The Japanese Keigo is how Japanese people politely speak
with people in other classes of Japanese society. Keigo, in a broad sense,
means “polite language”, and is usually referred to in English as
“honorifics”. Knowing a little bit about Japanese keigo can impress your
Japanese teacher or friends, and is essential to being polite the right way
In Japan, there are sharply divided social classes. The basic idea of Japanese keigo is that people should speak with each other differently, based on whom they’re talking to. For instance, a Japanese college student would address his/her professor in an especially respectful way, whereas the professor wouldn’t have to be as formally polite when talking to the student.
There are two basic types of keigo: one is for referring to others politely, and the other is referring to “you and yours” in a humble way. As strange as it seems, you try to “degrade” yourself while putting others on a pedestal.
General times to use the polite kind of honorifics are when addressing a boss at work, a professor or teacher, or someone who is older than you. If you are talking to these people and referring to yourself or people associated with you, you should use the humble honorifics.
Many times, using Japanese keigo is just a matter of slightly changing around normal Japanese verbs into either a more respectful or more humble form. But with a few really commonly used verbs, there are completely different keigo versions that you pretty much just have to memorize.
For all you Japanese speakers out there, an example of changing around a normal verb into a polite keigo is this: you have the verb suwaru (to sit), and to make it keigo, you would say o-suwari ni narimasu.
On the other hand, the polite keigo version of a really common verb like taberu (to eat) is meshi agarimasu. And it’s the same with humble keigo, too; there is a way to change the normal Japanese verbs, as well as a handful to memorize.
But it goes a step beyond that. In English, there is basically one way to refer to somebody’s son, for example. It’s just “my son” or “your son”. In Japanese keigo, you refer to your own son in a humble way, but you refer to someone else’s son in a more respectful way.
There’s a lot to learn about Japanese keigo, and it’s strange to think that you’re supposed to speak about yourself degradingly, but if you take the time to pick up the basics, you’ll get more respect than you can handle.
About the Author
Philip Rozek invites you to soak up more about the Japanese language by reading the full article at http://www.how-to-learn-japanese.com/japanese_keigo.html You can also learn all about Japanese kanji pronunciation, the Genki Japanese textbook, and more. He’ll also let you pick from his full array of tips on how to learn Japanese
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