Levels of Speaking
One of the trickiest parts of
learning Japanese is the understanding of the different levels of speech. Not only is there a difference between formal
and informal speech, but there is also a difference between familiar and polite
A good example of how a polite/familiar duality in the grammar alters the tenor of the language is the usage of the word “kudasai.” We tend to translate the word “kudasai” as “please” in English. Hence, the phrase “beer, please” uttered to a host offering drinks would be translated as “biru kudasai.” But “kudasai” does not literally mean “please.” It means “give to me.” Nonetheless, “biru kudasi” does not translate literally as “give me a beer,” which could sound rude in some contexts, because “kudasai” is the polite way of saying “give to me.” Hence, it translate as, “please give to me ….” “Please” is not a separate word. It is part of the grammar.
Aside from the polite way of saying “give to me,” there is also a “really polite” way of saying it, which is O negai simasu. It translates as something like, “I think you are the greatest thing since sliced sushi, and I would be most grateful if you would give it to me, even though I know fully well that I am undeserving of it.” As you can see, Japanese can be a highly efficient language in some circumstances.
There are two ways of being
polite to someone in Japanese. One is by
using grammar that indicates how wonderful that person is (e.g., the “exalting”
tense) and the other is to indicate how much lower you are by comparison (the
“self flagellating” tense). The best way
to understand which strategy to use in a given situation is to be re-born in