Japan: soon the end of the curse of female language?

When did this “feminine language” appear in Japan?

The primitive form of what we call today onna kotoba (“women’s words”, in French) was born around the decade 1887-1897. It mixes two elements. First there is a refined court language, used by the women of the imperial family and the great samurai families of the Edo period (between 1603 and 1868).

To this were then added particular expressions popularized in girls’ schools during the Meiji era (1868-1912), with the addition of feminizing end-of-sentence particles, such as excess “please” and of “isn’t it?”

Feminine language therefore also has its roots in girls’ schools…

As part of the movement to extend national education to girls (from 1868), the State initially decided to provide them with the same education as boys. But the policy changed in 1899 with the promulgation of an ordinance on the secondary education of girls. The goal: to make “good wives and virtuous mothers”.

Today we would speak of a backlash (like a conservative reaction to a social advance). It is in this context that this “feminine language” spread across the country.

How can we define this onna kotobathese “feminine words”?

It is a way of speaking whose aim is first and foremost to treat the interlocutor with respect. This language avoids contradicting the ideas or behavior of others to advance one’s own way of thinking. The more we show this “respect”, the more we “sound feminine”.

There is also an aesthetic aspect: the language must be refined. For example, we will add at the end of the sentence the particle kashira (a term that can be translated as “I wonder if”). Here, we do not express

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Asahi Shimbun (Tokyo)

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