Q&A: “Are there any (commonly used?) gender neutral pronouns in Japanese like there are in English?”
Are there any (commonly used?) gender neutral pronouns in Japanese like there are in English? I love your blog btw, your posts about Japanese are fascinating 🙂
(see also: this post)
ah, thank you! although at this point i feel the need to throw out a huge disclaimer.
[image reads: i’m totally a non-fluent, non-native speaker of Japanese and as such, i might not even know wtf i’m talking about! :’D but thank you for asking anyway! – Vesper]
anyway, i’m inclined to say no, there are no gender neutral pronouns in Japanese like there are in English.
in English, “gender neutral pronouns” generally refers to third-person pronouns used by one person to refer to another person. in Japanese, third-person pronouns aren’t used anywhere near as frequently as in English and it’s relatively easy to avoid gendering a person without using actual third-person pronouns at all, making gender neutral third-person pronouns not as necessary in Japanese as in English. it’s common, for example, to:
→ not use any pronouns at all:
A: yesterday i ran into Miho at the station!
B: wow, how was she?
A: Kosuke hasn’t come to the office lately.
B: you’re right. why don’t you try sending him a message on LINE?
→ use someone’s name instead of a pronoun:
A: who’s bigass car is that?
B: isn’t it Tanaka-san’s?
A: so it’s his Tanaka-san’s…
A: who’s your favorite teacher?
B: probably Uchihara-sensei. i don’t particularly like math, but she’s Uchihara-sensei is a pretty funny/interesting teacher.
→ use other words that can be (and are) used instead of pronouns:
A: that person came all the way from Hokkaido.
(note: あの方 – ano kata – that person [very polite])
A: that person is non-binary. could you not use gendered words like he or she?
(note: あの人 – ano hito – that person [polite / rude, depending on context / user])
A: that guy’s always late!
(note: あいつ – aitsu – that guy [not so polite, used between friends])
A: where the hell did that bastard go?
(note: あのやろう – ano yarou – that bastard [rude unless used between friends])
honestly, Japanese suffers from a different (but still similar) problem when it comes to gendered language. that is, first-person pronouns (I / me / my / mine) are gendered in Japanese whereas they aren’t in English. to me, this almost feels worse because in addition to having to navigate others misgendering me in everyday conversations, i have the added Fun Times of navigating misgendering myself whenever i talk about myself. it’s so goddamn frustrating and complicated and uuggghh. too complicated to go into on this (already long) post, but suffice it to say that speaking neutrally in first-person in Japanese is possible, but it’s a pain in my ass because it involves speaking in a way that does not at all come naturally to me as a native English speaker (ie. using words like 自分・うち, dropping the subject of sentences, etc). when i’m too rushed / exhausted / whatever to be bothered with putting in the extra effort required, i end up using pronouns that are gendered in complicated ways (私・僕・俺). since i don’t care for any of those pronouns, i end up alternating between them on a whim, which is annoying to me and potentially confusing for others………..
…あぁ、またやっちゃったぁ。ended up writing another longasswinded post… *wanders off to bed*
edit: see this post re: first-person pronouns and this post re: how to say you’re non-binary in Japanese.