Gender differences in modern Japanese - Lingualift (2023)

You may have heard a lot of people say that men and women speak Japanese in completely different ways, almost as if they were speaking different dialects. Surely many of you have also heard the all-too-common anecdote of ‘that guy who learned Japanese from his girlfriend and ended up sounding like a chick’.

Gender differences in modern Japanese - Lingualift (1)

While it is definitely true that gender differences exist in spoken Japanese, they’re actually not nearly as pronounced as the rumors would have you believe. But the thing you have to understand is that such rumors exist because they are based in truth: Gender differences in spoken Japanese used to be very pronounced, but recently (over the past 30 years or so) they have become much more subtle as the language has evolved.

What’s happened is that young women have gradually adopted a more gender neutral form of speaking. Their speech does still have some characteristically feminine aspects, but those aspects are much fewer and more subtle than they are in the speech of older women. So yes guys, you can still end up sounding a bit effeminate if you learn all your Japanese from your girlfriend, but not nearly as much as you would if you learned it from her grandmother.

Distinctively masculine speech, on the other hand, is still very much alive and well. It’s mostly used by men speaking to other men, who often switch to a more gender neutral style when speaking to women. However, some aspects of what was once strictly masculine speech have now become commonly used by young women and girls as well, making this whole thing quite confusing.

Basically, there are now three different types of colloquial Japanese speech: ‘traditional feminine’ speech (which is now only used by women in their 40s and older), ‘modern feminine’ speech (used by women and girls in their 30s and younger), and ‘masculine’ speech (used mostly by men and boys of all ages). The first one is quite distinct and unique, but the differences between the latter two seem to be growing more and more blurred as the language of young people continues to change.

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To help you see the differences between these different speech types, I’ll show you the same hypothetical conversation taking place between three different pairs of people: two older female friends, two younger female friends, and two male friends. I’ll also explain the main characteristics of these different speech types and the ways in which they’re used.

But first, two important caveats:

  1. Since gender differences are basically non-existent in formal Japanese, all examples are in casual Japanese. In other words, people only talk this way with their close friends, family members, and social inferiors.
  2. The information in this article applies only to the Tokyo dialect, or so-called “standard Japanese.” Other dialects are completely different.

Traditional feminine speech

As explained above, this speech style has now fallen out of use by younger generations, but you will still hear it used by women in their 40s and older. You’ll hear it in older movies and TV shows as well. And for some strange reason unbeknownst to me, it’s also still widely used in Japanese dubs and subtitles of foreign films even today. (Japanese movie translators, don’t you know how weird it is to hear a modern 16 year-old American girl talking like a 50 year-old Japanese woman?! Please get with the times, already.)

The basic characteristics of traditional feminine speech include dropping だ, adding the particle わ (which can be used either for emphasis or for a softening effect), and using the feminine pronoun あたし.

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There are also some words specific to this type of speech, such as the expletive あら (“Oh dear!”) and the ending particle かしら (“I wonder if ~?”). Traditional feminine speakers tend to use the polite prefixes お and ご more often as well.

Now let’s take a look at our hypothetical conversation. This time the speakers are two female friends in their 50s:

Are… Nakamurasan no otanjoubi, kyou dakke?
Wait a minute… Is Nakamura-san’s birthday today?


Sou yo.
That’s right.

Ara, atashi wasureteta! Ikenai wa yo ne~. Ima purezento kai ni ikeba ma ni au kashira?
Oh no, I forgot! This is bad. I wonder if I’ll make it in time if I go buy a present now?

Kyoukochan ttara, hontto ni wasureppoi hito dakara.
Geez Kyoko, you’re such a forgetful person.

Datte, oboeru koto ga oosugiru no yo.
There are just too many things to remember!

Modern feminine speech

Women and girls in their 30s and younger have mostly abandoned the traditional feminine speech characteristics explained above, opting for a more gender neutral style. However, there are still some things that distinguish the speech of young women from that of young men. The most noticeable difference lies in the choice of first-person pronouns. Most women in their late 20s to 30s tend to use the pronoun 私 (わたし), while younger women and girls are more likely to use うち.

Interestingly though, some girls have started to refer to themselves using the masculine 僕 (ぼく), and a few will even use the extreme masculine 俺 (おれ). With the way things seem to be going, I really wonder if gender differences in speech will disappear completely in the next 50 years or so.

Here’s our conversation again, this time between two female friends in their early 20s:

Are… Nakamurasan no tanjoubi, kyou dakke?
Wait a minute… Is Nakamura-san’s birthday today?

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Sou da yo.
That’s right.

Iyada, uchi wasureteta! Yabai yo ne. Ima purezento kai ni ikeba ma ni au kana?
Oh no, I forgot! This is bad. I wonder if I’ll make it in time if I go buy a present now?

Yuukichan ttara, hontto ni wasureppoi hito dakara.
Geez Yuuki, you’re such a forgetful person.

Datte, oboeru koto ga oosugiru n da yo.
There are just too many things to remember!

Masculine speech

I always want to laugh when I hear my brother talking with one of his male friends on the phone, because his way of talking changes completely: He starts saying “dude” or “man” in every other sentence, and swearing more often than he does with me. I’m sure everyone knows what I’m referring to: It’s ‘guy talk’, a style of speech guys just seem to naturally fall into with their guy friends.

Well, there’s ‘guy talk’ in Japanese too. It’s characterized by the use of the first-person pronoun 俺 (おれ) and the second-person pronoun お前 (おまえ). (Although お前 can be quite rude in other contexts, it’s actually more like a term of affection when used between close male friends.) Adjective endings are also often changed to えぇ (for example, たかい→たけぇ、ない→ねぇ、きたない→きたねぇ、やばい→やべぇ), and the words やつ、こいつ、そいつ、and あいつ may be used instead of 人 (ひと)、この人、その人、and あの人 respectively. The agreement particle ね is usually changed to な. The masculine particles ぞ (which adds emphasis) and ぜ (which elicits agreement) may be occasionally used as well.

Nowadays, some of these speech patterns (especially the えぇ endings and ぞ/ぜ) are actually used by girls as well. However, they are still most commonly used by male speakers.

Let’s look at the example conversation one last time, now between two male friends (who could be any age):


Are… Nakamurasan no tanjoubi, kyou dakke?
Wait a minute… Is Nakamura-san’s birthday today?

Sou da yo.
That’s right.

Ikenee, ore wasureteta! Yabee yo na. Ima purezento kai ni ikeba ma ni au kana?
Oh sh*t, I forgot! This is bad. I wonder if I’ll make it in time if I go buy a present now?

Omae ttara, hontto ni wasureppoi yatsu dakara.
Geez man, you’re such a forgetful person.

Datte, oboeru koto ga oosugi n da yo.
There are just too many things to remember!


I know all these differences are confusing. But if you’re just starting out, the best thing to do is to talk with Japanese people of your gender and around your age. Pay attention to the way these people speak and try to emulate them. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to people of the opposite gender or of other generations, but you should be aware that it may not necessarily be a good idea to copy the speech of these people. Don’t be that guy who ends up talking like his girlfriend (or that girl who ends up talking like her boyfriend)!

Cover photo by jamesjustin


Is there a difference between male and female Japanese language? ›

There are no gender differences in written Japanese (except in quoted speech), and almost no differences in polite speech, except for occasional use of wa (and except for the fact that women may be more likely to use polite speech in the first place).

How does gender affect language acquisition? ›

During the first years of life, girls on average acquire language faster than boys and have larger vocabulary. For example, at 16 months, girls have a vocabulary of 95 words, while boys have a vocabulary of 25 words (21,22).

How does gender affect language variation? ›

Language Development and Expression

Women also tend to have a wider-range of emotional vocabulary, using language more readily to describe their feelings and emotional states. Men, on the other hand, tend to use language more assertively and are more likely to suppress, or hold back, their emotions.

What is the difference between men and women's speech? ›

Men tend to use more abstract language, while women focus more on the details. This tendency is due to power dynamics that can be changed, concluded the researchers.

Is Boku only for boys? ›

僕 (boku) carries a masculine impression; it is typically used by males, especially those in their youth. Japanese words that refer to other people are part of the encompassing system of honorific speech and should be understood within that context.

Can you say san to female Japanese? ›

In Japanese, "~ san (~さん)" is a title of respect added to a name. It can be used with both male and female names, and with either surnames or given names.

Why do girls acquire language faster than boys? ›

The Language Gene

Scientists are studying a gene called FOXP2 which they have discovered to be an essential part of speech and language development. There have been many studies, on both animals and humans, that have confirmed that the “Language Gene” FOXP2 is found in higher levels in females.

Is there a relationship between language and gender? ›

In socialinguistics, the researchers study the relationship between language and gender in many aspects, such as gender and politeness, gender and language style. Most of the researchers believe that females are more polite than males. The language of female is indirect and implicit; male's is direct to the contrary.

Why do boys develop language slower? ›

Studies have shown that language development varies between the sexes, with males generally gaining language skills at a slower rate. Prenatal testosterone is known to influence fetal neurodevelopment, and preliminary studies have suggested that the hormone is associated with language delay.

What is an example of gender discrimination in language? ›

Gender-biased language either implicitly or explicitly favours one gender over another and is a form of gender-discriminatory language. Example of gender-biased language: “Every day, each citizen must ask himself how he can fulfil his civic duties”.

What is the impact of gender inclusive language? ›

Using gender-fair and inclusive language also helps reduce gender stereotyping, promotes social change and contributes to achieving gender equality.

Why language varies across gender? ›

The diversity of languages by sex arises because language as a social phenomenon is closely related to social attitudes. Socially, men and women differ because society determines different social roles for them, and people expect different patterns of behavior. Language is just a reflection of this social reality.

What is an example of gendered speech? ›

Another example of gendered language is the way the titles “Mr.,” “Miss,” and “Mrs.” are used. “Mr.” can refer to any man, regardless of whether he is single or married, but “Miss” and “Mrs.” define women by whether they are married, which until quite recently meant defining them by their relationships with men.

What is the biggest difference between male and female speech? ›

The larger body size of males tends to produce a lower-pitched voice while females speak in a higher vocal register. However, cultures interpret these biological differences in distinctive ways.

What are the differences between male versus female speech spectrum? ›

In general, women speak at a higher pitch—about an octave higher than men. An adult woman's average range is from 165 to 255 Hz, while a man's is 85 to 155 Hz (see sources). Men's voices are generally deeper because the surge of testosterone released during puberty causes their vocal cords to elongate and thicken.

Is Watashi gender neutral? ›

In formal or polite contexts, “watashi” is gender neutral. However, when it's used in informal or casual contexts, it is usually perceived as feminine.

Is ore rude Japanese? ›

In Japanese there are very levels of politeness. The word ore is a informal way to say "I" usually used by men with people they are close with. For example kids in high school would use this when talking with friends.

Is it ok for girls to use boku? ›

BOKU is for males and KIMI is referring to a female and is equivalent to ANATA. However in some songs the girls use BOKU as you mentioned.

Is it OK to call a girl Kun? ›

Kun is not only used to address females formally; it can also be used for a very close friend or family member. Calling a female -kun is not insulting and can also mean that the person is respected, although that is not the normal implication.

Can you call a girl Chan? ›


It is not appropriate in a work environment, but can be a nice, cute nickname for friends or romantic partners. It's typically used for young women you're close with, children, babies and animals, and can even be used for beloved older relatives, like a grandmother.

How do you politely address a Japanese woman? ›

Tsuma is how you refer to your wife in public, while “okusan” is a cute, respectful term used when addressing your wife at home. If you're talking or asking about someone else's husband or wife, though, you would refer their husband as ご主人 (goshujin) and their wife as 奥さん (okusan).

Why do girls walk before boys? ›

Anecdotally, many parents say boys reach gross-motor milestones like sitting up, cruising and walking earlier than girls, but some pediatricians swear the opposite. Yet both are wrong: Studies show no significant differences between boys and girls when it comes to these motor skills in infancy.

Which gender is better at language? ›

The main reason why females are better at language learning than males lies in their brains i.e how their brains process the language. The structure of the brain is the same. It's divided into two hemispheres: left (analytical and logic function) and right (musical, visual and non- linguistic processes).

Which gender has better language abilities? ›

It is true that, on average, young girls acquire language faster than young boys. Between the ages of 10 and 24 months, as a group, girls are ahead of boys in using gestures. They also use more words and combine words sooner than boys. These gender differences occur in many different languages and cultures.

What is sexism in language? ›

What is sexist language? It is inherently discriminatory language, either written or spoken, that implies an unjustified sexual bias against a group or an individual, usually women, but sometimes men.

What is sexism in language system? ›

By typical definition, sexist language is considered to be any language that is supposed to include all people, but, unintentionally (or not) excludes a gender—this can be either males or females. A look at linguistic sexism is finding out the relationship between language and gender.

What is the feminist language and gender? ›

The main focus of feminist language reform is to acknowledge the often unconscious ways that language both silences and emphasizes gender in negative ways. In some languages it is clear with gendered nouns how some words are gendered to associate those words with femaleness or maleness.

Do boys start to talk later than girls? ›

Boys tend to develop language skills a little later than girls, but in general, kids may be labeled "late-talking children" if they speak less than 10 words by the age of 18 to 20 months, or fewer than 50 words by 21 to 30 months of age.

How much later do boys talk than girls? ›

Your daughter will understand words spoken to her before boys, start talking two months earlier, and will continue building speech at a greater rate right through toddlerhood. For instance, girls at 16 months of age will produce up to 100 words, while boys struggle at around 30 words.

What percentage of boys are late talkers? ›

What is a late talker? A toddler between 18 and 30 months old who isn't speaking much or at all but is otherwise developing normally may be considered a late talker. It's estimated that up to 17.5 percent of kids up to age 3 who take longer may have a speech or language delay.

What languages are gender-neutral? ›

There are some languages that have no gender! Hungarian, Estonian, Finnish, and many other languages don't categorize any nouns as feminine or masculine and use the same word for he or she in regards to humans.

What is an example of a sexist language? ›

Examples of sexism in language and communications: The generic use of the masculine gender by a speaker (“he/his/him” to refer to an unspecific person). The cover of a publication depicting men only. The naming of a woman by the masculine term for her profession.

What is a language that avoid bias towards social gender? ›

Gender-neutral language is a generic term covering the use of non-sexist language, inclusive language or gender-fair language. The purpose of gender-neutral language is to avoid word choices which may be interpreted as biased, discriminatory or demeaning by implying that one sex or social gender is the norm.

How can we avoid gendered language? ›

3. Do not make gender visible when it is not relevant for communication
  1. 3.1 Use gender-neutral words. Less inclusive. ...
  2. 3.2 Using plural pronouns/adjectives. ...
  3. 3.3 Use the pronoun one. ...
  4. 3.4 Use the relative pronoun who. ...
  5. 3.5 Use a plural antecedent. ...
  6. 3.6 Omit the gendered word. ...
  7. 3.7 Use the passive voice.

What are the benefits of non gendered language? ›

Well, short of a potential lawsuit, gender-neutral language promotes equality and diversity in the workplace. And according to ACAS, equal and diverse company enjoys benefits like: Better innovation, teamwork, and employee engagement. A more diverse range of skills.

What is gender fair language opinion? ›

Gender-fair language minimizes unnecessary concern about gender in your subject matter, allowing both you and your reader to focus on what people do rather than on which sex they happen to be. For example, the practice of using he and man as generic terms poses a common problem.

How are gender differences reflected in language? ›

Men talk more about things and facts, whereas women talk more about people, relationships and feelings. Men's way of using language is competitive, reflecting their general interest in acquiring and maintaining status; women's use of language is cooperative, reflecting their preference for equality and harmony.

What are some examples of gendered language in everyday life? ›

In English, this would include using gender-specific terms referring to professions or people, such as 'businessman' or 'waitress', or using the masculine pronouns (he, him, his) to refer to people in general, such as 'a doctor should know how to communicate with his patients'.

What are some examples of gender inclusive language? ›

Gender inclusive language in English

use gender-neutral words, like “humankind” instead of “mankind”, “partner” instead of “wife/husband”, “firefighter” instead of “fireman”, etc. use gender-neutral pronouns, like they/them (singular they), instead of the binary masculine/feminine pronouns.

What are the types of gendered language? ›

Languages with grammatical gender usually have two to four different genders, but some are attested with up to 20. Common gender divisions include masculine and feminine; masculine, feminine, and neuter; or animate and inanimate.

Are most females more talkative than males? ›

combining the results of 73 studies of children, US researchers found girls did speak more words than boys, but only by a negligible amount. Even this small difference was only apparent when they talked to a parent, and was not seen when they were chatting with their friends.

Do boys have more speech problems than girls? ›

Does being a boy mean you are more likely to have speech and language delays? Studies show that for every girl with a language difficulty, there are 2-3 boys with similar problems. First words and sentences often develop a few months later for boys.

What is the vocal differences between the genders? ›

According to NCBI Library of Medicine, a female's pitch range generally falls somewhere between 160 – 300 Hz, while a male's voice can be 60 – 180 Hz. A male's voice will typically fall in an A2 to C3 octave (which is considered a lower pitch). Females, on the other hand, work in a higher pitch that's usually A3 to C4.

What are the differences between male and female voices? ›

Males generally have low pitched voices (A2 to C3) while females have high pitched voices (A3 to C4). Rougher articulation is often associated with male voices while the female voice is associated with a gentler articulation. Males tend to use full pitch range during speech while females vary pitch range during speech.

What is the most attractive male voice frequency? ›

There is also abundant evidence that women prefer men with a deep voice, while men prefer women with a high voice. Attractive male voices are around 96 Hz and the most attractive women voices are up to 280 Hz.

What gender is non binary in Japanese? ›

chūsei (中性): Persons with a gender identity beyond male or female (third gender/neutral);

Is there a gender-neutral pronoun in Japanese? ›

While watashitachi is the gender-neutral way to say we, you can also use gendered pronouns to say we in Japanese. If you identify as male and are speaking for your group, you can use boku or ore.

Are Chan and Kun gendered? ›

Honorifics are gender neutral, but some are used more for one gender than the other. Kun, for example, is used more for males while chan is for females.

Why is hiragana considered feminine? ›

Originally, hiragana was also known as Onna de (女手) or woman's hand and was the sole acceptable method of writing for women at the time. The soft curving characters of hiragana were deemed intrinsically more feminine than the harsh, blade-like strokes of katakana.

Is Watashi gender-neutral? ›

In formal or polite contexts, “watashi” is gender neutral. However, when it's used in informal or casual contexts, it is usually perceived as feminine.

Is Senpai gender-neutral? ›

🧑‍💼 Senpai (先輩、せんぱい)

As with "Sensei" is used interchangeably by sex, and does not necessarily follows the name. You might find it transcribed as "sempai". Its opposite is "Kohai/kouhai" but it is rarely used when talking to someone.

What is the Japanese gender breakdown? ›

In Japan, the population sex ratio has seen slight changes over the past decades. In 2021, the number of men was around 94.6 for every 100 women, constituting a decrease from 96.1 in 1950.


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