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Japanese honorifics

Honorific
I’ll talk about Japanese honorifics today. I bet you have heard them,doesn’t matter if in anime,drama or movies – even in manga. They aren’t used only in the entertainment sphere,they come from the daily life,as you would suppose. Actually,honorifics are from long long time ago. They clearly separate people,as in,according gender,age,social status or simply show the degree of intimacy. For people that don’t know,the honorific follows one’s name in Japanese.

JAPANESE HONORIFIC – PURPOSE

As I said,the honorifics have specific meaning in Japanese language. There are four main honorifics さま、さん、ちゃん、くん
as follow,they are – ”sama”,”san”,”chan”,”kun”.
How would they be translated in English?
Well,let’s follow the order I listed them under,

Sama – さま
It’s pretty much a honorific that shows a superior position. It’s neutral,meaning,it can be referred to both males and females. So,it depends, it can be translated as ‘Mr.’,'Miss’ and ‘Mrs.’
Sometimes,in the translation people make,it’s dropped. Why is that? Well,it’s a Japanese sufix that can’t be dropped in Japanese since it might be considered as rudeness. But in English,or other Western languages,translators have the luxury of omiting it since they don’t have equal word to the sufix(some of the sufix).

Can it be used after a kid’s name?
Pretty much,yes. But be careful,it means that the kid is a royalty. Treated as a princess,or prince.
In English the translation can variate. It can be replaced with ”Master”. Since,supposedly the one addressing is from a lower layer in the social status scale. Sometimes though,the honorific can be used as a joke. Offending joke,but it’s another topic. Just take it as some kids mocking on another kid that is just ”a nerd” and so they make a bad joke,using ”sama”.

San – さん
This honorific is more like daily one. Of course,you should keep in mind that only adults would be addressed with ”san”.
You won’t call a seven years old kid with ”san” on end of their name.
With same function like ”sama”,it’s neutral,but the meaning it gives isn’t any superior one. It’s just a normal – ”Mr.”,”Miss” or ”Mrs.” as would be translated in English.

If we have the scale of formalty in front of us,it’d be in the spectrum of ”normal” and ”neutral”. It won’t separate people by gender,social status,but it keeps the respect and even if there is some relationship(intimacy) between people – it won’t show there is any,until it’s dropped from the name. Be careful,you should have the permission to drop it from the name,or it might be considered as rudeness.

There is some exceptions though,some males will decide on their own to drop it. But shall I say it’s more likely male to do it than a female? So,girls,you better have the permission from your friend,or boyfriend or it’d be kinda rude on your part.

Chan – ちゃん
Here we reached the ”chan” honorific that has two functions.
It indicates that the one addressed is either a kid,or your girlfriend(or very,very close friend from the f-gender). Of course,you can drop the ”chan”,if it’s your girlfriend,but I just say that many boys call their girls with ”chan”.

It’s time to mention that even if not a friend or a girlfriend,sometimes the age can allow to use ”chan”. Also there are some other interesting usage of ”chan”. What I mean?

- Same age,be it classmates(for example),the boy can address the girl with ”chan” since they are the same age and same status. It shows closeness though. It means the boy is trying to shorten the communicative distance between two.
- Friends from childhood, it’s normal if you are childhood friends to be close. Then the boy can either drop the honorific or use ”chan” instead of ”san”. Even if they are over the teen age.
* There is an interesting fact,some girls can call boys with ”chan”. But,but,but,be careful now. The boy should have allowed it,or else it’s like mocking. And,it should be used only when the boy has said so,for example,only when you two are alone. It’s because either you are same age,or childhood friends. That’s the reason which the girl has as an excuse to have the boy allowing such a reverse.
- A boy can be called ”chan” by his own mother and no one else. Like showing some dear connection to her child. It’s true,the mother can use it,but if the boy has grown to the age of 19,for example,if he feels troubled by it – he can remark it and so the mother would stop it. Since he is a big boy,supposedly. >_>
- “Chan” can be added to whatever looks cute. Even calling cats with ”chan” is not surprising. As well,cute girls are often addressed with ”chan”.

Kun – くん
Here we reached the ”kun” honorific that has two functions.
It indicates that the one addressed is either a kid,or your boyfriend(or very,very close friend from the m-gender). Of course,you can drop the ”kun”,if it’s your boyfriend,but better have the permission.
Though,nowadays high-school girls use ”kun” honorific pretty often.

”Kun” has interesting usage as well,let’s see some of them.

- Same age,be it classmates,as we took this for example on the previous one. The girl can address her classmate with the honorific ”kun”,just as long as the one addressed is a boy. Between girls,they can freely use ”chan”.
- Childhood friends,it’s normal to be close. So,the girl can call the boy with ”kun”. Doesn’t matter if they are adults,it shows exactly the closeness between them.
*Yes,”kun” can be used when addressing a girl. Just bear in mind that the girl is addressed this way due to her boy-ish personality,or is harshly mocked by boys that she has nothing feminine in her. So,be careful,guys. You might hurt girls this way.

OTHER HONORIFICS

Name + onii san(chan) [Name + おにいさん(ちゃん)
”Onii san” as well ”onii chan” is actually the way of saying ”big brother”. Well,not exactly translated as ”big brother”,just brother who is the older one. You got the idea. So,girls can address her big brother with it,or some senior that she likes (yes,even in romantic way,but that’s most likely a secret crush,lol).

Name + onee san(chan) [Name + おねえさん(ちゃん)
”Onee san” as well ”onee chan” is the way of saying ”big sister”. Like ”onii san”,it is not often translated as ”big sister”,just sister,and one that is older than the one addressing. So,boys can address his big sister with it. Rarely you would see a boy addressing a senior from the opposite sex with ”onee san(chan)”.

Bou – ぼう
It expresses some endearment. It’s with the ”chan” meaning,but rather used with baby boys than girls.

Senpai – せんぱい
This,you will hear when talking about school and school activities.
It’s referred to people that are seniors,or higher rank than you be it at judo,karate or other school activities. Well,such activities aren’t only at school,but well,just saying for example.

Kouhai – こうはい
It’s same like ”senpai” just used to refer to juniors at school and school-like activities.

Sensei – せんせい
This is not only a honorific,but actually can be a stand-alone title. It refers to people that are a higher rank than you,in general. You can use it when addressing teachers, doctors, politicians, lawyers, and other authority figures. Used as a respect sufix.
As well,when refers to someone in your talk and the listeners have heard you mention the name with ”sensei” honorific, you can drop the name,and use it as a stand-alone title.

Shi – し
It’s used in a very formal writing,or speech. It refers to a figure you are not fimilar with,you never have met in person. Usually used in newspapers and articles to refer to some important persons. Once mentioned the name with ”shi”, it can be omitted and then only ”shi” mentioned in either your article,or speech. As long as it’s only one person that is addressed with ”shi”.

Dono / Tono – どの / との
It is roughly translated as ”master”,or ”lord”. Read as ”dono” when after name,read as ”tono” when alone.To be honest,it’s not really used nowadays. Though,here and there(mainly in very,very formal situations) it’s used but rather than in company-like relationships.
It is really formal,something similar to ”sama” though ”sama” is more used than it.

It can be used as a joke by young people to extravaggate. Often used in anime and manga.

There are many other honorofics,folks. But I rather mention the ones used than the others you’d rarely meet. When time comes,we’ll talk about the rest of the honorifics.

8 1 8143 05 April, 2012 Japanese Language April 5, 2012
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''What a foolish choice...'',said Zen. Just another lost mind,drown in Asian world.

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1 comment

  1. avatar
    BobCrazy

    Thank you very much. I heard the -senpai once and tried to figure out what it means. Now I know.

    Reply

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