Pump You Up
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.