Japanese Politeness : An Enquiry book cover
1st Edition

Japanese Politeness
An Enquiry

ISBN 9780367280604
Published October 30, 2020 by Routledge
218 Pages 14 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Although the Japanese language is one of the most quoted examples in politeness research, extant publications focus on particular areas of politeness, and very few of them enquire into the varied aspects of Japanese politeness. In this book, Yasuko Obana provides an integrated account of what signifies Japanese politeness.

By examining how far previous assumptions can apply to Japanese, Obana exposes a variety of characteristics of Japanese politeness. By taking a diachronic approach, she probes into what constitutes politeness, extracts key elements of the term ‘polite’ in Japanese, and demonstrates how modern honorifics’ apparent diverse, divergent uses and effects can be integrated into a systematic matrix. Furthermore, by quoting traditional Japanese language scholars’ (kokugo gakusha) studies, Obana brings different views into the open. She also carves out politeness strategies in Japanese that have not been adequately explored to date, and which often conform to the way in which honorifi cs behave because they refl ect social indexicality.

This book is a good reference for scholars in pragmatics, particularly for those who are working on politeness. It is useful for Japanese language teachers who want to know how to teach Japanese politeness to non-native learners. Postgraduate students of Japanese or pragmatics may also find this book useful for self-study.

Table of Contents



Preface: Some characteristics of this book

   On a theory of politeness


Note on transcriptions


1. The Definition of Politeness: Review

1.0. Introduction

1.1. The etymology of ‘politeness’

1.2. Politeness as part of speech acts: A set of rules

1.3. Face-saving view: Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory

1.4. Discursive politeness

Endnote 1: Brown and Levinson’s positive and negative strategies

Endnote 2: Collectivism and individualism – Are they real?

2. The Underlying Meaning of Politeness: How it begins and evolves

2.1. The recent development of politeness studies: What ‘politeness’


2.2. The underlying meaning of politeness: A diachronic approach

2.2.1. Involvement and independence as basic human needs/wants

2.2.2. Evaluations as the basis of politeness

2.3. Identity and role in Symbolic Interactionism

2.3.1. Symbolic Interactionism

2.3.2. Subcategories of Role-Identity and politeness

Endnote: ‘face’ ≠ ‘involvement & independence’

3. Politeness as a Social norm, and its Contingency and Discursiveness

3.1. The term ‘social norm’ in sociology

3.2. Politeness as a social norm and its contingencies

The summary of Part I


  1. The Term ‘Polite’ in English and Japanese: Their conceptual differences
  2. 4.1. The etymology of term ‘polite’ in Japanese: Reigi tadashii and teineina

    4.2. The sociological significance of ‘polite’ in English and Japanese

    4.3. Keigo, keii hyoogen and politeness

  3. The Origin of Honorifics: Distance begins
  4. 5.1. The origin of honorifics as taboo?

    5.2. Norito as the origin of honorifics

    5.2.1. The nature of norito

    5.2.2. Honorifics in norito: A language for gods and goddesses

    5.3. Characteristics of honorific use in norito

  5. Understanding Honorifics

    1. The classification of honorific styles
    2. The status of honorifics in pragmatic principles
      1. Honorifics as wakimae?
      2. Honorifics as a positive or negative strategy?
      3. Honorifics as ritual?
      4. Honorifics as a social index and the linguistic evidence of a

      social relationship

    3. Socio-pragmatic functions of honorifics: Ideology, image and reality

6.3.1. From hierarchical to democratic ‘honorifics’?

6.3.2. How Japanese people in general perceive honorifics today

Endnote 1: Uchi as the extension of the speaker’s viewpoint to

differentiate honorific styles

Endnote 2: The uchi/soto distinction as Japanese mentality?

    Endnote 3: The functions of the formula yoroshiku onegaishimasu

7. Variations and Derivations of Honorific Use

7.0. Introduction

7.1. Norms and contingencies: Bicchieri’s (2006) "grammar of society"

7.2. Speech level shifts: The case of plus-level shifts

7.2.1. Distance as a psychological barrier: Irony, sarcasm and conflict

7.2.2. The origin of honorifics: Gratitude, attentiveness, carefulness

7.2.3. Mock stage performance

7.2.4. Norms of honorifics, honorifics used in plus-level shifts and

the origin of honorifics: A pragmatic parallel

7.3. Other derivations of honorific use

7.3.1. Task-based role shifts

7.3.2. Women’s language

7.3.3. Personal styles

7.3.4. Absolute honorifics and self-exalting

Endnote: Examples of minus-level shifts

The summary of Part II


  1. Strategies as the Implementation of One’s Role-Identity

    1. The concept of Role-Identity
    2. Role shifts and changes in politeness strategies
      1. Direct and indirect requests: Role shifts
      2. Repetition as assimilating with the other’s role: It takes two to complete it
      3. Pretending to be a different person: Dissociative roles

    3. Summary

  1. Honorific Strategies
    1. Pragmatic transfer as a source for distinguishing Japanese from English
    2. Fundamental differences in strategic planning in English and Japanese: FTA based vs. Role-Identity based
    3. Praising, recognition and checking: Evaluative statements are
    4. condescending

    5. Direct enquiries of the senior’s wants are intruding: The case of offer
    6. Direct request: One’s entitlement prior to FTA consideration

The summary of Part III


  1. What this book has offered
    1. What constitutes politeness
    2. Contingencies and discursiveness of politeness
    3. Role-Identity as a process to determine polite behaviour

  2. What this book has left out




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Yasuko Obana is a Professor in the School of Science, Kwansei Gakuin University, Japan, teaching English to science students. She has published a number of articles in the fi eld of pragmatics, including politeness and anaphora in text processing. When she was teaching Japanese to university students in Australia, she was analysing learners’ errors in Japanese, which led her to publish Understanding Japanese: A Handbook for Learners and Teachers (Kurosio Publishers, Japan, 2000 ). She is now writing a co- authored book on Japanese pragmatics.