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Japanese Honorifics with Translator

“Honorific”, in linguistic lingo, refers to the little prefixes, suffixes, or titles that are added to a name in most languages, like “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, “Dr.”, “Sir” and the like. Japanese, naturally, has them. One interesting feature, however, is that there are far more of them with far more nuances of meaning than there are in other languages. They can be either attached to the end of a name, or in some cases (such as “sensei”, much like the English “Professor”) as standalone substitutes for names.Etiquette is a critical part of Japanese language and culture, and honorifics are a key element in that. In general they are expressions of respect or endearment, but as with many terms in many languages, delivery — tone and emphasis — can change a title of utmost honor to a sarcastic insult. Using the wrong honorific, or the right honorific in the wrong way, can result in anything from simple disdain to (in feudal times, at least) clan warfare. More and more often, they are used without explanation in English translations, more often in subtitles or translations of manga than in dubs. This makes sense in some contexts, such as when the characters are in a context that has a lot of Japanese cultural elements anyway, or when they are needed to prevent things being Lost in Translation, but translators have a tendency to just overdo it overall.Of course, while keeping most of these definitions in mind, when one is speaking actual Japanese to actual Japanese people and is unsure which honorific to use, it is always best to just ask, and then use what they tell you. Even if he’s 6’6″ and captain of the soccer team, if he wants you to call him “Dai-chan”… you call him “Dai-chan”.  (Credit for all of this information goes to tvtropes.org)

Honorifics used only as suffixes

-san
The most common honorific, and the one most familiar to non-Japanese. Roughly equivalent to most everyday English honorifics, it is generally employed with someone of the same social station as yourself, but can be used any time you need to be generically polite. This is commonly translated and most closely related to the English “Mr.” or “Ms.” However, it’s often dropped entirely in translations, since it’s used in contexts where any honorific at all would seem excessively formal in English. (Example: high school students addressing each other with “Mr.” or “Ms.” would come across as overly formal)
-han
Kansai-ben version of -san. Not used very much if the vowel sound of the last character ends with “i” , “u” or “n”.
-sama
A term of great respect, one step higher than -san. In fantasy or historical contexts, it’s generally translated as lord/lady or a similar term, but since modern English really has no honorific expressing such extreme deference, Mr. or Ms. usually has to do. In situations where there isn’t a massive gap in social status between the speaker and the person being addressed, the use of -sama can border on grovelling. However, it has some standard uses: it’s a flattering way for a business.company to address its customers and clients; it’s used when addressing letters to friends; and a young woman may playfully use it for a guy she has a massive crush on.

  • In rare cases, -sama can also be used sarcastically to indicate extreme disrespect. The pejorative second-person pronoun kisama is written with kanji that mean something like “honored sir,” but today the real meaning of the term is more along the lines of “you bastard.” (In military parlance, it keeps its old respectful sense, which is an endless source of jokes among civilians.) Men who want to express over-the-top arrogance can attach -sama to the macho and aggressive first person pronoun ore and refer to themselves as ore-sama, something like “my magnificent self”. This is often Woolseyized to Third-Person Person.
-dono
Originally “lord,” in the feudal sense, once denoting a higher level of respect than -sama. However, while -dono denotes high status on the part of the person being addressed, it does not imply lower status on the part of the speaker, unlike -sama. It thus serves as a face-saving way for high-ranking Jidai Geki characters to address others of high rank. Today, it’s considered slightly less respectful than -sama due to the lack of self-humbling. However, it’s rather archaic to use at all these days; in anime it’s sometimes used as an anachronism to indicate the speaker’s age (Cologne in Ranma ½, Washu in Tenchi Muyo!, etc), or in feudal/historical settings. The only place it’s still more or less widely used is the military, cf. “kisama”.
-kun
Used with boys’ names to denote familiarity or endearment; also used between peers by men, or when addressing someone younger or of a lower social standing. Despite its predominant usage with males, it can be used with girls as well, such as addressing a coworker of lower position. In particular, teachers will often use -kun for older female students. This is a way of preserving the difference in social standing, while avoiding the intimacy of an honorific such as -chanwhich might be considered inappropriate between teacher and student. Also typically used with a Bokukko character, for obvious reasons.
-chan
A general, informal term of endearment with overtones of intense cuteness, most frequently used for (and between) girls, but also applicable to pets, small children regardless of gender, friends, or lovers. Making it part of a nickname is even more so, and is done primarily for little kids, Kawaiiko teen girls, close friends (regardless of gender), or lovers (for whom it is especially intimate). Sometimes translated as ‘little’; for example, “Robin-chan” becoming “little Robin”, sometimes translated as “-baby” (as in Kunô-baby). Literally speaking, it’s the diminutive — a cultural equivalent to calling your friend “Jimmy” instead of just plain Jim. Technically speaking, it’s what would properly be termed the affectionate diminutive. However, as the “Kunô-baby” example shows, it can also be used as a derisive diminutive, depending upon context and tone.
-chin
An even more diminutive variant of -chan. Most commonly used by young girls who are very close friends. This is often contracted to make it easier to roll off the tongue, for instance Yukari-chin would become Yukarin.
-tan
A small child’s slurred mispronunciation of -chan. If it is used by an adult at all, unless speaking to an infant or toddler, the person is most likely either being sarcastic, or a poser Kawaiiko. A non-anime example of this is a certain fast food fried chicken chain’s mascot in Japanese advertising, an adorable little girl, “Bisuke-tan,” who carries an enormous biscuit on top of her head; her name can probably best be translated as “Widdle Biscuit.” This is also how the name for the OS-tans, the Super-Deformed mascots representing operating systems and software programs, was derived — and by extension, any young female anthropomorphization. The deliberate misspelling -taso (based on the visual similarity between the katakana characters for n and so) is often used in Japanese internet communities when referring to certain (almost exclusively female) characters (Mugi-taso, Eru-taso) and real people (Marei-taso, Ripu-taso).
-tama, -chama
Similarly, these are baby-talk versions of -sama, with the exception of “obocchama” which is used to address the son of someone who is of higher social standing, roughly equivalent to “young master.”
-pyon
A slang honorific, indicating that the speaker is being very cutesy/sweet/lovey-dovey with the person he is addressing.
-pi
A cutesy honorific for small pets. (ex. of redundancy: P-Chan)
-me
A derogatory honorific, used when you refer to people, things, or concepts you’re a) pissed at, b) deem despicable/inferior. Not as common in real life as anime and manga would have you believe, and it’s usually used jokingly or sarcastically. Adding “-me” to your own name or a first person pronoun has a self-humbling effect.
-gozen
Indicates nobility; most commonly applied to women.

Honorifics also used as regular/standalone words

senpai/-sempai
Usually translated as “upperclassman” in stories set in high school or college, but it more precisely means “mentor” or “senior”, depending on context; it is also used in workplaces, clubs, organizations etc. for employees/members with seniority in relevance to the speaker. Due to differences between romanization systems, it can be spelled in Western languages as either “senpai” {Kunrei} or “sempai” {Hepburn}. (Both spellings are technically correct; the former is a closer transliteration of the Japanese spelling, but the latter better reflects the actual pronunciation.) Senpai/sempai can be attached to the end of someone’s name or be used on its own.
kouhai
The inverse of -senpai/-sempai, meaning someone of a lower class year or lower seniority than the speaker. It’s not strictly speaking an honorific since it’s not normally attached to a name, and it’s considered rude to use to a person’s face.
-sensei
Literally means “one who has come before”. Usually heard in English referring to martial arts masters. Also applies to doctors, teachers, and masters of any profession or art. It is also standard for professional writers who are classed as teachers. In short, the rule of thumb runs thus: doctors, teachers, lawyers, writers and scientists who got their doctorates are called “sensei” automatically; with the others it’s debatable. In recent years this has become an all-purpose suck-up word, and is now more often used sarcastically than as a genuinely respectful term. This has brought complaints of Dude, Where’s My Respect? from real masters and artists. Those who routinely read the liner notes of manga will notice that this is still used as a term of respect for – and between – prominent manga artists (e.g. “Akamatsu-sensei” for Ken Akamatsu).
-shishou
Similar to -sensei, but limited to certain traditional Japanese arts and crafts, including martial arts. When used as a stand-alone word, it’s usually translated as “master”. It also denotes extreme respect from the speaker to their target; this is lampshaded in Naruto and Mobile Fighter G Gundam.
-hakase
Used when addressing an academic whose expertise is VERY high. Technically this means “Doctor”, but in practice it’s actually reserved for even higher ranks and is more or less equivalent to addressing someone as “Professor“. On the other hand there’s little hard and fast rules in this area and the correct usage depends more on the personal preferences of the addressee.
-niisan/-neesan
Literally refers to one’s older brother or sister, respectively, but can also be used to refer to a relative within your generation that is older than you (i.e. an older cousin) or a slightly older close friend that you consider to be like a brother or sister, similar to -senpai. note  To directly address your brother or sister, add O- to the beginning (it denotes respect), but if you don’t feel particularly respectful, feel free to omit it. Siblings trying to be cute will sometimes refer to their older counterparts as Onii-chan or Onee-chan. An alternate way of being very casual, typically seen more in fiction than reality, is to drop the san and address the subject as “<name>-nii” or “<name>-nee“.
-jisan/-basan
Literally refers to one’s uncle or aunt respectively, but also used to refer to middle-aged adults with whom the speaker is already acquainted. Changing it to -jichan or -bachan denotes familiarity and is like saying Aunty. Not seen as insulting unless the person is sensitive about their age. (A woman under 30 is likely to be insulted, though.) Be careful with how long you draw out the i and a sounds, lest this suffix become…
-jiisan/-baasan
Literally refers to one’s grandfather and grandmother, but also used to refer to much older adults with whom the speaker is already acquainted. Changing it to -jiichan or -baachan is like saying Gramps or Granny. Not seen as insulting unless the person is sensitive about their age.
-bouzu
One level below -kun on the formality ladder. It’s an affectionate masculine diminutive, how one might address a particularly young niece or nephew. Roughly equivalent to addressing someone with a nickname like “squirt” or in a friendly tone calling them “twerp”, or to express mild irritation/annoyance.

Other things

As noted above, -dono comes from the word tono, meaning “lord”. Several other terms for social rank seem to be used as honorifics as well, most notably -oujo and -hime, both of which mean “princess”. “-ojou” or “-ojousama” is regularly used for girls from very well-to-do families.Likewise, which version of a person’s name to use will also convey varying degrees of formality; the Japanese generally tend to be on a Last Name Basis except for family or intimate friends, so addressing a coworker, neighbor or casual acquaintance using their given name instead of their family name in cases where a full name would be too formal would usually be considered quite forward regardless of the honorific attached to it. As with any such distribution things tend to towards the center rather than the extremes; attaching formal honorifics to informal names and vice-versa tends to either connote sarcasm or just sound silly so “Family Name -san” is most likely to be the most acceptable form for most people on most occasions. This provides yet another subtle shading of formality: “Ranma-san” is less formal than “Saotome-san” even though the same honorific is used. It’s not uncommon for Japanese to be on first name basis with peers of their own gender and last name basis with those of the opposite, as being on a first name basis with someone of the opposite gender who is not related implies a higher degree of intimacy then acquaintance, classmate or coworker would supply.Using no honorific at all (called yobisute) is also an honorific — it’s a “null honorific”, and it means the speaker is addressing the person to whom he is speaking in an intimate and familiar manner usually restricted to family, spouses or one’s closest friends. Usually, this is only done when First Name Basis permission is granted by the subject. Using no honorific without such permission is a grave insult; this is a subtlety lost on many foreign visitors, who may offend people with no idea that they’re doing so (although nowadays this is generally not the case for most foreigners since most Japanese understand that many languages do not use honorifics, and many foreigners, particularly business travelers. brush up on Japanese etiquette before visiting.). Addressing someone in yobisute for the first time frequently marks an important point in a Romance Arc or friendship.

English to Japanese to English translator:  http://jisho.org/

Here is a link to the “Dere” usage in anime and manga: http://hectormadrigal.com/all-dere-types-anime-manga/

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