Japanese/Grammar/Politeness

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Politeness in Japanese language is important when speaking to anyone; being punched in the face or getting fired by your employer are prime examples of what can happen when being impolite by simply speaking!

The Japanese society can be thought of like a ladder: at the top rungs are those of the highest social standing (royalty, company CEOs, high-ranking government officials, high-ranking religious figures, and so on), and then below them are the common people, and then the scum of the earth even farther below. These distinctions are quite evident in how people act around others and how they act towards them. While all cultures reflect this on some level, Japanese culture revolves around it.

From the bottom of the social ladder upwards, the Japanese language changes in sometimes subtle, sometimes noticeable ways. Let's start in the middle, with Standard Polite language. This is comprised of ていねい (teinei, or polite) verbs, grammar, and nouns. (As a side note, all foreigners should begin learning Japanese with Standard Polite forms, then move around from there.) One would use verbs ending in -ma + the ending, standard honorifics when required, and state the subject every few times once understood until the subject changes. Even further upwards, at the top, highly irregular verbs replace the more common ones, one would speak in a way to make the listener or object more honored and the speaker lower and humbler.

Going down the social ladder, the language becomes simpler, rougher, and even rude to some. The subject, once understood, can be dropped altogether at first. It would become highly repetitive to constantly say the subject over and over once understood by the listener. While this facet of informality is seen in all levels of Japanese language formality, it becomes more and more prominent in informal speech. One can replace the polite copula "desu" with the simple copula "da," or drop it altogether. Simple forms of verbs and adjectives are used more often. Vulgar or taboo words appear more frequently. Honorifics are rarely seen, if at all. Talking in this way to higher ranking people than yourself is comparable to obliviating your social life and your chances to advance in rank.

An example chart of comparitive polite forms is below.

Highly Formal/Polite Very Formal/Polite Formal/Polite Informal Very Informal
Pronoun "I" ---

Usage of the speaker's name

私(わたくし)

watakushi

私(わたし)

watashi

僕(ぼく)/あたし

boku/atashi

俺(おれ), often spelled as "オレ"

ore

Verb "Eat" ---

---

頂きます(いただきます)

itadakimasu

食べます(たべます)

tabemasu

食べる(たべる)

taberu

食らう(くらう) / 食う(くう)

kurau / kuu

Verb "Give" ---

---

さしあげます

sashiagemasu

あげます

agemasu

あげる

ageru

やる

yaru