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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?

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  • 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. – broken laptop 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. – broken laptop 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。 – user7644 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 ). – user7644 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. – broken laptop 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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