Your politeness is my impoliteness

Variable understandings of the grammar and indexical meanings of honorifics


  • Shigeko Okamoto University of California Santa Cruz



japanese honorifics and grammar, metapragmatic comments, (im)politeness, indexicality


It is often noted that usage of Japanese honorifics has been changing over the years (see, for example, Keigo no Shishin ‘Guidelines on honorifics’, Kokuritsu Kokugo Kenkyujo 2007), Yet, ‘average’ Japanese adults are expected to use honorifics correctly, observing their rules, or grammar. But do they all share the same understanding of honorific rules, especially given the ongoing change in usage? If they do not, why? What are its consequences? To address these questions, this study examines native speakers’ metapragmatic comments on honorifics expressed in blogs. In particular, it focuses on their understandings of grammatical categories and indexical meanings of honorifics – a topic largely understudied. The analyses show wide diversity in the interpretation of same honorific forms, including contrary interpretations concerning politeness, which is highly related to the divergent understandings of honorific categories, the ambiguity of concepts such as respect and politeness, and language ideologies that mediate honorific forms and their meanings.

Author Biography

Shigeko Okamoto, University of California Santa Cruz

Shigeko Okamoto is Professor Emerita in the Department of Languages and Applied Linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her areas of research include pragmatics, sociocultural linguistics, discourse analysis, and functional linguistics, with the primary focus on the Japanese language.


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How to Cite

Okamoto, S. (2021). Your politeness is my impoliteness: Variable understandings of the grammar and indexical meanings of honorifics. East Asian Pragmatics, 6(1), 39–64.