What differences should I look out for between male vs female speech?

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I was told a story where a male westerner learnt Japanese from his girlfriend and ended up speaking more like a female. The storyteller thought this was hilarious.

What important differences should I look for between male and female speech?

gak

Posted 2011-05-31T22:47:59.243

Reputation: 453

6+1 This happens allllll too often, great question – makdad – 2011-05-31T22:54:47.280

2As pointed out by @hippietrail, I don't think there are major pronunciation differences between sexes (and they would be vastly overshadowed by regional accents). From your description, it sounds like you meant to ask about "speech [patterns]"/"grammar"/"vocabulary" differences between male and female Japanese... And it's just too vast a topic to cover exhaustively in one question, I am afraid. – Dave – 2011-06-13T07:17:53.627

@syockit yep that's so true man.. even the guys in the animes are voiced by females lol – Pacerier – 2011-06-25T09:28:33.610

I haven't noticed any pronunciation differences but I have definitely noticed intonation differences. Men's talk is a lot flatter and blunter. And of course the vocabulary differences as pointed out in the answers. – hippietrail – 2011-06-01T17:36:05.110

2Most animes I watch have big female to male ratios, and as such, I mostly hear females speaking. It turns out even my speech turned somewhat feminine. – syockit – 2011-06-02T00:18:52.760

Answers

13

There are almost too many to list, but the simple (grammatical) ones are:

  1. Men should never use わ at the end of a sentence in place of よ. If you're REALLY good at Japanese as a man, you can get away with わ only when you're saying something to yourself aloud, such as 疲れたわ in passing, right before you decide to leave work, et al.
  2. Women can end sentences with the nominalizer の (何しているの?). Men can informally (e.g. with their partners, family), but really should avoid it for the most part.
  3. Young men sometimes transform ない into ねー (it's a sound change, nothing grammatical - basically anything ending in "ai", such as "nai", "tai" can become "nee" or "tee"). I've never heard a woman do this.

Word selection is also important, but most dictionaries indicate this.

makdad

Posted 2011-05-31T22:47:59.243

Reputation: 3 793

8

Regarding the sentence-ending わ, while it is true that this is found mostly in female speech (but not universally), many men use わ just like よ. Pages like this one from Yahoo!知恵袋 seem to suggest that this is most common in the Kansai area.

– Derek Schaab – 2011-05-31T23:09:04.553

2@Derek, well noted. I should have put the "I live in Tokyo" disclaimer at the top of my post :) – makdad – 2011-05-31T23:17:08.007

+1 for the typical Kansai use of わ with two important caveat: 1) your sentence would have to be more or less 関西弁 to begin with, otherwise it will sound out of place. 2) the pronunciation of わ in 関西弁 is very different from your average 江戸おばさん (and that's where the text medium fails us, but I'd say if you haven't heard it pronounced by natives, you should stay away anyway). – Dave – 2011-06-13T07:22:47.957

@Derek btw when men use わ, is the intonation going upwards? or is it going downwards.. or is it neither going upwards or downwards (as in treat it as though its just another character in the sentence?) – Pacerier – 2011-06-25T09:31:19.910

1@Pacerier: When I've heard わ used by men, it has a flat intonation, is often drawn out, and is definitely not the same as the female usage that textbooks typically cover (as Dave mentioned). – Derek Schaab – 2011-06-25T19:44:33.837

@Derek ok got it – Pacerier – 2011-06-26T12:55:11.257

2Yeah, I lived in Osaka, and often ended sentences with わ (which results me sounding like a gramps) – syockit – 2011-06-02T00:19:43.273

Even girls say 忘れたんだ these days. – Aeon Akechi – 2015-08-09T19:00:56.570

3Regarding の, I think questions a la 何してるの? are fine for both sexes. The problem are explanatory sentences like 忘れたの, in which girls use の without the too assertive だ, while men sound gay unless they say んだ/んです。 – Amadan – 2011-10-26T15:15:23.287

16

Probably too vast a question to cover exhaustively, but I can offer a couple pointers picked from experience (mine and foreigners I've met):

  1. First-person pronouns (kinda obvious, really). Beside straight-up pronouns, the use of your own name to address yourself is a big tell-tale of female speech (some older grandpas can get away with it, but I doubt that applies to you).

  2. Sentence endings: generally stay away from 「わ」 and 「かしら」. Conversely, there are some typical male sentence endings, such as 「ぜ」,「ぞ」, 「い」(as in 「だい」,「かい」)...

  3. Some very connoted colloquial expressions (ちょー etc.), which are sometimes acceptable by teenage boys as well as girls, but will mostly make you sound like a teenage girl if you use them as a grown man.

  4. Gender-infused grammar forms (especially for questions/rhetorical questions): is an incredibly complex and vast topic, with a fair bit of subjective thrown in, but I have often heard that the over-use of "soft" forms (such as 「〜のです」, 「〜です?」) or even the over-use of full verbal forms (when they can be omitted) tends to make you sound effeminate.

Overall, I'd say: pay attention to points 1~3 above and don't worry too much about 4 until you reach a fairly advanced level.

Edit: on a more general note, it is worth pointing that, if guy-foreigners using feminine speech is the most common side of this (by virtue of the male-to-female ratio being high in this category), the opposite (women learning from native men and using male speech patterns) also exists and is not any less derided. In fact, unfair as it is, Japanese (esp. of the opposite sex) will tend to be a lot more accepting of foreign-men-that-speak-like-women than the converse.

Dave

Posted 2011-05-31T22:47:59.243

Reputation: 9 057

"chou" for "very" makes me sound like a girl? – hippietrail – 2011-06-13T07:47:07.033

@hippietrail: I say that's a slippery slope. As I pointed above, it's more about your age than your gender. But you can get away with teenage-ish slang a lot later in life as a girl than you can as a guy (sexist, female-infantilising society and all). – Dave – 2011-06-13T07:53:11.117

i will suggest another endings, like: [feminine] ~だもん/だもの;~だよね/よおんん;[masculine] ~な (Like:いいな~!). It doesn't mean it couldn't be said by another gender, both can say it. Another point: I think girls usually speaks little more polite (am i correct?) – daniel tomio – 2011-06-26T02:43:02.717

@Daniel: 〜な definitely isn't gender-specific (it's used equally by both). Best as I can tell, neither are 〜もん or 〜だよね (both can be used by guys, although they might be slightly more common in female speech). I am not familiar with 〜よおんん... – Dave – 2011-06-26T02:50:18.440

And regarding politeness and gender: as I said in my answer, full verbal (and therefore more polite) forms are often considered more feminine. But this is a lot less clear-cut than the other point and depends a lot on context. – Dave – 2011-06-26T02:51:19.110

I think by よんん, he means ~よ。ん? – Aeon Akechi – 2015-08-09T19:00:01.383

5

It's not so much pronunciation as it is word selection. This includes things such as あたし vs. 僕, かしら vs. かな, わ vs. よ, and so on.

Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams

Posted 2011-05-31T22:47:59.243

Reputation: 4 719

same comment as Amanda below ;) – None – 2011-06-03T15:00:02.380

You're saying that a guy using かしら all the time won't sound like a girl? – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams – 2011-06-03T16:43:58.963

I didn't say anything about かしら just kana, wa, yo which is enough to get a misleading answer. – None – 2011-06-04T01:23:39.100

4

There are a number of differences between masculine and feminine speech, but here are some of the common markers of feminine speech:

  • Ending a question with の (instead of か or のか)
  • Using the sentence-ending particle わ (instead of よ)
  • Using the sentence-ending particle かしら (instead of かな)

Amanda S

Posted 2011-05-31T22:47:59.243

Reputation: 7 369

1の in questions isn't feminine; it's の in statements that is. – Aeon Akechi – 2015-08-09T18:58:36.903

わ is sometimes used by men (see derek's comment and makdad answer) and I remember a long time ago when I was used to speak with my japanese feminine partner, she told me I should stop using よ everywhere as it was starting to make me sound like a girl. thus よ is not reserved for men. かな is also widely used by everyone equally. Which leaves の in your answer :p – None – 2011-06-03T14:58:44.627

2Naturally, these are not hard-and-fast rules. No part of the language is off-limits for members of one gender or another. These are merely guidelines. – Amanda S – 2011-06-03T18:39:30.227