The Japanese language makes use of a system of honorific speech, called keigo (敬語), which includes honorific suffixes and prefixes when referring to others in a conversation. Suffixes are often gender-specific at the end of names, while prefixes are attached to the beginning of many nouns. Honorific suffixes are also indicated the speaker's level and referred an individual's relationship and are often used alongside other components of Japanese honorific speech. Honorific suffixes are generally used when referring to the person one is talking to or unrelated people and are not used when referring to oneself. The omission of suffixes implies a high degree of intimacy or close friendship. Although honorifics are not essential to the grammar of Japanese, they are a fundamental part of its sociolinguistics, and their proper use is deemed essential to proficient and appropriate speech. The use of honorifics is closely related to Japanese social structures and hierarchies. For example, a 1986 study on the notion that Japanese women spoke more politely than men examined each sex's use of honorifics found that while women spoke more politely on average than men, both sexes used the same level of politeness in the same relative situation. Thus, the difference in politeness was a result of the average social station of women versus men as opposed to an inherent characteristic. Usage in this respect has changed over time as well. A 2012 study from Kobe Shoin Women's University found that the use of honorific suffixes and other polite speech markers have increased significantly over time, while age, sex, and other social variables have become less significant.
The paper concluded that honorifics have shifted from a basis in power dynamics to one of personal distance. They can be applied to either the first or last name depending on which is given. In situations where both the first and last names are spoken, the suffix is attached to whichever comes last in the word order. Japanese names traditionally follow the Eastern name order. An honorific is generally used when referring to the person one is talking to (one's interlocutor), or when referring to an unrelated third party in speech. However, it is dropped by some superiors when referring to one's in-group or informal writing. It is never used to refer to oneself, except for dramatic effect or some exceptional cases. Dropping the honorific suffix when referring to one's interlocutor, which is known as to yobisute (呼び捨て), implies a high degree of intimacy and is generally reserved for one's spouse, younger family members, social inferiors (as in a teacher addressing students in traditional arts ), close friends and confidants. Within sports teams or among classmates, where the interlocutors approximately are of the same age or seniority, it can be acceptable to use family names without honorifics. Some people of the younger generation, roughly born since 1970, prefer to be referred to without an honorific. However, dropping honorifics is a sign of informality even with casual acquaintances.
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When referring to a third person, honorifics are used except when referring to one's family members while talking to a non-family member or when referring to a member of one's company while talking to a customer or someone from another company-this is the uchi- soto (in-group / out-group) distinction. Honorifics are not used to refer to oneself, except when trying to be arrogant (ore-sama), to be cute (-chan), or sometimes when talking to young children to teach them how to address the speaker. Use of honorifics is correlated with other forms of honorific speech in Japanese, such as the use of the polite form (-masu, desu) versus the plain form-that is, using the plain form with a polite honorific (-san, -sama ) can be netted. While these honorifics are solely used on proper nouns, these suffixes can turn common nouns into appropriate nouns when attached to the end of them. This can be seen in words such as neko-chan (猫ちゃん) which turns the common noun neko (cat) into a proper noun that would refer solely to that particular cat while adding the honorific -chan can also mean cute. When translating honorific suffixes into English, separate pronouns or adjectives must be used to convey characteristics to the person they are referencing. While some honorifics such as -san are very frequently used due to their gender neutrality and straightforward definition of polite unfamiliarity, other honorifics such as -chan or -kun are more specific as to the context in which they must be used as well as the implications they give off when attached to a person's name.
These implications can only be translated into English using adjectives or adjective word phrases. San (さん), sometimes pronounced han (はん) in Kansai dialect, is the most commonplace honorific and is a title of respect typically used between equals of any age. Although the closest analog in English are the honorifics "Mr.", "Miss", "Ms.", or "Mrs.", -san is almost universally added to a person's name; -san can be used in formal and informal contexts, regardless of the person's gender. It is also commonly used to convert common nouns into proper ones, as discussed below. San is sometimes used with company names. For example, the offices or shop of a company called Kojima Denki might be referred to as "Kojima Denki-san" by another nearby company. This may be seen on small maps often used in phone books and business cards in Japan, where the names of surrounding companies are written using -san. San can be attached to the names of animals or even for cooking; "fish" can be referred to as sakana-san, but both would be considered childish (akin to "Mr. Fish" or "Mr. Fishy" in English) and would be avoided in formal speech. When referring to their spouse as a third party in a conversation, married people often refer to them with -san. Due to -san being gender-neutral and commonly used, it can refer to any stranger or acquaintance whom one does not see as a friend. However, it may not be appropriate when using it on someone close or when it is clear that other honorifics should be used.
It is the root word for -san.
Sama (様, ) is a more respectful version for individuals of a higher rank than oneself. Appropriate usages include divine entities, guests or customers (such as a sports venue announcer addressing members of the audience), and sometimes towards people one greatly admires. It is the root word for -san. Deities such as native Shinto kami and Jesus Christ are referred to as kami-sama, meaning "Revered spirit-sama". When used to refer to oneself, -sama expresses extreme arrogance (or self-effacing irony), as in praising oneself to be of a higher rank, as with ore-sama (俺様, "my esteemed self"). Sama customarily follows the addressee's name on all formal correspondence and postal services where the addressee is, or is interpreted as, a customer. Sama also appears in such set phrases as omachidō sama (“thank you for waiting”), gochisō sama (“thank you for the meal”), or otsukare sama (“thank you for a good job”). Kun (君【くん】) /kʊn/ is generally used by people of senior status addressing or referring to those of junior status, or it can be used when referring to men in general, male children or male teenagers, or among male friends. It can be used by males or females when addressing a male to whom they are emotionally attached, or whom they have known for a long time. Although -kun is generally used for boys, it is not a hard rule.
It can be used by male teachers addressing their female students.
For example, -kun can be used to name a close personal friend or family member of any gender. In business settings, young female employees are addressed as -kun by older males of senior status. It can be used by male teachers addressing their female students. Kun can mean different things depending on gender. Kun for females is a more respectful honorific than -chan, implying childlike cuteness. Kun is not only used to address females formally; it can also be used for a very close friend or family member. Calling a female -kun is not insulting and can also mean that the person is respected, although that is not the normal implication. Rarely, sisters with the same name, such as "Miku", may be differentiated by calling one "Miku-chan" and the other "Miku-san" or "-sama", and on some occasions,"-kun". Chan and -kun occasionally mean similar things. The general use of -kun for females implies respectful endearment and that the person being referred to is sweet and kind. In the National Diet (Legislature), the Speaker of the House uses -kun when addressing Diet members and ministers.
An exception was when Takako Doi was the Speaker of the lower house, where she used the title -san. Chan (ちゃん) expresses that the speaker finds a person endearing. In general, -chan is used for young children, close friends, babies, grandparents and sometimes female teenagers. It may also be used towards cute animals, lovers, or youthful women. Chan is not usually used for strangers or people one has just met. Although traditionally, honorifics are not applied to oneself, some people adopt the childlike affectation of referring to themselves in the third person using -chan (childlike because it suggests that one has not learned to distinguish between names used for oneself and names used by others). For example, a young girl named Kanako might call herself Kanako-chan rather than the first-person pronoun. It evokes a small child's mispronunciation of that form of address, or baby talk - similar to how, for example, a speaker of English might use "widdle" instead of "little" when speaking to a baby. Moe anthropomorphisms are often labeled as -tan, eg, the commercial mascot Habanero-tan, the manga figure Afghanis-tan or the OS-tans representing operating systems. A more notorious use of the honorific was for the murderer Nevada-tan. Bō (坊、ぼう) also expresses endearment.
Teachers are not senpai, but rather they are sensei.
Like -chan, it can be used for young children but exclusively for boys instead of girls. See Diminutive suffix and Hypocorism for more info on this linguistic phenomenon. Senpai (先輩、せんぱい, "former born") is used to address or refer to one's older or more senior colleagues in a school, workplace, dojo, or sports club. Teachers are not senpai, but rather they are sensei. Neither are students of the same or lower grade: they are referred to but never addressed as kōhai (後輩、こうはい). In a business environment, those with more experience are senpai. Sensei (先生、せんせい, literally meaning "born earlier") is used to refer to or address teachers, doctors, politicians, lawyers, and other authority figures. It is used to show respect to someone who has achieved mastery in an art form or some other skill, such as accomplished novelists, musicians, artists, and martial artists. In Japanese martial arts, sensei typically refers to someone who is the head of a dojo.
It is preferred in legal documents, academic journals, and other formal written styles.
As with senpai, sensei can be used not only as a suffix but also as a stand-alone title. The term is not generally used when addressing a person with very high academic expertise; the one used instead is hakase (博士【はかせ】, lit. Shi (氏、し) is used in formal writing and sometimes in very formal speech for referring to a person who is unfamiliar to the speaker, typically a person known through publications whom the speaker has never actually met. For example, the -shi title is common in the speech of newsreaders. It is preferred in legal documents, academic journals, and other formal written styles. Once a person's name has been used with -shi, the person can be referred to with shi alone, without the name, as long as only one person is being referred to. O- (お-) and go- (ご-) are honorific prefixes used to exalt nouns. They can be applied to things like a garden (お庭, oniwa) or to people in conjunction with a suffix, like a doctor (お医者さん, oishasan). Chinese words still occur. They are only ever used in the second or third person, and when applied to an object indicate respect for the owner of the object rather than the object itself. For example, one would refer to the parents of another as goryōshin (ご両親) while their own parents would be ryōshin (両親). It is common to use a job title after someone's name, instead of using a general honorific.
For example, an athlete (選手, senshu) named Ichiro might be referred to as "Ichiro-senshu" rather than "Ichiro-san", and a master carpenter (棟梁, tōryō) named Suzuki might be referred to as "Suzuki-tōryō "rather than "Suzuki-san". In a business setting, it is common to refer to people using their rank, especially for positions of authority, such as department chief (部長, buchō) or company president (社長, shachō). Shacho-san. When speaking of one's own company to a customer or another company, the title is used by itself or attached to a name, so a department chief named Suzuki is referred to as Buchō or Suzuki-buchō. However, when referring to oneself, the title is used indirectly, as using it directly is perceived as arrogant. Suzuki-buchō ("Department Chief Suzuki"). Convicted and suspected criminals were once referred to without any title. Still, now an effort is made to distinguish between suspects (容疑者, yōgisha), defendants (被告, hikoku), and convicts (受刑者, jukeisha), so as not to presume guilt before anything has been proven. These titles can be used by themselves or attached to names.