Your politeness is my impoliteness

Variable understandings of the grammar and indexical meanings of honorifics

Authors

  • Shigeko Okamoto University of California Santa Cruz

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/eap.18184

Keywords:

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

Abstract

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.

References

Agha, A. (2007). Language and social relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1977). The economics of linguistic exchanges. Social Science Information, 16(6), 645–668. https://doi.org/10.1177/053901847701600601

Bucholtz, M. (1999). You da man: Narrating the racial other in the production of white masculinity. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 3(4), 443–460. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9481.00090

Bunkacho (Japanese Cultural Agency). (1996). Kokugo shingikai hokokusho [National Language Council report], 20. Tokyo: Bunkacho.

Bunkacho (Japanese Cultural Agency). (2005). Heisei 16-nendo ‘Kokugo ni kansuru Yoron-chosa’ no kekka ni tsuite [On the results of the Heisei 16 ‘Public opinion survey on honorifics’]. http://www.bunka.go.jo/kokugo_nihongo/yoronchousa/h16/kekka.html (accessed on 15 June 2019).

Bunkacho (Japanese Cultural Agency). (2013). Heisei 25-nendo kokugo ni kansuru yoronchosa no kekka no gaiyo [On the results of the 2013 survey on Japanese language]. Tokyo: Bunkacho.

Cameron, D. (1995). Verbal hygiene. London: Routledge.

Cook, H. M. (2006). Japanese politeness as an interactional achievement: Academic consultation sessions in Japanese universities. Multilingua, 25(3), 269–292. https://doi.org/10.1515/MULTI.2006.016

Cook, H. M. (2008). Style shifts in Japanese academic consultations. In K. Jones & T. Ono (Eds.), Style shifting in Japanese (pp. 9–38). Philadelphia: John Benjamins. https://doi.org/10.1075/pbns.180.00sty

Cook, H. M. (2011). Are honorifics polite? Uses of referent honorifics in a Japanese committee meeting. Journal of Pragmatics, 43(15), 3655–3672. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2011.08.008

Dunn, C. D. (2005). Pragmatic functions of humble forms in Japanese ceremonial discourse. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 15(2), 218–238, https://doi.org/10.1525/jlin.2005.15.2.218

Dunn, C. D. (2011). Formal forms or verbal strategies? Politeness theory and Japanese business etiquette training. Journal of Pragmatics, 43(15), 3643–3654. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2011.06.003

Eckert, P. (2008). Variation and the indexical field. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 12(4), 453–476. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9841.2008.00374.x

Endo, M. H. (2011). Student honorifics usage in conversations with professors. Journal of Pragmatics, 43(15), 3689–3706. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2011.09.004

Gal, S. (1989). Language and political economy. Annual Review of Anthropology, 18, 345–367. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.an.18.100189.002021

Gal, S. (2005). Language ideologies compared: Metaphors of public/private. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 15(1), 23–37. https://doi.org/10.1525/jlin.2005.15.1.23

Geyer, N. (2008). Interpersonal functions of style shift: The use of plain and masu forms in faculty meetings. In K. Jones and T. Ono (Eds.), Style shifting in Japanese (39–70). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. https://doi.org/10.1075/pbns.180.00int

Geyer, N. (2013). Discernment and variation: The action-oriented use of Japanese addressee honorifics. Multilingua, 32(2), 155–176. https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2013-0008

Hanya, N. (2014). Dekiru hito no keigo no tadashii tsukai-kata [How to use correct honorifics: for competent persons]. Tokyo: Kininaru Books.

Irvine, J. T. (1989). When talk isn’t cheap: Language and political economy. American Ethnologist, 16(2), 248–267. https://doi.org/10.1525/ae.1989.16.2.02a00040

Irvine, J. T. (1992). Ideologies of honorific language. Pragmatics, 2(3), 251–262. https://doi.org/10.1075/prag.2.3.02irv

Johnstone, B. (2013). Indexing the local. In Nikolas. Coupland (Ed.), The Handbook of language and globalization (pp. 386–405). Oxford: Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444324068.ch17

Kokuritsu Kokugo Kenkyujo (National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics). (2006). Gengo kodo ni okeru hairyo no shoso [Aspects of concerns for others in linguistic behaviour]. Tokyo: Kuroshio Shuppan.

Kokuritsu Kokugo Kenkyujo (National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics). (2007). Bunka shingikai toshin: Keigo no shishin [Cultural Council report: Guidelines on honorifics]. In Kokuritsu Kokugo Kenkyujo (Ed.), Watashitachi to keigo [Our honorifics] (pp. 87–125). Tokyo: Gyosei.

Kroskrity, P. (2004). Language ideologies. In A. Duranti (Ed.), A companion to linguistic anthropology (pp. 496–517). Oxford: Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470996522.ch22

Makino, S. (2002). When does communication turn mentally inward? A case study of Japanese formal-to-informal switching. In N. Akatsuka and S. Strauss (Eds.), Japanese/Korean linguistics (vol. 10, pp. 121–135). Stanford CA: Center for Studies of Language and Information.

Maynard, S. (1993). Discourse modality: Subjectivity, emotion and voice in the Japanese language. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. https://doi.org/10.1075/pbns.24

Miller, L. (1989). The Japanese language and honorific speech: Is there a Nihongo without keigo? Penn Linguistics Review, 13, 38–46.

Milroy, J. (2001). Language ideologies and the consequences of standardization. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 5(4), 530–555. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9481.00163

Nihongo-ryoku Kentei Iinkai. (2018). Tadashii keigo, dotchi (Correct honorifics, which one?). Tokyo: Saizusha.

Okamoto, S. (1997). Social context, linguistic ideology, and indexical expressions in Japanese. Journal of Pragmatics, 28(6), 795–817. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0378-2166(97)81491-9

Okamoto, S. (1999). Situated politeness: Manipulating honorific and non-honorific expressions in Japanese conversations. Pragmatics 9(1), 51–74. https://doi.org/10.1075/prag.9.1.05oka

Okamoto, S. (2010). Politeness in East Asia. In M. A. Locher & S. L. Graham (Eds.), Interpersonal pragmatics (Handbooks of Pragmatics, vol. 6, pp. 71–100). Berlin and New York: de Gruyter Mouton.

Okamoto, S. (2011). The use and interpretation of addressee honorifics and plain forms in Japanese: Diversity, multiplicity, and ambiguity. Journal of Pragmatics, 43(15), 3673–3688. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2011.06.012

Okamoto, S. (2018). Metapragmatic discourse in self-help books on Japanese women’s speech: An indexical approach to social meanings. In M. Endo Hudson, Y. Matsumoto, and J. Mori (Eds.), Pragmatics of Japanese: Perspectives on grammar, interaction, and culture (pp. 245–266). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. https://doi.org/10.1075/pbns.285.10oka

Okamoto, S., & Shibamoto Smith, J. (2016). The social life of the Japanese language: Cultural discourse and situated practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139680400

Pizziconi, B. (2011). Honorifics: The cultural specificity of a universal mechanism in Japanese. In D. Z. Kadar and S. Mills (Eds.), Politeness in East Asia: Theory and practice (pp. 45–70). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511977886.005

Silverstein, M. (1993). Metapragmatic discourse and metapragmatic function. In J. Lucy (Ed.), Reflexive language: Reported speech and metapragmatics (pp. 33–58). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511621031.004

Silverstein, M. (2003). Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life. Language & Communication, 23(3–4), 193–229. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0271-5309(03)00013-2

Suda, M. (2008a). Keigo shido no kiso, kihon: Shogakko hen [Basics of teaching honorifics: Elementary school level]. Tokyo: Meiji Tosho.

Suda, M. (2008b). Keigo shido no kiso, kihon: Chuugakko hen [Basics of teaching honorifics: Junior high school level]. Tokyo: Meiji Tosho.

Sueoka, M. (2017). Tadashii keigo: Utsukushii nihongo o hanashitai hito no tame ni [Correct honorifics for those who wish to speak beautiful Japanese]. Tokyo: Abe Shuppan.

Wetzel, P. J. (2008). Keigo ideology. In J. Mori and A. S. Ohta (Eds.), Japanese applied linguistics: Discourse and social perspectives (pp. 111–131). London: Continuum.

Woolard, K. A. (1985). Language variation and cultural hegemony: Toward an integration of sociolinguistic and social theory. American Ethnologist, 12(4), 738–748. https://doi.org/10.1525/ae.1985.12.4.02a00090

Woolard, K. A. (1992). Language ideology: Issues and approaches. Pragmatics, 2(3), 235–249. https://doi.org/10.1075/prag.2.3.01woo

Published

2021-03-17

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. https://doi.org/10.1558/eap.18184