This Tuesday’s presentation will provide some insight into the life of a Westerner (me) who has been working at Kyoto University in Japan for several months.
Well, I’ve been back in Kyoto for a few months and it’s been hot and humid – unseasonably so indeed.
Just as winter is coming to an end, bushfires are already wreaking havoc across Australia, with bushfire seasons historically starting only later in the summer after hot, dry months.
For Guchi and Keigo, not to mention Te Inago
What I discovered today is that there is a phase you go through when learning Japanese, which is the way the natives respond to you in conversation.
Japanese is quite complex, English is not.
While the grammar is much simpler than English, the complexity lies in learning polite or honorific Japanese (Keigo) versus casual Japanese and casual (タメ口 or Tameguchi Japanesemodes), which have some shades that one must eventually learn.
When “tameguchi” is used, people assume that everyone in the conversation is equal and reciprocal, while honorific Japanese uses language to create distinction or distance between interlocutors.
This distance may be between ‘young’ and ‘old’; ‘boss’, ‘worker’, etc.
In general, the Japanese seem to have a very developed sense of class, which is mostly non-existent in Australian society, or at least not in the circles I mixed in and grew up in.
But it doesn’t stop there.
The level of intimacy between people in a conversation is also relevant, affecting the words, tone and intonation people use.
There is another complication – politeness or teineigo.
This is a formal form of Japanese, as opposed to keigo, which is polite Japanese.
Here is an example:
I said – my name is William
Tameguchi – Bill desu – it means I am Bill – whatever.
Keigo – Watashi wa ko Bill tomōshimasu – My name is Bill.
Teineigo – Watashi no namae wa Bill desu – My name is Bill.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell when to use Keigo or Teineigo mode (polite vs. formal).
Although it may sound very formal, it is safe to always use polite forms.
all parts of the process.
What I learned, though, is that the Japanese treat this complexity with a sliding scale of tolerance.
When a beginner is first starting out, locals are very helpful and will overlook infractions – such as using casual when politeness should be used.
As I pointed out – even if you sound a little stiff, be polite.
But as one’s language skills improve, and the Japanese see that you have moved beyond the beginner stage, their expectations will increase accordingly.
Although they won’t say anything explicit to you in the conversation, you can clearly see on their face that you are crossing a line and mixing “weikou” and “jingwu” in the same sentence or set of sentences in, thus crossing the line.
Like I said, complex – but a challenge.
New MMTed development in the wind…coming soon!
I’m at a local tea shop – with an outdoor terrace, where I’m deliberately avoiding COVID-19 and the crippling flu currently surrounding Kyoto.
I took off my mask just to take a photo – so you can confirm it’s me reading the manga (-:
I will have more to say about the print I have in my hands and reading at a later date (like in a few weeks).
That’s enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2023 William Mitchell. all rights reserved.