Pump You Up

September 19th, 2007

I saw this post about “girly Japanese” on Japan Probe* yesterday and thought I’d quickly comment. The post links to this article in the Christian Science Monitor about foreign guys speaking effeminate Japanese. You might be thinking that this is linked to sexual identity, but you’d be very wrong indeed. This is an incredibly common problem. If you can, as James pointed out, get past the really funky (and occasionally flat out wrong) attempts at romanization in the article, it’s interesting.

I wasn’t alone. I had friends who sounded like average American guys in English but whose voices, once they broke into Japanese, took on the girly tones of the high-heeled Asian fashionistas they were dating.

While the author, Matthew Rusling, discusses problems that stem from learning Japanese by mimicking his Japanese girlfriend, I think that the problem actually starts back in the classroom. Why? I took Japanese from a female teacher. I think lots of people, even the majority of those studying Japanese both in Japan and in other countries, learn from a female teacher. This means that for guys like me, I was hearing female Japanese from day one. The mannerisms exhibited by my teacher in surprise, frustration, excitement, praise, cluelessness, and all kinds of other daily situations were probably more firmly locked into my head than the grammar and vocabulary I was studying at the time. These mannerisms were reinforced inside and outside of teaching mode, in all interactions with her.

Then I moved to Japan and took the plunge – home stay. That rocked. Amazingly. But I wound up speaking almost entirely to my host mother – because we were frequently the only two at home. My host dad and sister led very busy lives. (She was a social butterfly and he was a salaryman in the midst of a large scale multi-company horizontal promotion.) Therefore, to this day I still have to fight the urge to let out an alarmed 「あら!」. People giggle when I go middle aged woman on them. I can understand that. But the trouble is relocating my speech patterns into the appropriate masculine mode. All of my major teachers and speech models have been female. Luckily, I was aware of this issue towards the end of my second year of study, and am rather disturbingly hypersensitive about how I am perceived in the world (to an unhealthy degree, most likely), so I started watching my language…just in a different way.

Television also has an interesting impact on my awareness of Japanese gendered speech. One of the first conversations that I found fascinating in the Google Group started by some blogging buddies of mine for Japanese language study, Soushi, was about the origins of the modern slang word 「どんだけぇ~」. Knowing where it comes from and how people like IKKO use it now make me wary of (mis)using it. It occupies a really hazy gender category in Japanese. There are people who can and who can’t pull it off. Therefore, I avoid it altogether. While waiting for a phone call yesterday, I also watched the closing episode (not the whole season) of a drama where a girl is somehow admitted into a guys school secretly. It was called 花ざかりの君たちへ (Hanazakari no Kimitachi he). The interesting thing about the closing episode (which otherwise honestly made me want to poke my eyes out) was listening to the girl character speak like a man. Because she was concealing her identity, she assumed male speech patterns, and it was weird. Fun stuff.

Anyway, I figured that some of you might want to beef up on your Japanese. I recommend watching TV and hanging out with men in order to learn how they speak. If you make some great Japanese guy friends they will surely help pump (clap) your girly-man Japanese up.

[Update: Comments pointed to a post at Nihongo Jouzu – the site maintained by the famous Will Jasprizza.]

* Japan Probe gave a hat tip to Julián Ortega Martínez, but I can’t read Spanish and I didn’t find the link on his site. Maybe it was an emailed tip? Anyway, credit is due where credit is due. :-)

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  • http://surrealu.blogspot.com claytonian

    I have an opposite problem. I can’t stop saying 俺 cause everyone here says it.

    I think a lot of the supposedly girlish vocabulary is really okay; you just sound fancy-pants if you are a guy, but あら and high intonation are right out.

    To fix your intonation, I recommend more TRICK! I actually resort to an Abe impersonation when I realize my accent has gotten too thick.

  • http://www.rockinginhakata.com Deas

    I tend to say 僕 still because I’m unsure if 俺 is acceptable in some situations. But I think it might come off as really boyish. Dunno. The high intonation thing, though. Geeze, I know so many guys who do that. It really makes me cringe. But yeah.

    And hey…more TRICK! is always the right answer. :-)

  • http://www.victorymanual.com Alex

    Totally ignoring the topic, I started watching Trick 2 last night. What order did the series come out?

    Season 1
    Season 2
    Season 3
    Movie 1
    Movie 2

    Is that right? Or were the movies in between seasons? Does it even matter?

    I already commented on the “girly Japanese” topic at nihongojouzu.com, so I’ll just be lazy and cut and paste it here:

    I just read a piece by Amy Chavez, and I hope it’s the last time I have to read anything by her. It was very self-centered, and not at all forward-thinking.

    The Christian Science Monitor piece sounded more like a rant than a warning. If you mimic female speech you will sound female in any language. That is the nature of ‘mimicking’. Imagine a male Japanese exchange student in California who learned English from teenage girls, “It’s so, like, amazing and like this shirt is so cute, like, I HAVE to have it!”

    I’m grumpy today. Typhoon Nari (台風11号) destroyed my attitude.

  • http://surrealu.blogspot.com claytonian

    Alex, check out the TRICK wikipedia article; I wrote it :) and got all the media covered as far as I know. There are 3 feature length things, two of which are movies…

  • http://www.amake.us/ Aaron

    Nitpick: It’s hanazakari not hanazakuri.

    I studied Japanese for about 10 years in the states, from only female teachers, but I managed to avoid speaking like a woman. Of the guys I know from college who studied Japanese and managed to attain a good level of proficiency, none of them have particularly effeminate speech patterns.

    In my experience, the only guys who end up talking like girls are the ones who never actually studied the language, but like to pretend they’re fluent because they are dating or have dated a Japanese woman. But of course that’s simply my experience, limited to Japanese study from middle school through university in the American Midwest.

  • http://www.rockinginhakata.com Deas

    Thanks for the nitpick, Aaron. Noted and fixed.

    As for your experience Aaron, I must say I’m really jealous. I’ve not studied since middle school, but I don’t think I’m a complete failure with Japanese and don’t feel like I’ve been wasting my time. I agree with what you said (especially about the author of the article I was discussing – he seems especially clueless about Japanese) but I guess I want to distance myself from that image since it’s not what I’m like. I think I’m talking more about cultural mannerism things than I am about linguistic stuff, though. I tend to mirror the people I’m speaking with. Sounds like it was just my problem though. Glad it wasn’t one for you. I once sounded really funny for a few weeks after coming back from a trip to Norway. It’s just the way I am. Right about now I sound like a former-Tokyoite-cum-fisherman, I think. Dunno.

    Alex – I think that the author of the article might argue that it should be Nihongo Josu. Ha ha ha. :-D Also, I was unaware of that post on Will’s site, so I’m adding the link at the bottom of my entry.

    Clay – Editing Wikipedia, are we? I think that qualifies as White & Nerdy, man. Excellent. I’m gonna read it too.

  • http://www.equinoxio.org/ Julián Ortega Martínez

    Yep, it was an e-mail tip. Thanks for the credit…

  • http://www.rockinginhakata.com Deas

    Julián – sure thing, anytime. :-)

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  • Y Rusling

    Thanks for reading and commenting on my husband-Matt Rusling’s article.

  • http://www.rockinginhakata.com Deas

    You’re certainly welcome, Mrs. Rusling. :-) Thanks for reading my post.