thesquiggles: ((p3) summer.)
squigs ([personal profile] thesquiggles) wrote2015-07-08 11:09 pm
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japanese honorifics

One day, I'll write this more neatly.

SO HONORIFICS. Basically they are suffixes added to both words and names and they can do a variety of things! They can indicate the relationship between two people, but more specifically it can show the perceived relationship and also amount of respect from one person to another. It can also be an indicator of people's personality traits!

The ones I'm going to talk about today are "-san," "-chan," "-kun," "-shi," "-dono," "-sama," and what it means when you don't use honorifics! And also the difference between honorifics and titles. Like "sensei" and "senpai" as we see those all the time.

Honorifics and titles are really important to communication in Japanese culture! Depending on which one you use, the messages you send about how you see the person you are addressing changes, and the way other people see the relationship between people also changes depending on what honorifics are (or in some cases are not) being used between them. It can also say stuff about what sort of person you are depending on how you use your honorifics. BUT they aren't the only indicators of relationships and personalities! Your syntax, how formally or informally you speak, and how you refer to yourself also changes everything. But that's another can of worms.

Basically the Japanese system of communication is extremely complex and honorifics are only the tip of the iceberg but we might as well start from there. Hurray vertical hierarchy culture!!


"-san" is the universal honorific. Anybody can use it. You can use them on basically anybody and anything. You can call your aunt's name with a "-san," you can call your classmate with it, you can call your neighbor with it, or in the case it becomes a personality quirk for you or you're an anime character, you can be like Sakura Kinomoto and call your Clow Cards with a "-san." You don't usually call inanimate objects with a "-san" but the bottom line is this thing is universal and one-size-fits-all. You really can't go wrong with it.

You can refer to people your age and of equal status, people who are older and/or of higher status, and people who are younger and/or of lower status with this! In certain situations it can be indicative of the user's personality. Maybe they're just polite. Maybe they're slightly reserved, maybe it's a quirk. A person can use "-san" and speak very formally, or they can also use "-san" on everybody and speak casually! You can use it on anything. However "-san" isn't an indicator of any special level of respect, and in fact if you don't use it, whether you're a child or an adult but especially if you're an adult, and especially if you're speaking to someone older than you or someone you are unfamiliar with, it's now a rude gesture.

To call somebody, whether by their first or last name, without the usage of an honorific, is called yobisute (呼び捨て) and it basically means you are tossing somebody's name. And if you call somebody older and/or of higher status than you, that's disrespecting them! If you call somebody you're unfamiliar without that honorific, it's like, "Whoa there! I barely know you, why're you acting so chummy with me like wtf is with you??"

It's kind of like stepping into someone's personal space. You don't really do that in Japan. People who do that can often be considered too in-your-face and it can make people uncomfortable! But on the other hand, you'll see people dropping the honorific all the time, too. Friends, lovers, married couples, a parent to a child, siblings, are usually the case. It's usually a pretty fine line and this is no set rule, but it's the difference between people who are tanin (他人) (literally "other people") and people who aren't.

Some married couples still call each other with honorifics, and some friends still call each other with honorifics, but sometimes classmates can yell out each other's names without any and be perfectly fine with it, too. It depends on the environment, the users' personalities, and a lot of other factors! Your usage of honorifics may change too if you're referring to a person when they're not around. My father has never called my mother by her name in front of my brothers and I, but to my mother's parents he calls her "Hiromi-san" to show that he respects their daughter. My mother has nicknamed him "Hide-san" and while it has a san, it's still a casual way of addressing him! But basically you want to use honorifics usually because if you don't you might come off as rude and you don't want to come off as rude. Unless you do in which case dropping the honorific where you may usually use them can be then utilized as a show of contempt, anger, or a loss of respect. LIKE YOUR ENEMIES.

... Now moving on to "-chan"!!! This section isn't as long as "-san." "-San" is balls.

"-Chan" is most commonly used to address girls, especially when said girl is a child. It's usually matched to first names more than surnames, and usually when it's attached to a surname it's a nickname. I'll come back to that.

Girls will use "-chan" to refer to each other a lot! There are a lot of you on my Plurk should you all speak Japanese whom I will address with a "-chan" because "-chan" is awfully cute. However Adult Women are more likely to address one another with "-san" than with a "-chan." I don't think there is a rule. I think it is a pride thing. Adult men will still refer to adult women with a "-chan" especially if said woman is of equal age or younger and are more familiar to them than simple acquaintances. I think it's a gender thing because I never claimed Japan to be a gender neutral culture (we have different-sized chopsticks for men and women ok).

SOMETIMES adults use "-chan" and attach it to surnames. That's often to be cute. That's often a very informal and casual way to address someone. It can also be situational; the speaker may be drunk or trying to be flirty. "-Chan" is I'll say the "cutest" honorific because the sound is bouncy and sweet and it sounds cute. The most common way to say the word "baby" in Japanese is "akachan (赤ちゃん)" and that is actually the word "akanbou (赤ん坊)" shortened into "aka" with a "-chan" added to make it sound cute! Call your cuties with a "-chan."

Now, "-kun" you may recognize as the honorific for boys! That's what it's most commonly used to address: boys and men of all ages. HOWEVER, it's not gender-specific at all and it's actually almost as universal as "-san," and it can be attached to both surnames and first names of both men and women. Whaaaaat. Sometimes, some adult and if younger, possibly pompous, men will use "-kun" to refer to anybody they speak to or of.

Imagine Sherlock Holmes talking to John Watson. Imagine Tony Stark talking to Steve Rogers. Professor Agasa and Inspector Megure from DCMK use this way to address everybody! It's no less formal or informal than "-san" but whether you use "-san" or "-kun" is a personality thing, but people who use "-kun" like they would use "-san" are usually men.

Now, we get to more than just default shows of affection with "-sama"!

"-Sama" is less of a show of respect and more of a show of reverence, in my opinion. While the others show that you respect someone as a person and will not toss their name around, "-sama" is very formal and it's to explicitly state that you see the person you're addressing to be of a higher status than you are, and that you are without a doubt below them. That doesn't necessarily mean you are disrespecting yourself! It just means the person with the "-sama" is above you. We call God "kami-sama" it's that sort of respect.

Servants of a wealthy house will call the head of the house with a "-sama," usually danna-sama as "danna (旦那)" is also the word for husband and it's a word to indicate that you're the big man of the house. If you are a female head of the house or the wife of the head, you are called oku-sama (奥様) and I am guessing that comes from the fact that in the age of the Shogun, the part of the castle in Edo that housed the Shogun's wife and his mother and basically all the important courtly ladies was called Oo-Oku (大奥) and they took the word from there DON'T QUOTE ME ON THIS I'M MAKING A GUESS. IT'S THE OTHER WAY AROUND. Oo-Oku comes from the title oku-sama, which comes from the fact that the wife usually stayed in the house, away from the front, and therefore in the oku (meaning: the back) of the house.

Similarly, we've all heard of ojou-sama (お嬢様) for the daughter of the house but let me point out here that the word for the young master of the house is bocchama (坊ちゃま) or bocchan (坊ちゃん) and I don't know why that alone has a "-chan" or the "-sama" part is changed to "-chama" to sound cute but it is and it's still a term of respect! NOW FOR DANNA-SAMA. It is easily confused with "go-shujin-sama (ご主人様)" but "shujin" tends to go to a level of Master where the connotation is that the person using that word is owned by the shujin. And while women also use that word to say "my husband" I personally get the nuance that shujin is more closely associated with saying "I am the owner of this pet" than and THERE IS A LOT OF NUANCES.

BONUS HONORIFICS: "-shi" and "-dono"

"-Shi" is perhaps the most formal honorific in the way that you will see it in formal official settings such as the news, legal documents, and academic journals. In cases where you're absolutely unfamiliar with the person you're speaking of. It's very universal and can be used for all genders! I don't think you will really hear it used when you're speaking to the person? It's usually to show respect for a person you are not familiar with who you've never spoken to who is currently not present. Especially if you only know of them personally or indirectly. Like if you've heard of them. In DCMK is where I most often see it, when the police are discussing the victim of a case. Or a politician because even "-san" in that case may be too informal to refer to someone of that social political status. It's complicated business.

"-Dono" is not that commonly used anymore! It's also formal, lying between "-san" and "-sama" in terms of respect and the kanji for it literally means "Lord." You can still use it in modern day speech, but it's rare. I've never heard it used outside of anime and manga, but since this is where most people outside of Japan will hear the term, there it is!

And that's it for honorifics, so let's get to titles.

Titles are not the same as honorifics. They are still important in terms of usage, but they are not honorifics. They're actual words that are usually representatives of the title holder's occupation.

If you were to enter your classroom on the first day of the term and the teacher introduced himself as "先生の田中です (sensei no tanaka desu)," in which he is saying, "I am your teacher, Tanaka." You will then spend the rest of your life referring to this teacher as Tanaka-sensei. Or, you will simply call him "Sensei" and he will still answer to you.

The head of a division or club will introduce themselves as "buchou" and the second-in-command were to introduce themselves as "fuku-buchou" you will either call them by those titles or attach them to the end of whatever name (surname or first name) you address these people by! A department of a large whole such as a corporation or a school club both use the word bu (部) which is why the head and vice-head use the same title. The fuku (副) that comes with the second in command such as the assistant manager or vice president means "to support" or "reserve" so you get the idea!

Doctors are also called sensei, while scientists and researchers can also use hakase (博士) which is the word for "expert." If you are a college professor your title will be kyoujyu (教授) because you are teaching higher education. The moral of the story is that the Japanese have a lot of different titles because they have different words for everything. BASICALLY titles are like calling somebody "Doctor" and calling Barack Obama "President Obama" in comparison to simply calling him "Mr. Obama."

The same logic applies to our favorite word, senpai (先輩) which you use to address your upperclassmen by, showing the respect and acknowledgement that these are people who are older and/or more experienced han you in an environment and system you are both a part of.

Questions from the original plurk can be found with their answers in the comments, and you can ask me stuff here, too!

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