1.A formal way: using very polite languages called 尊敬語 and 謙譲語: at ceremony, talking on the job to people you don't know well

2.A (rather) polite way: roughly speaking, putting 'desu' or 'masu' at the end, and using 尊敬語 to some extent: when you aren't allowed to use a casual way and don't need to use a formal way, that is to say, sort of basic way

3.A casual way: usually not using 'desu' nor 'masu', and never using 尊敬語 nor 謙譲語 : talking with family, friends, younger aquaintances and so on

Most people speak in the polite way (2.) and the casual way (3.) as usual. 'Janai' and 'nanda' belong to the casual way, and women often use them also.

Children learn to speak in the casual way at first, and begin to learn to speak in the polite way at the latest when they are at junior high. Adults always start with the polite way when they talk to people they haven't talked with. This is because you need to show 'I don't disturb you' in the first place. (Japanese people tend to prefer the ideas such as 'I don't disturb you, and I hope you do so too' or 'there must be politeness or manners to some extent even in any close relationships' in order to avoid arguments as possible.) However, the casual way isn't rude at all as long as you use it in the right occasions, or rather you are expected to speak that way.

Although gender and generation difference have been getting smaller, you can find them especially in the casual way of speaking. They are small, but give people various impression. Elder people tend to choose modest expression, and younger people including girls, meaning people under the age of around 20, thed to prefer using informal words. I don't think people over the age of 60 speak so differently. As for gender differences, women and girls tend to choose modester words than men and boys. Teenage boys use some rude words such as '-janee' instead of '-janai', and most girls don't use them. On the other hand, there are some words that are thought to be used by women, such as '-wayo'. Perhaps this sort of choices might depend more on people's characters than on gender or generations.

Writers often use these lost gender and generation differences in their works. That might confuse Japanese learners at first. I think it would be safer to use conversational examples from good textbooks.

Speaking of the sort of difference, there are offensive words that you scarcely or never find on TV and so on. Some people use those in anger, and some never use. I think it is the same in other countries.


It is actually far beyond my writing skills talking about this topic, so I really hope I am making sense... If not, free feel to ask me about that. :D

Nono, you're making perfect sense :D you answered my question right to the point: girls are often only a little less casual than boys, but you learn to speak more politely as you progress through the years. Thanks a lot, again!

Not at all! :D

Another related question, also about speaking patterns: Is it so that, often, formal speech sounds very monotonous compared to informal language? For example, the pitch-accent rule about going up on the penultimate syllable seems to me to be quite often ignored in informal language, for examle:
Formal: a-na-TA
Informal: A-na-ta

I'm not saying it's always like this in informal language, but my impression is that this rule is often more an option than a real rule in informal language, at least a lot of the time, if not always. Am I right?
And also, how is it with words (often shorter ones, I think), that do not utilize the pitch-accent on the penultimate syllable? I'm thinking mainly about the "かみ triumvirate": god/God, paper, hair. Now, for "god/God":
And for paper and hair (which I think are basically of the same pronunciation):
ka-MI, or even sometimes rather:

Sorry if it's an odd question... ^^

I don't think a pitch-accent changes in one dialect. It often gets monotonous especially in a formal way as you said, and even disappears. It sometimes changes when a word is combined with another and turns to be a different one. Perhaps, a pitch-accents might change and specialists might have discovered that by using equipments. I think a lof of people, including me, believe that if you change a pitch-accent of a word, it sounds a different word or the same word from a different dialect.
As for 'anata', I think the stress changes, but the pitch-accent is still on 'na' in both ways. You observation is interesting. I haven't thought about the difference, but I actually do and hear it. I think when you put stresses in the last parts of words or sentences, it sounds gentler. Plus, 'kami' meaning paper or hair is often pronounced in a very monotonous way.

Okay... so is it with stress you are more free to work with in informal language? (and also, HOW free are you?)

Yes, I think so, and there seem to be patterns. For example, if you say 'A-NA-TA' quickly, that is, you put a stress on each word, it sounds like a very angry mother. I think wailing 'A-na-ta! sounds the same. Men hardly speak like that. On the other hand, if you put a strong stress on the end of the word like 'a-na-TA!' and say it quickly, it might be either men and women in anger.

I guess this is one of those things it's usually better just to learn through experience (Sakura Gakuin, here I come D:   ), but I think I do have a better grasp of the thing anyway now, thanks, Haru :D


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