Today’s article is about Japanese grammar, 敬語/けいご/Keigo/Honorific language. I have briefly explained this in the past article “日本語の文法用語まとめ/Summary of Japanese grammatical terminology”. Honorific language is a word or phrase that expresses respect for the listener or the person in the topic. In the Japanese language, language is used differently depending on your position. By using the correct honorific language, you can show respect and politeness to others. There are three types of honorific languages which are 尊敬語/そんけいご/Sonkei-go, 謙譲語/けんじょうご/Kenjo-go and 丁寧語/ていねいご/Teinei-go.
尊敬語/そんけいご/Sonkei-go: A direct expression of respect by the speaker by enhancing the other person's action, state, etc.
謙譲語/けんじょうご/Kenjo-go: An expression that shows respect indirectly to the other person you are talking to by lowering the speaker’s own behaviour or condition.
丁寧語/ていねいご/Teinei-go: An honorific expression of expressing respect by using polite expressions.
*First two are quite complicated, I will explain each of them more in detail in the articles in the following week.
In business situations, Japanese people always use honorifics when talking. You need to consider the position of who you are talking to, the person you are talking about, and determine to whom you should use honorific language.
尊敬語(Sonkei-go) should be used when you are talking about actions, conditions, matters and belongings of your boss, seniors, customers and teachers. It should not be applied if you are talking about your stuff or someone on your side (For example, when you are talking to a customer about someone from your company, you should not use 尊敬語(Sonkei-go) even if it’s your boss).
謙譲語(Kenjo-go) is used when you are talking about your conditions and actions to people who are in higher position than you. It should not be used if you are talking about stuff that’s not done by you.
丁寧語(Teinei-go) can be used for both speaker and person you are talking to. 丁寧語(Teinei-go) is the most common type of honorific language and can be seen in many places. For example, you can find it on the product description on the package. Also, it is commonly used between people who met for the first time, or to people who are older than you but are at a similar position at the company. (if the person you are talking to is in a much higher position than you, you should be using 尊敬語(sonkei-go)).
Here are commonly used verbs turned into honorific languages.
As you can see, it’s difficult to see the rules for 尊敬語(Sonkei-go) and 謙譲語(Kenjo-go). But ones for 丁寧語(Teinei-go) seems pretty simple. For most of the examples I gave, they are just simple verb with ます(Masu) added at the end. For some verbs, です(desu) is added instead of ます(Masu).
Honorific language is the foundation of business situations in Japan. It is important to acquire the correct knowledge and keep it in mind on a daily basis so that you can speak naturally.