Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How do I say "I" in Japanese? - Well that sort of depends

One of the difficulties of learning Japanese is also one of the great pleasures when you get it right. The language has essentially two forms, standard Japanese and keigo, the honorific language used when circumstance suggest extreme politeness. I'll come back to keigo in a later post but to illustrate the issue of understanding relative positioning, take the English word "I" as an example. In Japanese it has multiple forms for varying circumstance dependent on whether you are a man, woman, senior or junior. The problem being, if you get it wrong you can cause quite some offence or, alternatively, hilarity depending on the mistake you make.

Watakushi:    used by both men and women when being extremely polite
Watashi:     the equivalent but used in normal conversation
Atashi:   used by women only when talking to a friend
Boku:   used by men only when talking with friends
Ore:   used by men only when talking to someone more junior

If you're ever unsure, use watashi. As a foreigner, it's polite enough and you'll be forgiven any slight errors of etiquette.

No comments:

Post a Comment