As mentioned in the Dickensian blog-posts, I will be presenting a short introduction to the basics of polite Japanese and more pertinently using quotes from the translations to illustrate this.

In-group and out-group:

When talking about Japanese politeness in general, one needs to approach two critical concepts, that of an in-group (内, uchi, referring to the subject and their relations) and that of the out-group (外, soto, referring to the interlocutor/addressed and their relations).

Hence the intricate relationship of the speaker and the spoken to decides which forms are to be used from the three main categories that make up keigo (敬語, "polite speech").

Three main categories and their vocabulary:

There are, generally speaking, three groups within the umbrella of keigo:
Teineigo (courteous language) - Applying masu-desu endings to verbal stems.
Kenjougo (humble language) - Using suppletive forms of verbs to lower level of the speaker (and their in-group) in contrast to the interlocutor(s and the out-group).
Sonkeigo (reverential language) - Using suppletive forms of verbs to elevate the status of the interlocutor and the out-group in contrast to the speaker themselves and the in-group.

"Suppletive" refers to verbs that take on new forms when conjugated, as is the case with the English verb "to go" and "to be," likewise in Japanese you will find that the humble and reverential languages use distinct versions of verbs, such as for the usual iu (言う, "to speak") there is in humble language mousu (申す, "to humbly report") and in the reverential language there is ossharu (仰っしゃる, "the sir/madam speaks").

Thus, these forms are usually supplied with the courteous language endings, masu making the standard word iu into iimasu and the other two moushimasu and osshaimasu, respectfully. Beyond this there is the usage of forms such as desu, dearimasu or degozaimasu for the standard da and dearu ("to be"), which functions as the copula to the sentence - that have no actual equivalent in western languages.

Henceforth, I will be using kenjogo, sonkeigo and teineigo to describe the humble, reverential and courteous languages, for the sake of concision.

In the three forms pronouns also vary, though infrequently so with teineigo, whereas for kenjougo the first-person pronouns are more prominent, such as watakushi and in sonkeigo it is the second person pronouns that has this with anatasama, regular anata would fall under the category of teineigo, but it can also be used in informal language.

Honorifics such as the all-purpose san and sama do technically belong to bikago (美化語, "beautification language"), but are also regarded as belonging to teineigo, so as to facilitating courtesy - as do the honorific prefixes o-, on-, mi- and go-, the former three for words of Japanese origins and the latter one for those of Sino-Japanese origin, all of which in kanji are written 御, this can however also be used as an honorific suffix, but its usage as such is rarer.

Illustrative examples - Keigo in action:


"Hanahada doumo aisumimasen" to Bobu ha iimahsita, "chisoku itashimasita."
"Chisoko shita?" to Sukuruuji wa tukete iimasita. "un chisoku dato omou da ne, kochra he oide, kimi, douzo."

"I most humbly beg of your forgiveness, sir" said Bob, "I have been late."
"You've been late?" added Scrooge, "mhm, you are indeed late, should I think, do come over here, my friend, come now!"

(Yamamoto Masaki (山本政喜), translation of A Christmas Carol from 1949)

Here we see that Bob uses itashimasu, a humble form of suru (to do, to perform) with the added teineigo suffix, masu, giving it the present tense - this is in turn appended to chikoku (lateness), thus creating the most humble way of expressing that he has been tardy. Additionally aisumimasen is a very formal apology, a variant of the more common sumimasen, hence my adding "sir" at the end.

Scrooge however uses informal language, addressing Bob with kimi, an informal pronoun that has connotations of friendliness in contrast to the more brash omae (お前), his usage of the polite imparitve oide akin to "do come" or "please come," it can sound demanding and is rarer than nasai, which is the more ordinary way of creating polite imperatives. He adds "douzou", a polite request at the end thus adding a note of extra friendliness. Which, again, has the effect of perhaps making Bob uneasy with what could be Scrooge merely taunting him with false avuncular benefaction - which, of course, in the end is revealed to be actual benevolence, when Scrooge gives Bob a much needed pay-rise.


"Anata wa watakushi ima made omenikakatta do no yuurei yori mo kowai no desu. Skashi anata no mokuteki wa watakushi ni ii koto wo shite kudasaru koto ni aru to shitte imasushi, ima made no watakushi to wa betsu na ningen ni natte ikite yukitai to omotte orimasunode, anata no otomo wo uketamawari, shikamo arigatai kokoro de sou suru kakugou wo kimete orimasu. Watakushi ni kotoba wo kakete kudasaimasenka?"

"You are more terrifying than any of the ghosts that I have hitherto had the honour of being in the presence of. Yet, I know that your intention is to grant make a better man of me, for this very reason have I humbly also been going forth to become a different man, to endeavour to attend your company, and it is with thus a grateful heart that I am willing to do so. Would you not, please, offer me some words?"

(Yamamoto Masaki (山本政喜), translation of A Christmas Carol from 1949)

From the fourth Stave, we see Scrooge at his most self-deprecating, but also best in terms of redeeming himself of his old and miserly self. He uses watakushi, the most humble of first person pronouns - a solid piece of kenjougo vocabulary, to indicate that the spirit is not part of his in-group and as such he must lower his own position to accommodate the appropriate respect, hence orimasu (teineigo form of oru, the humble form of iru, "to be") and uketamawaru (to humbly endeavour to perform), whereof the latter is highly archaic and only found in the most formal of circumstances.

Sonkeigo words include:
Omenikakaru - To honourably be before, to meet someone - the form of au (to meet).
Kudasaru - To grant someone something, to confer upon someone - the form of kure (to give, to bestow).

These function as to elevate the position of the interlocutor, in this case the last of the three Ghosts. The literal meaning of omenikakaru is "the honourable eyes are made upon (me)," and like uketamawaru is only found in the most formal of circumstances.

Standard teineigo forms found here are imasu of iru (to be) and the regular anata, that here communicates a neutral politeness, but is augmented by the previously mentioned decorous forms.