Japanese/Lessons/Introduction/Konnichiwa/Formality

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In this unit, you will be introduced to the Japanese formality system and learn how to greet people informally.

Try It[edit]

Duration: 2 minutes

Use what you know about the Japanese formality system to have a quick conversation with another student in informal Japanese. If you are studying on your own, have a conversation with yourself. You may wish to record your conversation with a tape recorder, cell phone, microphone, etc.

Watch and Listen[edit]

Duration: 2 minutes

In a previous lesson, Mr. Tanaka and Ms. Hayasaka had a short conversation as he stepped onto the elevator. This time, they will have that conversation in informal Japanese. They will refer to each other by their given names, Kentaro (Tanaka) and Mineko (Hayasaka). Listen to the following conversation while reading along and see how much you understand.

Japanese with Furigana[edit]

Japanese English
健太郎(けんたろう): 峰子(みねこ)ちゃん、おはよう。 Kentarō: Good morning, Mineko.
峰子(みねこ): おはよう、健太郎(けんたろう)(くん) Mineko: Good morning, Kentarō.
She holds the elevator door open.
健太郎: ありがとう。 Kentarō: Thank you.
峰子: 全然(ぜんぜん) Mineko: Don't mention it.

Explanation[edit]

Duration: 5 minutes

Phrases[edit]

Below are shown informal versions of salutations already taught, as well as additional informal salutations.

English Japanese Reading Notes
good morning おはよう [1]
Good day/Hello こんにちは [1]
Good evening 今晩は こんばんは
I hope things go well. よろしく [1]
Thank you ありがとう [1]
Don't mention it. いいえ
全然
とんでもない
 
ぜんぜん
 
See you later. じゃあね
またね
じゃまた

Explanation[edit]

Usage Notes

  1. (はよ)ohayou, よろしく yoroshiku, and ありがとう arigatou
    • These phrases are used in the same circumstances as their formal counterparts.
  2. ne: (particle indicating understanding)
    • This can be added to よろしく yoroshiku, and ありがとう arigatou to make the sentence more casual and friendly.
  3. いいえ iie, 全然(ぜんぜん) zenzen, and とんでもない tondemonai
    • These are used to negate a compliment or an expression of gratitude in a modest fashion, listed in order of increasing strength
  4. じゃあね jaa ne, またね mata ne, and じゃまた ja mata
    • These are all roughly equivalent in meaning, with じゃあね jaa ne being the most casual (very friendly) and じゃまた ja mata being the least casual (more brisk and business-like)

Literal Meaning

  1. いいえ iie: no
    • Replying "no" to an expression of gratitude implies that you don't deserve the gratitude, and is therefore an expression of humility.
  2. 全然(ぜんぜん) zenzen: (not) at all
    • This word is usually used as an adverb with a negative sentence. However, it can also be used alone to imply a negative response. Here, the implication is "(It is not a problem) at all."
  3. とんでもない tondemonai: unexpected, outrageous, terrible
    • The implication here is that the speaker thinks it's outrageous to be thanked for performing such a simple act, hence "Don't mention it."
  4. じゃ ja (also じゃあ jaa): contraction of では dewa, from それでは sore dewa, meaning "With that..." or "Well, then..."
    • This is a way to indicate a transition in a sentence, in this case the transition from talking to saying good bye.
  5. ne: (particle indicating understanding)
    • Adding this particle softens the parting and makes it more friendly.
  6. また mata: again, another time
    • The implication is "Let's meet again."

Culture[edit]

In some Western countries, Canada and the United States in particular, it is generally considered a positive thing to be friendly to one another. Certainly there are situations where more formality is called for, but the outgoing, friendly personality tends to be well received. In Japan, the situation is quite different. Because the social order is more structured, it is considered rude to be too friendly to a person of higher social standing, or with someone you have just met. Generally, it is looked upon favorably to be formal and polite until you have developed a closer relationship that allows for more friendliness. Because of this aspect of culture, close relationships are considered valuable and tend to be accompanied by a high degree of loyalty.

Formal versus Informal Speech[edit]

In Japan, formality is indicated not only by the words one uses, but is included in the syntax and grammar of the language as well. You have already learned that informal noun predicates consist of noun + だ da and formal noun predicates consist of noun + です desu. The distinction between a formal and an informal sentence is indicated by the predicate. More details will be given later as these lessons cover the other types of predicates that can be formed.

It is important to remember not only how to speak formally and informally, but to know when to do so. As a general rule of thumb,

You should speak formally when:

  • Talking to someone of higher social standing
  • Talking to someone of similar social standing whom you don't know well
  • Speaking to a peer group or in a public capacity

You may speak informally when:

  • Talking to someone of inferior social standing
  • Talking to someone of similar social standing if you have a close relationship

Many teachers of Japanese instruct students always to speak formally in order to avoid being rude. While speaking to a child in formal Japanese is odd, people won't think any less of your charater though your knowledge of the language is lacking. Should you developing a close relationship with a Japanese person of the same rank, follow their lead and learn from them.

Social Standing[edit]

Social standing is a relative concept that depends on several factors including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Older people are superior to young people.
  • Supervisors and managers are superior to subordinates.
  • People with high-profile careers are superior to those with low-profile careers.
  • Customers are superior to service providers (clerks, waiters, etc.)
  • People with higher academic credentials are superior to those with lower academic credentials.
  • Teachers are superior to students.

Practice[edit]

Duration: 2 minutes

  1. Drill: Say the phrase indicated as if you were talking to the type of person specified.
    1. "Good morning" to your friend.
    2. "Good morning" to your boss.
    3. "Thank you" to a new coworker.
    4. "Thank you" to a new subordinate.
    5. "I'm a student" to your teacher.
    6. "I'm a student" to a child.
  2. Conversation: Practice conversing with a fellow student in informal Japanese.

Click here to see answers.

Discuss[edit]

Duration: 2 minutes

Notes[edit]

  1. a b c d There are several words that despite having kanji are commonly written in hiragana. Such as:
    • (はよ)
    • 今日(こんにち)
    • (よろ)しく
    • ()(がと)う or (あり)(がと)