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[ANON POST] Japanese language question: Gender-neutral address for a sibling
Inara
orange_fell wrote in little_details
The story's set in the Naruto verse, same time as the main plot, and the main character is genderqueer. (preferred pronouns, they/them/their/ themself)

I'm looking for a gender-neutral term for 'older sibling' in Japanese. They've got younger siblings who love them very much, and it doesn't work for the siblings to call them 'nii-san' or 'nee-san'. The closest I've found is 'Kyoudai', which is plural and/or not used for direct address from what I can tell. Is there anything I can use? Or should I just say screw it and have the siblings use some wort of hybrid thing like 'niinee-san'?

I've searched:
Japanese family words
Japanese sibling words
Japanese sibling terms
Japanese sibling terms unisex
Kyoudai
Kyoudai-san
gender neutral family words japanese
gender neutral japanese
sibling japanese
Japanese sibling unisex

and also browsed a couple of language chatboards and wikipedia's entries on Japanese, which I can't remember off the top of my head.

As far as I know, there isn't one. If you want to avoid it, you could just use a family nickname like Yo-san or Sei-kun or whatever you like. Or the family might have made up one themselves.

Family nickname - I hadn't thought of that. That could work. Thanks!

Kyoudai-san doesn't work in my opinion, as it sounds too impersonal to my ears. It's basically like saying "Mr/Mrs Sibling" in English. At the most, it's something OTHER people could use to describe them as a third-person noun, but not as a form of address.

First name-chan and even -kun are still okay. I've heard -kun used for both girls and boys in some situations, especially work and sports environments.

Niinee-chan is kind of cute. I can see it.

And lastly, if all you're going to use your Japanese words for is peppering an English-language fic, you could always not, in this case. I know it's customary in fandom, but most times it's not necessary for the story. Excessive use of pronouns can even be annoying.

(FYI: Not a native speaker here, but fluent and working as a Jap-Ger translator).

I'm going to keep the japanese usage to an absolute minimum, but titles and honorifics don't always seem to work in english well. If I'm going to be using stuff like 'Umino-Sensei' and 'Tsuchikage', I want to be consistent in it.

The sibling relationship is a major part of the fic. The main is motivated largely by the need to protect themself and their younger siblings for the first half, and the siblings' acceptance of their gender identity is how they convince themself there's the possibility of things improving. So keeping that as a subtle but present theme is important.

My japanese is limited but I spent about 6 months Sasebo and heard "___-Kun" used by native speakers towards both genders. If all youre looking for is some sort of generic endearment that should do the trick.

As an aside, if you actually are going to have the character speak japanese, you should probably give some thought to how they themselves identify. Japanese is a gendered language even if the grammatical form is not enforced.

Could you clarify what you mean on "they themselves identify"? I'm not quite sure what you're trying to say.
The main is agender, if that's what you're talking about.

in Japanese, you can have a text that consists only of dialogue, and the reader will know the gender of the people talking simply because men and women talk differently: different interjections, different words for "I", different levels of politeness.

Think of how you can tell someone's background from the way the speak in English?

Our Japanese teacher at uni (early 90s, and I've not kept up with the language) did tell the male students that they would likely get a pass because they're foreigners and would probably just have people giggle over how they speak if they talk like a woman would, but if a Japanese man speaks in female language, he'd be expressing that he felt very feminine in other things, too.

It is something I've also heard about men who marry Japanese wives and learn most of their language from them: they usually end up with rather feminine speech.

Aha. Gotcha. The story's in english, but the characters are theoretically speaking japanese, and I like to have details on this stuff. Even if it never makes in into the story, knowing little facts like that are useful for characterization and plotting. I'll have to think on that a little more. Thank you for bringing that up, I would have overlooked that.

The main's a lying liar who lies, and they're re-telling the story as a 'how we got here' tale for their siblings, so I've hopefully got some wiggle room.



It should still be possible to have an agender character if you don't want them to identify as male or female; it's not like you'll be writing the dialogue in Japanese, and even then, there are gender-neutral ways of speaking - just like English, gendered interjections and pronouns can be avoided if the speaker thinks about their speech patterns, and politeness level isn't solely linked to gender (age, class, personality....)

Alternately, where gendered language can't easily be avoided, the person could essentially alternate between using "male" and "female" versions of words.

True but it is still signifigantly harder to do in japanese than it is to do in a non-gendered language like english or dutch. In english all you have to do is play the pronoun game. Replace "him" with her, it, or splorg and be done.

Gendered languages, especially ones where suffixs and sentence structure are effected make it a lot harder. Crap at least russian has a nuetered case.

Japanese is not actually a gendered language. It is a language that had some particles that tend to signify that the speaker is a. female, b. super polite, and c. somewhat old fashioned. Young-person speech is much less likely to use gendered markers, so this won't be a problem.

I was wondering if you could make them refer to their sib as naa-chan or something, where it's developed to fit the pattern of nii-san and nee-chan, but swapping out the vowel for one that doesn't mean bro or sis.

There are sentence (i want to say "conjugations" but i know thats not the right term) that change depending on the gender of the speaker.

Does your character use the male case or the female?

NM, ari beat me to it and with added detail to boot.

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Second time someone's suggested using a nickname. I feel a bit stupid for overlooking that option. Thanks for the help.

I think your best bet would be [character name]-kun (or -chan if the younger siblings are a bit obnoxious ;D). There's been anime with characters who could be either gender and often get the "kun" suffix--part of the comedy is that other characters often assume they're one gender, but they turn out to be the opposite.

Might have to settle for that, but it seems a little - generic? I want to highlight the sibling relationship as important and different from other relationships the main has. I'll have to think it over.
Thanks for the help.

My kids (both Japanese) have never referred to each other as anything but their names or nicknames, and we are right now at the awkward phase where my older son's nickname sounds babyish. So that might be something you could use: "Hey, Appi." "Sheesh, stop calling me that, we're not little kids anymore." I think it's pretty common these days not to address people as Onii-san or Onee-san, but to just use their names (and without -kun or -san, at least in my neighborhood: kids are simply Yuusuke, or Mami, or Kan).

To avoid mentioning it in direct conversation, you can have the siblings refer to each other as "ue no ko" (上の子) and "shita no no" (下の子)for "older child" and "younger child". As in, "This is Appi, they're ue. I'm 3 years younger." (If there are more than 2 siblings, it gets trickier.)

Also, you may know this, but the current preferred term for a trans* woman is Onee, as in: "Hey, Haruna Ai is onee, did you know?"