Keigo – Formality in the Japanese Language

I think everyone knows the discipline and education of the Japanese, there is a huge cultural difference between the Japanese and Brazilians, the level of formality is almost absent among us while it is exaggerated among the Japanese, including in the Japanese language.

As much as Japan has been westernizing in recent years, there is still a great hierarchy, where there are different types of formality according to the person's social level.

In the Japanese language there is the polite language (敬語) which is used to converse formally with people of different levels. Using different vocabulary and structures and expressions. O Keigo It is divided into 3 categories the Polite, Respectful and Humble.

Simple form

Before we talk about the 3 Keigo, it is worth remembering that there is also the simple and informal form, which is common to be used with people you already have an intimacy with (relatives, friends), this form is known as dictionary form, for it presents the words at their root, in the simplest form.

Example: the verb “to eat” in the simple form is 食べる (TABERU)

丁寧語 - Teineigo - Polite

This is the polite language most used is considered the standard of formality, you will normally use with people of a higher social status than you. This keigo shows courtesy or respect for the person addressed. This includes the structures “masu” and “desu”.

We use it when talking to strangers, people we are not familiar with, older people and superiors, or anyone we want to show respect (your boss, your teacher). This is usually the way foreigners are taught to speak Japanese, as it is ideal for everyday interactions; it is also the most used by newspapers and news programs.

Example: the verb “to eat” in the polite form is 食べます (TABEMASU)

尊敬語 -  Sonkeigo - Respectful

It is commonly called the Honorable Form. This Keigo is used when addressing or speaking to people far above our hierarchy, such as superiors and clients, usually people in positions of power.

Much used by receptionists of stores, markets, pharmacies, clerks, proletariat of the genre. You may have already come across the expression いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase), which customers hear when entering a commercial establishment.

Its function is to honor and exalt the person we speak of, almost as if we idolized him; therefore, this form should NEVER be used to talk about ourselves and our own actions!

Example: the verb “to eat” in the honorific form is 召しあがる (MESHI AGARU)

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謙譲語 - Kenjougo - Humilde

Commonly called the Form of Humility, this is the type of formality used by customers when addressing those who serve them. It can also be used when asking something as formally as possible to someone the speaker considers superior, or worthy of respect, as for example, in the expression that many may already know: よろしくお願いします (yoroshiku onegai shimasu), in which the speaker formally asks the listener to be kind, or as we translate “nice to meet you”.

This keigo is used when we talk about ourselves or the group we belong to, but putting ourselves in a position of extreme humility towards the listener, diminishing ourselves. Usually this speech implies that our actions are aimed at satisfying, helping or serving the listener, so it is very common to hear merchants and store attendants using it.

Example: the verb “to eat” in the humble form is 頂く(ITADAKU)

The verbs

It may seem complicated, because it's hard enough to learn one word for everything, imagine four? Only time, and life in Japan can make you get used to keigo, even the Japanese have difficulty, but it's worth studying, so you don't get lost when reading or talking to someone, memorize at least some verbs I'm leaving the list below:

Verb Simple Honorific language Kenjōgo Teineigo
see and look 見る; miru Translation: see; miru ご覧になるgo-ran ni naru 拝見するsuru Haiken 見ます mimasu
Know 会う au .お会いになるo-ai ni naru お目にかかるo-me or Kakaru 会います aimasu
Ser one ある aru ござるgozaru
いる iru いらっしゃるirassharu
おいでになるo-ide ni naru
おるoru おるoru
come / go 来る kuru (come)
行く Iku (go)
伺う ukagau
参る Mairu
Saber 知る shiru ご存じ go-zonji 存じあげる zonji ageru 存じている Zonjite iru
Eat Drink 食べる taberu (to eat)
飲む nomu (drink/drink)
召しあがる-meshi-agaru 頂く itadaku 頂く itadaku
To receive もらう Morau 頂く itadaku
頂戴する Chodai-suru
もらいます moraimasu
To give (make, bring) When you do the action. やる yaru (considered rude today, except in Kansai dialect)

あげる ageru (once the humble form)

差しあげる sashiageru あげます agemasu
To giveWhen another does the deed. くれる kureru くださる Kudasaru くれます kuremasu
do / do する suru なさる nasaru 致す itasu します shimasu
To say 言う iu おっしゃる ossharu 申し上げる Moshi-ageru
言います iimasu
To use 着る kiru お召しになる omeshi ni naru 着ます kimasu
To sleep 寝る neru お休みになる O yasumi ni naru 休みます Yasumimasu
To die 死ぬ Shinu O nakunari ni naru 亡くなる Nakunaru

Finally, let's look at some examples and phrases using Keigo.

The first example shows the phrase "This is a book" at different levels of formality.

Informal Educated Formal polite and formal
これは本だ kore wa hon da.
これは本ですkore wa hon desu.
これは本である kore wa hon de aru.
これは本でございます kore wa hon de gozaimasu.

The second example has been showing how to do requests or commands. There are several different ways of formality for some occasions, let's show the famous phrase to interact and ask for a favor or friendship.

  1. よろしく頼む / yoroshiku tanomu (to be used between male friends, polite)
  2. よろしく頼みます / yoroshiku tanomimasu (Familiar people)
  3. よろしくお願いします / yoroshiku onegai shimasu (polite)
  4. よろしくお願い致します。 / yoroshiku onegai itashimasu. (Humble)
  5. よろしくお願い申し上げます。 / yoroshiku onegai mōshiagemasu. (extremely formal)

Of course there are many other things not mentioned in this article that are related to the polite languagesuch as Japanese honorifics or suffixes. Keigo is a very big subject to be studied, in the future other articles on this subject will be created. I hope you enjoyed.

Sources: Mainichi Nihongo / Wiki

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