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Only a tiny extension in the first syllable separates the pronunciation of "少女" and "処女{しょじょ}". No matter how skillful one might be, those without the ability to speak with the rhythm and flow of a native Japanese cannot help but to sometimes be misheard. The extra "う" in "少女" just might not get heard in a flowing conversation.

  • As "処女" and "少女" are both nouns, swapping them will not change to grammatical correctness of a sentence?
  • Are not "少女" and "処女" similar enough in meaning that, in certain contexts, mistakenly saying "しょじょ" instead of "しょうじょ" does not change the meaning, but it does introduce sexuality into the sentence?
  • My way of avoiding that issue has always been to say "女の子" instead of "少女". That is almost the same meaning, right?

In summary, I don't want anyone to think I am discussing the virginity of young girls. Do the similar pronunciations of "少女" and "処女" present such a risk?

  • Fortunately, at least 少女 is a literary word we don't use in daily conversations. You can safely stick with saying 女の子. – broccoli forest Jan 2 '15 at 19:14
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    少女 (しょうじょ{HHLLL}) and 処女 (しょじょ{HHLL}) also differ in accent. You can emphasize the low う (actually お) in the middle to avoid confusion when you speak, if you really care. – broccoli forest Jan 3 '15 at 6:14
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    Naghhh, 少女can be used in conversation, especially such like on T.V. Ex, the broadcaster does not call a kidnapped girl 女の子 rather more likely 少女。 – Kentaro Jan 3 '15 at 15:28
  • Also, if you use お in order to pronounce "少女”, it is more likely for the learners to end up in 処女。 I recommend to emphasize う in order to say correctly at a beginner ( sorry ). – Kentaro Jan 3 '15 at 15:31
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    @user312440 It seems you haven't learn about Japanese phonological system very much. This Wikipedia article may be helpful en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mora_%28linguistics%29#Japanese Basically, 少女 is sho-o-jo and 処女 is sho-jo to us, as different as "Virginia" and "virgin". It's like you're asking how you can distinguish them, and I'm suggesting you put stress on "gin" and pronounce "ia" as audible as you can. – broccoli forest Jan 4 '15 at 9:56
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Am I the only one who never says 「少女」?

No, you are not. 「少女」 is a fairly big word despite its simple appearance. It is almost never used in informal oral communication among us native speakers, either. You would look pretty weird if you used it in informal speech.

As "処女" and "少女" are both nouns, swapping them will not change the grammatical correctness of a sentence?

Correct. Even the semantically strangest sentences are often 100% grammatical.

Are not "少女" and "処女" similar enough in meaning that, in certain contexts, mistakenly saying "しょじょ" instead of "しょうじょ" does not change the meaning, but it does introduce sexuality into the sentence?

Yes and no. Mistakenly saying the other one might be overlooked depending on the situation, but whenever you say 「処女」, you will sound like you are intentionally introducing sexuality into the sentence except, perhaps, in fixed phrases such as 「処女[航海]{こうかい}」 = "maiden voyage", 「処女[飛行]{ひこう}」 = "maiden flight".

My way of avoiding that issue has always been to say "女の子" instead of "少女". That is almost the same meaning, right?

Correct. 「女の子」 is what we use in informal speech, too. After introducing the gender, you could just use 「子」 as in 「その子」 or 「あの子」 instead of repeating 「女の子」 many times.

I don't want anyone to think I am discussing the virginity of young girls. Do the similar pronunciations of "少女" and "処女" present such a risk?

Yes, it would for J-learners. I would like you to know, however, that to us native speakers, 少女 and 処女 do not sound very similar. There are a ton of other words pairs in which the only difference in pronunciation is the length of one of the vowels.

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    Saying "almost never used" or "you'd look pretty weird" is too much. – user4092 Jan 4 '15 at 7:16
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    I clearly said "in informal oral communication", did I not? Or are you the type to actually use 少女 in that kind of speech? – l'électeur Jan 18 '15 at 12:14
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As "処女" and "少女" are both nouns, swapping them will not change to grammatical correctness of a sentence?

No, both are nouns, however, since there is a big difference in the meaning between them, although I do not comprehend what you are trying to mean by "grammatical", if you differenciate these two words, a huge problem could be arisen because while "処女” means a virgin, while "少女” means a little girl. And in this case, I recommend not to use "処女” so often otherwise with your girlfriend or very close friend, since it IS really sexually offensive.

Are not "少女" and "処女" similar enough in meaning that, in certain contexts, mistakenly saying "しょじょ" instead of "しょうじょ" does not change the meaning, but it does introduce sexuality into the sentence?

Yes, please refer to the above explanation.

My way of avoiding that issue has always been to say "女の子" instead of "少女". That is almost the same meaning, right?

It is really hard for me to "judge" only from your short ( sorry ) sentence. It really depends upon the "whole meaning of what you are trying to say"

In summary, I don't want anyone to think I am discussing the virginity of young girls. Do the similar pronunciations of "少女" and "処女" present such a risk?

Yes, I think it is safe to say "unlike" English, which had undergone "Great Vowel Shift", Japanese vowels need to be sounded as they are. So in short, just be a bit more careful when speaking vowels in Japanese.


To user 312440, let me say like this. First thing I personally think you should try in order to improve your Japanese, is to understand the difference between the 2 languages and and how to actually pronounce correctly the Japanese vowels. I found here a cute lady's lesson ha-ha http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSlDo_XE4FM. If you listen to her, you MIGHT feel some sort of, so to say, "the difference of tone ( or either pitch, I would like to say )", because to me, personally Japanese sounds "lower" than English, if you believe the theory of the sound wave length of the languages, you might be able to have your opinion. Since every language is spoken with their tongue and lips and teeth moved differently, don't you think? So let me go back to "how to pronounce 少女", according to her ( I mean above girl, she says " Your mouth stays in the same position for all the vowels", however, I MAY agree, after checking myself, for each vowel from a to o, as she says, the position of the tip of your tongue remains at the same position, which is, I think at the back of your lower teeth. For o, particularly, may be in my opinion, the tip of your tongue at the back of your lower teeth, deep may be, and and do kindly not open your lips so wide rather make them round small. As for consonants, she says, Japanese has wholly has the "aspiration", however, most of them look like so, if you believe it or not, you can listen to her, but let me write my opinions for sh and j to produce the sound of "少女”. Now for sh, in English, according to her http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wr2adpD6sYUI, right, teeth shut, air flown, THE POSITION OF YOUR TONGUE A BIT HIGHER. However, in Japanese, for sh, or rather more for sho ( for sho-u-jo ), TO ME, ( please listen to the cute babe too ( smile )), teeth shut, THE TIP OF YOUR TONGUE AT THE BACK OF YOUR LOWER TEETH, and air flown. And last for not least, for jo, PERSONALLY, first teeth shut, then open your mouth with your tip of your tongue "slung" to the top at the position of the Englsh's R or L position, up in the mouth, INSTANTLY, and air out. Pfew, I think alternatives or not, I recommend first of all to learn the pronunciation rather than the usage of the words, because the words can be used variably according to the "situation". Good for you.

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