Honorific speech in Japanese

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The Japanese language has many honorifics, referred to as keigo (敬語, literally "respectful language"), parts of speech that show respect. Their use is mandatory in many social situations. Honorifics in Japanese may be used to emphasize social distance or disparity in rank, or to emphasize social intimacy or similarity in rank.

Contents

The system is very extensive, having its own special vocabulary and grammatical forms to express various levels of respectful, humble, and polite speech. It closely resembles other honorifics systems found in the East Asian cultural sphere, such as the one used in Korean.

Introduction

Japanese uses honorific constructions to show or emphasize social rank, social intimacy or similarity in rank. The choice of pronoun used, for example, will express the social relationship between the person speaking and the person being referred to.

Honorific speech is often longer, and sometimes much longer, than more direct speech. Some extreme, but not uncommon, examples include the following:

When asking a question: the first is casually between friends, the second is a junior person asking a superior in a formal meeting:

Kiite ii?
Ok to ask (a question)?
Kikasete-itadakeru to ureshii no desu ga.
I would, however, be delighted if I may be permitted to ask (a question).

When asking for cooperation: the first is usual and polite, the latter is very formal, but often found in writing, especially in posters or flyers.

Go-kyōryoku-kudasai.
Your cooperation, please.
Go-kyōryoku no hodo o-negai mōshiagemasu.
We respectfully request the favor of a measure of your cooperation.

This latter example includes two honorific prefixes, nominalization of a verb (for formality), a respectful form, and two humble forms.

Types of honorifics

Honorifics in Japanese, or keigo (敬語), fall under three main categories: sonkeigo (尊敬語), respectful language; kenjōgo (謙譲語), [note 1] humble language (or "modest language"); and teineigo (丁寧語), polite language. Linguistically, the former two are referent honorifics, used for someone being talked about, and the last is an addressee honorific, used for someone being talked to. Sometimes two more categories are also used, for a total of five categories: teichōgo (丁重語) "courteous language" and bikago (美化語), "word beautification", but more often these are included in the above three: teichōgo as a kind of kenjōgo (humble), bikago as a kind of teineigo (polite)—these two other categories use the same forms as the general categories, but are used in different contexts, hence differentiated by some linguists. Each type of speech has its own vocabulary and verb endings.

For example, the standard form of the verb "to do" is suru (する). This form is appropriate with family members and close friends. The polite form of suru, the addressee honorific, is shimasu. This form is appropriate in most daily interactions. When showing respect, such as when talking about a customer or a superior, however, the respectful word nasaru and its polite form nasaimasu are used, and when referring to one's own actions or the actions of a group member, the humble word itasu and its polite form itashimasu are used. These respectful and humble words are referent honorifics, and thus can coexist with addressee honorific -masu.

Polite language

Polite language, teineigo, is characterized by the use of the sentence ending "desu" and the verb ending "masu" and the use of prefixes such as "o" and "go" towards neutral objects. Television presenters invariably use polite language, and it is the form of the language first taught to most non-native learners of Japanese.

Polite language can be used to refer to one's own actions or those of other people.

Respectful language

Respectful language, sonkeigo, is a special form or alternate word used when talking about superiors and customers. It is not used to talk about oneself. For example, when a Japanese hairdresser or dentist requests their client to take a seat, they say o kake ni natte kudasai to mean "please sit down". However, they would use the verb suwaru rather than o kake ni naru to refer to themselves sitting down. The respectful version of language can only be used to refer to others.

In general, respectful language is directed at those in positions of power; for example, a superior at work, or a customer. It also implies that the speaker is acting in a professional capacity.

It is characterized by lengthy polite expressions. Common verbs may be replaced by more polite alternative verbs, for example suru (do) by nasaru, or hanasu (talk) by ossharu when the subject is a person of respect. Some of these transformations are many-to-one: iku (go), kuru (come), and iru (be) all become irassharu, and taberu (eat) and nomu (drink) both become meshiagaru.

Verbs may also be changed to respectful forms. One respectful form is a modification of the verb with a prefix and a polite suffix. For example, yomu (read) becomes o-yomi ni naru, with the prefix o- added to the i-form of the verb, and the verb ending ni naru. The verb ending -(r)areru can also be used, such as yomareru.

Nouns also undergo substitution to express respect. The normal Japanese word for person, hito, 人, becomes kata, 方, in respectful language. Thus a customer would normally be expected to be referred to as a kata rather than a hito.

Humble language

In general, humble language is used when describing one's actions or the actions of a person in one's in-group to others such as customers in business. Humble language tends to imply that one's actions are taking place in order to assist the other person.

Humble language (kenjōgo) is similar to respectful language, in substituting verbs with other forms. For example: suru (do) becomes itasu, and morau (receive) becomes itadaku. These two verbs are also seen in set phrases such as dō itashimashite (you're welcome) and itadakimasu (いただきます—a phrase said before eating or drinking).

Similar to respectful language, verbs can also change their form by adding a prefix and the verb "suru" or "itasu". For example, motsu (carry) becomes o mochi shimasu. The use of humble forms may imply doing something for the other person; thus a Japanese person might offer to carry something for someone else by saying o mochi shimasu. This type of humble form also appears in the set phrase o matase shimashita, "I am sorry to have kept you waiting", from mataseru (make wait) with the addition of o and shimasu. Similarly, o negai shimasu, "please [do this]", from negau (request or hope for), again with the addition of o and shimasu.

Even more politely, the form motasete itadaku literally means "humbly be allowed to carry". This phrase would be used to express the idea that "I will carry it if you please."

The same forms may also be used when the speaker is not the agent, as a courtesy to the listener, as in the common phrase 電車が参ります (densha ga mairimasu "a train is arriving") at rail stations. In the case, the announcer him or herself is not arriving, but he or she is simply being courteous. Some linguists distinguish this from kenjōgo (where the speaker is the agent), calling it instead teichōgo (丁重語) "courteous language", and defining it formally as: [1] [2]

Honorifics by which the Speaker shows consideration to the hearer through all expressions of the subject matter.

This category was first proposed by Hiroshi Miyachi (宮地裕). [3] [4] Teichōgo, as an addressee honorific, is always used with the teineigo (-masu) form, the politeness sequence (using "go" as an example) being 行く, 行きます, 参ります (iku, ikimasu, mairimasu).

In humble language, name suffixes are dropped when referring to people from inside one's group. Thus, Japanese-speaking company executives would introduce themselves and their team by saying "I am Gushiken, the president, and this is Niwa, the CEO."

Similarly to respectful language, nouns can also change. The word hito, 人, meaning person, becomes mono, written 者. The humble version is used when referring to oneself or members of one's group, such as one's company.

Respectful verbs

Irregular respectful verb forms
meaningdictionary formrespectful (sonkeigo)humble (kenjōgo)polite (teineigo)
see / look / watch見る miruご覧になる go-ran ni naru拝見する haiken suru見ます mimasu
meet会う auregular (ex. お会いになる o-ai ni naru)お目に掛かる o-me ni kakaru会います aimasu
be (inanimate)1ある aru ござる gozaruあります arimasu
be (animate)1いる iruいらっしゃる irassharu
おる oruいます imasu
come / go1来る kuru (come)
行く iku (go)
おいでになる o-ide ni naru伺う ukagau (to respectful location)
参る mairu (to other)
来ます/行きます
kimasu / ikimasu
know知る shiruご存じ go-zonji 存じ上げる zonji ageru知ります shirimasu
eat / drink食べる taberu (eat)
飲む nomu (drink)
召し上がる meshi-agaruいただく itadaku食べます/飲みます
tabemasu / nomimasu
receiveもらう morau いただく itadaku2
頂戴する chōdai-suru2
もらいます moraimasu
give
(when the receiver is respected)
やる yaru (considered rude today, except in Kansai dialect)
あげる ageru (once the humble form)
 差しあげる sashiageruあげます agemasu
give
(when the giver is respected)
くれる kureruくださる kudasaru くれます kuremasu
doする suruなさる nasaru致す itasuします shimasu
say言う iuおっしゃる ossharu申し上げる mōshi-ageru
申す mōsu
言います iimasu
put on着る kiruお召しになる omeshi ni naru 着ます kimasu
sleep寝る neruお休みになる o-yasumi ni naru 寝ます nemasu
die死ぬ shinuお亡くなりになる o-nakunari ni naru 死にます shinimasu
ask聞く kiku / 尋ねる tazuneru 伺う ukagau聞きます/尋ねます
kikimasu / tazunemasu
visit訪ねる tazuneru 伺う ukagau訪ねます tazunemasu
1 The distinction between these three verbs is lost in some respectful forms.
2 Both are the humble form of receive (もらう morau); it can also be used for related verbs like eat (食べる taberu) and drink (飲む nomu).

Word beautification

Word beautification (bikago, 美化語, "beautified speech", in tanka also sometimes gago, 雅語, "elegant speech") is the practice of making words more polite or "beautiful". This form of language is employed by the speaker to add refinement to one's manner of speech. This is commonly achieved by adding the prefix o- or go- to a word and used in conjunction with the polite form of verbs. In the following example, o- before cha and senbei and the polite form of the verb are used to this effect. Generally o- is used before native Japanese words and go- is used before Sino-Japanese words, but there are exceptions.

お茶にお煎餅、よく合いますね
O-cha ni o-senbei, yoku aimasu ne
Tea and rice crackers go well (together), don't they?

In finer classifications, the above example is classified as word beautification—rather than honorific speech—as the speaker is voicing a general opinion regarding tea and rice crackers and is not intentionally deferential towards the listener. In the following example, the speaker is directly referring to the listener and items received by them and is regarded as honorific language:

お宅様からいただいたお菓子は大変おいしゅうございました
O-taku-sama kara itadaita okashi wa taihen oishuugozaimashita
The sweets you gave me were most delectable.

See the section on honorific prefixes, below, for further discussion.

Usage

Business

Honorifics are considered extremely important in a business setting. Training in honorifics usually does not take place at school or university, so company trainees are trained in correct use of honorifics to customers and superiors.

In groups and out groups

When using polite or respectful forms, the point of view of the speaker is shared by the speaker's in-group (内 uchi), so in-group referents do not take honorifics. For example, members of one's own company are referred to with humble forms when speaking with an external person; similarly, family members of the speaker are referred to humbly when speaking to guests. Similarly, the out-group (外 soto) addressee or referent is always mentioned in the polite style (though not necessarily with honorifics).

Mastery of politeness and honorifics is important for functioning in Japanese society. Not speaking politely enough can be insulting, and speaking too politely can be distancing (and therefore also insulting) or seem sarcastic. Children generally speak using plain informal speech, but they are expected to master politeness and honorifics by the end of their teenage years. Recent trends indicate that the importance of proper politeness is not as high as before, particularly in metropolitan areas. The standards are inconsistently applied towards foreigners, though most textbooks attempt to teach the polite style before considering to teach any of the other styles.

Gender differences

Depending on the situation, women's speech may contain more honorifics than men's. In particular, in informal settings, women are more likely to use polite vocabulary and honorific prefixes, such as gohan o taberu to mean "eat rice", whereas men may use less polite vocabulary such as meshi o kū with exactly the same meaning. This is part of a general pattern of speech differences by sex. However, in many settings, such as in customer service, there will be little or no difference between male and female speech.

Grammatical overview

Japanese has grammatical functions to express several different pragmatic registers. Not only politeness but also respectfulness, humility and formality can be expressed.

Expressing politeness

There are three levels of politeness, plain or direct (普通体futsūtai or 常体 jōtai), polite or distal (敬体 keitai or 丁寧 teinei), and formal (generally, 敬語 keigo or 最敬体 saikeitai). Formal and polite can be combined. For example, for the sentence "This is a book",

plainplain formalpolitepolite formalvery polite formal
これは本だ
kore wa hon da.
これは本である
kore wa hon dearu.
これは本です
kore wa hon desu.
これは本であります
kore wa hon de arimasu.
これは本でございます
kore wa hon de gozaimasu.

The informal style is used among friends, the distal or polite style by inferiors when addressing superiors and among strangers or casual acquaintances, and the formal style generally in writing or prepared speeches. The plain formal and informal styles of verbs are nearly identical, with a few grammatical differences, such as the verb de aru being used as a formal copula, and the preferential usage of verb stems to connect clauses instead of the "te form". Formal language in Japanese also uses different vocabulary and structures from informal language.

In some contexts, where both the imperfective (incomplete: present/future) and perfective (complete: past) tenses are acceptable, the perfective is considered more polite. This is only at the completion of an activity; common examples are ありがとうございました arigatō gozaimashita "thank you (for a completed favor)", ご馳走様でした go-chisō-sama deshita "it was a feast (for a completed meal)", 失礼しました shitsurei shimashita "I have been rude (when leaving, after a visit)". For example, when entering someone's office, one conventionally says 失礼します shitsurei shimasu, as the visit is not complete yet, while when exiting one may say either shitsurei shimasu or, more politely, 失礼しました shitsurei shimashita. Many phrases cannot be used in the perfective in this way, as the referent is as yet incomplete. For example, the standard greeting お早うございます ohayō gozaimasu "Good morning" (lit. "It is early") cannot be said as ×お早うございました *ohayō gozaimashita "It was early", as it is used only during the morning.

Expressing respect

Further to this, there is another factor, respect, which is indicated in yet other ways. For each politeness level there are two respectful forms (敬語, keigo).

  1. The respect language (尊敬語, sonkeigo) form shows respect to the subject of the sentence.
  2. The humble language (謙譲語, kenjōgo) form gives respect to the ( direct or indirect ) object by a variety of means, the most common being to humble the speaker.

These respectful forms are represented by different verb endings. Since verbs come at the end of the sentence in Japanese, most of the factors of formality, politeness, and respect are expressed at the very end of each sentence.

Plain formジョンさんが佐藤さんを待つ

Jon san ga Satō san o matsu.
John waits for Sato.

Respect for subject先生がお待ちになる

Sensei ga o-machi-ni-naru.
(The) teacher waits.

Respect for object先生をお待ちする

Sensei o o-machi-suru.
We wait for you, Teacher.

The o-machi-suru humble forms carry an implication that the waiting or other activity is being (humbly) done by the speaker for the benefit of the person being addressed. Thus a humble sentence is unlikely to take a third person subject. For example, a sentence like jon ga sensei o o machi suru (John waits for the teacher) is unlikely to occur.

Honorific titles

Honorific suffixes and prefixes are used when referring to others in a conversation. They reflect not only the level of politeness chosen, but also the relative social rank or the degree of intimacy between people. For example, a person might refer to their classmate or work colleague as Asada-san ("Mr./Ms. Asada"), but to their little son as Hideyo-chan ("lil' Hideyo"). Referring to somebody without using a honorific is a sign of great informality or intimacy.

The most common honorifics include:

HonorificApproximate equivalentUsed for
San (さん) Mr. / Ms. Adults of equal status, informally and formally
Sama (様, さま) Sir / Ma'am People of higher status (including deities, guests, customers)
Kun (君【くん】)Boy, broPeople of junior status, boys, or among male friends
Chan (ちゃん)Little...Small children, something or somebody cute, close friends
Tan (たん)Widdle...Babies, moe anthropomorphisms
Senpai (先輩、せんぱい)Senior colleague or classmate
Sensei (先生、せんせい)Authority figures (teachers, doctors, lawyers...)

Requests

Japanese requests and commands have many set forms depending on who is being addressed by whom. For example, the phrase yoroshiku o negai shimasu, meaning "I ask your favor" can take various forms. At the bottom of the scale comes

yoroshiku tanomu,

which might be used between male friends. Its more polite variant

yoroshiku tanomimasu

might be used towards less familiar people or to superiors.

Going up in politeness, the phrase

yoroshiku onegai shimasu

means the same thing, but is used in business settings. It is possible to go further, replacing the polite "shimasu" with the humble itashimasu, to get

yoroshiku onegai itashimasu.

In extremely formal Japanese, such as that used on New Year's greeting cards, this may be replaced with an even more polite expression

yoroshiku onegai mōshiagemasu.

When making requests, at the bottom of the politeness scale comes the plain imperative tabero or kue, literally "Eat!", a simple order to be said to an inferior or someone considered to have no choice, such as a prisoner. This form might convey anger. Similarly, the "no/n da" suffix can make an order: taberu n da, or kuu n da "Eat!". To express anger, the suffix yagaru also exists: "kuiyagare", an extremely forceful and angry instruction to eat, expressing contempt for the addressee.

Negatives are formed by adding suffix na: taberu na "do not eat", gomi o suteru na: "do not throw away rubbish". Similarly, the negative of da, ja nai, can be used: taberu n ja nai.

More polite, but still strict, is the nasai suffix, which attaches to the i-form of the verb. This originates in the polite verb nasaru. Tabenasai thus is an order perhaps given by a parent to a child. This is often colloquially shortened to na, hence tabena. This form has no grammatical negative.

Requests can also be formed by adding to the "te" form of a verb. The plainest form adds kure, an irregular form of the verb kureru, to the te form. For example, tabete kure or kutte kure: "eat it", less forceful than "tabero". Negatives are made by using the negative "te" form: tabenaide kure or kuwanaide kure "don't eat it".

Going up one scale in politeness, the more polite verb kudasai is added. For example, tabete kudasai. With this polite form, the rough verb is unlikely to be used. Similarly, tabenaide kudasai: "please don't eat it".

A similar entry on the scale of politeness is made by using the imperative form of a polite verb. For example, meshiagaru, the polite verb for "to eat", when turned into meshiagare, the imperative, becomes the response to the set phrase itadakimasu.

Further, more polite forms are also possible. These involve the "i-form" of the verb rather than the "te form", and an honorific prefix (see honorific prefixes: verbs, below). Beyond simply increased politeness, this form is more formal, and is used when addressing a group, or as a general instruction, rather than directed at a particular person. For example, tsukau, "use", becomes o tsukai kudasai: "please use this". In the case of phrasal verbs the honorific o appears before the entire phrase, not simply the verb, as in o-ki (w)o tsuke-kudasai (お気を付け下さい), from ki (w)o tsukeru (気を付ける). Politeness can be carried even further by conjugating kudasaru into its masu form and using the imperative, which becomes "o tsukai kudasaimase." The most polite form of this would probably be along the lines of "o tsukai ni natte itadakimasen deshou ka." "You will probably not bestow the favor of honorably using this?" Language like this, however, is rarely used.

Other ways to increase politeness involve indirection of the request: kore o tsukau you ni o negai shimasu: "I humbly request that you think about using this".

Honorific prefixes

The beautifying prefixes o- (o~ ) and go- (go~ ) are commonly used for certain words, such as oTang  (o-yu) and oCha  (o-cha)--hot water and tea--on this tea machine. oTang tooCha .jpg
The beautifying prefixes o- (お〜) and go- (ご〜) are commonly used for certain words, such as お湯 (o-yu) and お茶 (o-cha)—hot water and tea—on this tea machine.

The bikago (beautifying) prefixes o- (お〜) and go- (ご〜) (both written with the character 御- in kanji) are honorific prefixes which are applied to nouns and in some contexts to verbs. In general, go- (the on'yomi) precedes Sino-Japanese words (that is, words borrowed from Chinese or made from Sino-Japanese elements), while o- (the kun'yomi) precedes native Japanese words. There are many exceptions, however, where the o- prefix is used for Sino-Japanese words, including お茶 o-cha "tea", お大事に o-daiji-ni "get well", お電話 o-denwa "telephone", お稽古 o-keiko "practice", お宅 o-taku "home/you", and many others. There is also one common exception for the go- prefix, ごゆっくり go-yukkuri "slowly", where the main word is clearly not of Chinese origin.

These prefixes are used for two purposes: to speak respectfully about a stranger or social superior's family, belongings, or actions (as part of 尊敬語, sonkeigo); or to speak in a generally refined or polite way (敬語 keigo generally, specifically 美化語, bikago).

Prefix usage

Although these honorific prefixes are often translated into English as "honorable" ("o-denwa," for example, would be given as "the honorable telephone") this translation is unwieldy and cannot convey the true feeling of their use in Japanese. These prefixes are essentially untranslatable, but their use indicates a polite respect for the item named or the person to or about whom one is speaking. A shorter translation is "dear"—for example, o-ko-san, お子さん, translates idiomatically as "your dear child"—and a similar sentiment is expressed in such English expressions as "Would you care for a spot of tea?" or "Would you care for a little tea?" (as opposed to the plain "Would you like some tea?").

As with honorific word forms and titles, honorific prefixes are used when referring to or speaking with a social superior, or speaking about a superior's actions or possessions, but not usually when referring to oneself or one's own actions or possessions, or those of one's in-group.

For example, when referring to one's own order at a restaurant, one would use chūmon, but when referring to a customer's order, the restaurant staff would use go-chūmon. Similarly, kazoku means "my family," while go-kazoku means "your family" (or, broadly speaking, someone else's family).

There are some words which frequently or always take these prefixes, regardless of who is speaking and to whom; these are often ordinary items which may have particular cultural significance, such as tea (o-cha) and rice (go-han). The word meshi, the Japanese equivalent of Sino-Japanese go-han, is considered rough and masculine (男性語). The honorific o- is also sometimes attached to verb stems (連用形, ren'yōkei, continuative form, -masu stem—see stem forms) of native verbs (hence native o-) to refer to a specific item associated with the verb, as in oshibori (お絞り、絞る) "hot towel", and onigiri/omusubi (お握り、握る and お結び、結ぶ) "rice ball".

In rare cases, both a base form and honorific are in use with different readings. A notable example is 利益 ri-eki "benefit, profit (e.g., business)" and 御利益 go-ri-yaku "divine favor, grace"; plain ri-yaku is sometimes used, but go-ri-eki is generally not. The former, an everyday term, uses the usual kan-on reading, while the later, a specialized religious term, uses the older go-on reading.

Honorific prefixes can be used for other items, possibly for a comic or sarcastic effect (for example, o-kokakōra, "honorable Coca-Cola"). Overuse of honorific prefixes may be taken as pretentious or simpering, and, as with other polite speech, they are more used by women than men.

In tea ceremony, common ingredients and equipment always take the honorific o- or go-, including water (o-mizu), hot water (o-yu), and tea bowls (o-chawan). However, these terms are often heard in daily life as well.

Foreign loanwords (gairaigo, except those that come from Chinese; see above) seldom take honorifics, but when they do o- seems to be preferable to go-. Examples are o-bīru (bīru: beer), which can sometimes be heard at restaurants, o-kādo (kādo: card, as in credit card or point card), which is often heard at supermarkets and department stores, and o-sōsu (sōsu: sauce).

Verbs

For verbs, a respectful request—or rather a polite command—addressed to a group may be formed by using 御〜, followed by the masu-stem (連用形), followed by kudasai (下さい, please). For Chinese verbs (kango + suru), the prefix is generally pronounced go-, while for native Japanese verbs the prefix is pronounced o-. [5] This is generally written in kana. The most commonly heard use is go-chūi-kudasai (ご注意ください, please be careful) (Chinese verb), which is used pervasively in recorded announcement in Japan (escalators, trains and subways, turning trucks), but other verbs are also used frequently, such as o-suwari-kudasai (お座りください, please sit down) (Japanese verb).

The respectful prefix can also be used in honorific verbs, when speaking about a superior, in which case it is formed by o-, followed by the masu-stem, followed by -ni-naru (〜になる) (suitably conjugated), as in o-kaeri-ni-narimashita (お帰りになりました, went home). [6]

Female names

O- was also commonly used as an honorific prefix to female given names in pre-war Japan, particularly in combination with dropping common suffixes such as -ko (-こ) (-子, literally "child"). For example, Hanako (花子) would be referred to as O-hana (お花), Harumi (春美) would become O-haru (お春), Yuki () would become O-yuki (お雪), and so on. This was a less polite honorific than "san". For example, a female servant named Kikuko would be referred to as O-kiku rather than Kikuko-san. This usage has disappeared in current Japanese, and has been replaced by using the diminutive suffix -chan instead (compare to male -kun), as in Aki-chan for Akiko.

Rare forms

There is also a rarer prefix mi- (kun'yomi), which is mostly used in words related to gods and the emperor, such as mi-koshi (御輿, "portable shrine" in Shinto) and mi-na (御名, "the Holy Name" in Christianity). However, in this context it is often replaced by 神 ("god", also pronounced mi-), and then a further 御 (pronounced お-, o-) may be added, as in 御神輿 (o-mi-koshi). Sometimes the reading is ambiguous—for example, 御霊屋 "mausoleum" may be pronounced either mi-tama-ya or o-tama-ya. When pronounced as mi-, the prefix is usually written in kanji (unlike o- and go-, which are very frequently hiragana), but in some case it is written in hiragana, with a notable example being mi-hotoke (御仏, "Lord Buddha") often being written as み仏, partly to avoid confusion with the incorrect reading *go-butsu.

The honorific prefix generally does not fall in the middle. In compounds, where the honorific would fall in the middle, the honorific is almost always dropped. For example, お茶/御茶 o-cha "tea", but 麦茶 mugi-cha "barley tea", not ×麦お茶/麦御茶 *mugi-o-cha. There are exceptions, however, such as 乾御門 inui-go-mon "northwest gate (to imperial palace)"; note that 乾門 inui-mon "northwest gate (generally)" is also used.

Rarely, 御 is used instead as an honorific suffix, notably in 甥御 oigo "your nephew" and 姪御 meigo "your niece".

The character 御 has other readings, notably on (kun'yomi) and gyo (on'yomi), as seen in on-sha (御社, your company, literally "honorable company") and gyo-en (御苑, imperial garden, literally "honorable garden"), but these are not productive (they are not used to form new words, but only in existing words).

Another prefix, pronounced o- (お〜) and potentially confused with 御〜 when written in hiragana, is 阿〜 o-, which also has affectionate connotations, but is a separate term and not productive. It was previously used for endearment for women's names, and today is most notable in 阿多福/阿亀 (o-ta-fuku,o-kame, "moon-faced woman, homely woman"), which are frequently written as お多福/お亀, which may be mistaken (partially) for hiragana forms of ×御多福/×御亀. The character 阿 is more frequently pronounced a, and used especially in words and names from Sanskrit, such as the a in the syllable "aum", hence unfamiliar in this use, creating the potential for confusion.

In one case, a triple honorific prefix may used, namely in the word o-mi-o-tsuke, a polite term for miso soup, which is ordinarily referred to as miso-shiru (味噌汁, miso soup). This may be spelt in kanji in multiple ways, including (御御御汁, honorable-honorable-honorable soup), but also as (御味御汁, honorable flavor honorable soup) (味 = mi, flavor), and the 御御御〜 spelling may be considered ateji, punning on 御 and 味 both having the reading mi.

English analogs

While English has different registers, its levels of formality and politeness are not as formalized or as clearly defined as in Japanese. However, they can be instructive in gaining a feel for Japanese speech. English imperatives range from very blunt ("Give me the book"), to very indirect and elaborate ("If it's not too much trouble, could you please be so kind as to pass me the book?"—note the use of potential form, as in Japanese).

Similarly, changes in word use can make language more flowery or respectful—rather than "Do you know?", one might say "Are you familiar with?" or "Are you acquainted with?", which convey some of the feel of 知る shiru versus ご存知だ go-zonji da. In English, words of Germanic origin are generally plainer, those from French are generally more flowery (compare "drink" versus "beverage"), and those from Latin are more formal and technical (see Anglish and related articles); similarly in Japanese, words of Japanese origin are plainer, while words of Chinese origin are more formal. These are not hard-and-fast rules, but they give a feel for the gradations.

Humble language is less common in modern English, but is found in some contexts, such as guests saying "I am honored to be here," (rather than "I am glad to be here" or "I am happy to be here") and in various valedictions such as "Sincerely", which were formerly more formal and humble, with such forms as "I am, Sir, your most humble and obedient servant," and the like.

Some scholars argue that while honorific usage is necessarily affected by culturally specific values systems, the linguistic principles regulating its usage are not necessarily distinct from those of other languages, including honorific-poor languages such as English. [7]

Manual keigo

Some convenience stores and fast-food restaurants teach their young and part-time employees to verbally interact with customers in strictly prescribed ways laid down in instruction manuals. These forms of speech are known as マニュアル敬語 (manyuaru keigo, "manual keigo") or バイト敬語 (baito keigo, "part-timer keigo"). Manual keigo includes forms which would be considered incorrect or at least non-standard in terms of traditional usage (keigo and otherwise). A common example is udon ni narimasu (literally "[this] becomes udon", "[this] will be udon") as a polite form of udon desu ("[this] is udon"), instead of the standard udon de gozaimasu ("[this] is udon (polite)")—this manual keigo form is often criticized on the basis that the udon is not "becoming" anything, and therefore ni naru is incorrect, both as keigo and more generally.

See also

Notes

  1. kenjōgo (謙譲語) is more rarely called kensongo (謙遜語), "kenson" being an alternative word for "humility, modesty".

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Japanese is an East Asian language spoken by about 128 million people, primarily in Japan, where it is the national language. It is a member of the Japonic language family, and its relation to other languages such as Korean is debated. Japonic languages have been grouped with other language families such as Ainu, Austroasiatic, and the now-discredited Altaic, but none of these proposals has gained widespread acceptance.

A prefix is an affix which is placed before the stem of a word. Adding it to the beginning of one word changes it into another word. For example, when the prefix un- is added to the word happy, it creates the word unhappy. Particularly in the study of languages, a prefix is also called a preformative, because it alters the form of the words to which it is affixed.

Japanese is an agglutinative, synthetic, mora-timed language with simple phonotactics, a pure vowel system, phonemic vowel and consonant length, and a lexically significant pitch-accent. Word order is normally subject–object–verb with particles marking the grammatical function of words, and sentence structure is topic–comment. Its phrases are exclusively head-final and compound sentences are exclusively left-branching. Sentence-final particles are used to add emotional or emphatic impact, or make questions. Nouns have no grammatical number or gender, and there are no articles. Verbs are conjugated, primarily for tense and voice, but not person. Japanese equivalents of adjectives are also conjugated. Japanese has a complex system of honorifics with verb forms and vocabulary to indicate the relative status of the speaker, the listener, and persons mentioned.

A circumfix is an affix which has two parts, one placed at the start of a word, and the other at the end. Circumfixes contrast with prefixes, attached to the beginnings of words; suffixes, attached at the end; and infixes, inserted in the middle. Circumfixes are common in Malay and Georgian.

Kansai dialect

The Kansai dialect is a group of Japanese dialects in the Kansai region of Japan. In Japanese, Kansai-ben is the common name and it is called Kinki dialect in technical terms. The dialects of Kyoto and Osaka are known as Kamigata dialect, and were particularly referred to as such in the Edo period. The Kansai dialect is typified by the speech of Osaka, the major city of Kansai, which is referred to specifically as Osaka-ben. It is characterized as being both more melodic and harsher by speakers of the standard language.

<i>Senpai</i> and <i>kōhai</i>

In Japan, senpai and kōhai represent an informal hierarchical interpersonal relationship found in organizations, associations, clubs, businesses, and schools. The concept has its roots in Confucian teaching, and has developed a distinguished Japanese style, ultimately becoming part of Japanese culture.

Uchi-soto is the distinction between in-groups and out-groups. This distinction between groups is a fundamental part of Japanese social custom and sociolinguistics and is even directly reflected in the Japanese language itself.

An honorific is a title that conveys esteem, courtesy, or respect for position or rank when used in addressing or referring to a person. Sometimes, the term "honorific" is used in a more specific sense to refer to an honorary academic title. It is also often conflated with systems of honorific speech in linguistics, which are grammatical or morphological ways of encoding the relative social status of speakers. Honorifics can be used as prefixes or suffixes depending on the appropriate occasion and presentation in accordance with style and customs.

The classical Japanese language, also called "old writing", is the literary form of the Japanese language that was the standard until the early Shōwa period (1926–1989). It is based on Early Middle Japanese, the language as spoken during the Heian period (794–1185), but exhibits some later influences. Its use started to decline during the late Meiji period (1868–1912) when novelists started writing their works in the spoken form. Eventually, the spoken style came into widespread use, including in major newspapers, but many official documents were still written in the old style. After the end of World War II, most documents switched to the spoken style, although the classical style continues to be used in traditional genres, such as haiku and waka. Old laws are also left in the classical style unless fully revised.

The Japanese language makes use of honorific suffixes and prefixes when referring to others in a conversation. Suffixes are attached to the end of names and are often gender-specific, while prefixes are attached to the beginning of many nouns. Honorific suffixes also indicate the level of the speaker and referred individual's relationship and are often used alongside other components of Japanese honorific speech, called keigo (敬語).

Japanese verb conjugation

As with most languages, Japanese verbs can be phonetically modified to change the purpose, nuance or meaning of the verb. These modifications are known as "verb conjugations". In the Japanese language, the beginning of a word is usually preserved during conjugations, whilst the ending of the word is altered in some way to change the meaning. Unlike other languages, Japanese verb conjugations are independent from a subject's perspective, gender and plurality.

Chinese honorifics and honorific language are words, word constructs, and expressions in the Chinese language that convey self-deprecation, social respect, politeness, or deference.

The Nagoya dialect is a japanese dialect spoken in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture. In a wide sense, Nagoya dialect means the dialect in the western half of the prefecture, and in that case, it is also called Owari dialect. The dialect spoken in the eastern half of the prefecture is different from Nagoya dialect and called Mikawa dialect.

The Korean language has a system of honorifics that recognizes and reflects the hierarchical social status of participants with respect to the subject and/or the object and/or the audience. Speakers use honorifics to indicate their social relationship with the addressee and/or subject of the conversation, concerning their age, social status, gender, degree of intimacy, and speech act situation.

Manual keigo, is a controversial form of honorifics (keigo) in the Japanese language. Employers such as fast-food and convenience-store chains publish training manuals for employees, especially young part-timers who have little experience with honorifics. These manuals incorporate nonstandard formulas for servers and cashiers to use when addressing customers, most often by using alternate expressions which are longer and vaguer than the standard expression. Manual keigo are opposed by language purists on the grounds that their use frequently leads to non-grammatical and illogical constructions.

In linguistics, an honorific is a grammatical or morphosyntactic form that encodes the relative social status of the participants of the conversation. Distinct from honorific titles, linguistic honorifics convey formality FORM, social distance, politeness POL, humility HBL, deference, or respect through the choice of an alternate form such as an affix, clitic, grammatical case, change in person or number, or an entirely different lexical item. A key feature of an honorific system is that one can convey the same message in both honorific and familiar forms—i.e., it is possible to say something like "The soup is hot" in a way that confers honor or deference on one of the participants of the conversation.

The Japanese language has some words and some grammatical constructions associated with men or boys, while others are associated with women or girls. Such differences are sometimes called "gendered language". In Japanese, speech patterns associated with women are referred to as onna kotoba or joseigo, and those associated with men are referred to as danseigo.

Japanese verb conjugation is very regular, as is usual for an agglutinative language, but there are a number of exceptions. The best-known irregular verbs are the common verbs する suru "do" and 来る kuru "come", sometimes categorized as the two Group 3 verbs. As these are the only verbs frequently flagged as significantly irregular, they are sometimes misunderstood to be the only irregular verbs in Japanese. However, there are about a dozen irregular verbs in Japanese, depending on how one counts. The other irregular verbs encountered at the beginning level are ある aru "be (inanimate)" and 行く iku/yuku "go", with the copula behaving similarly to an irregular verb.

The Awaji dialect, also called Awaji ben (淡路弁), is a dialect of Japanese spoken on Awaji Island in the southern part of Hyōgo Prefecture. According to the introduction of "Comprehensive Study of the Kinki Region," a publication of the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics (NINJAL), titled "Subgroupings of the Kinki Dialects", the Awaji Dialect straddles the Central and Western Kansai dialect regions. The dialect shares many features with the dialects of the cities of Osaka, Kobe, and Wakayama, which is shares the Osaka Bay with, as well as with that of Tokushima Prefecture, which exercised control over Awaji Island during the feudal period. On the other hand, it bears little resemblance to the Banshū dialect, spoken right across the Akashi Strait from the island.

Profanity in the Japanese language can pertain to scatological references or aim to put down the listener by negatively commenting on their skill levels, intellect, or appearance. Furthermore, there are different levels of Japanese speech that indicate politeness, social standing and respect, referred to, simply, as honorific form. Using the incorrect form of Japanese can, itself, be insulting to the listener.

References

  1. Keigo Ronko, Tsujimura 1992, ISBN   978-4-625-42077-1, p. 98
  2. Language change in East Asia, Thomas E. McAuley, p. 51
  3. Tsujimura 1992, pp. 173–174
  4. McAuley, p. 67, footnote 12
  5. Genki II, Chapter 19–2 "Giving Respectful Advice", p. 140
  6. Genki II, Chapter 19–1 "Giving Respectful Advice", p. 138–140
  7. Pizziconi Barbara (2011) Japanese honorifics: the cultural specificity of a universal mechanism, in Politeness in East Asia - Theory and Practice, Sara Mills and Dániel Z. Kádár (eds.), Cambridge University Press: 45-70