Keigo: Japanese Polite Speech

Keigo: Japanese Polite Speech

Martijn: Let’s talk about keigo 敬語 – polite speech in the Japanese language. The first image that comes to mind is likely that of the typical salaryman, bowing and incessantly exchanging formalities. What some people may now know, is how intrinsically polite expressions are woven into the fabric of the Japanese language. First of all, the word keigo is comprised of the characters kei 敬, meaning ‘respect’, and the character go 語, meaning ‘word’ or ‘language’. Simply put, speaking keigo means to use polite language. However, keigo goes far beyond using simply more flowery language. Basically polite Milan: The first thing that stands out about keigo is the fact that it is explicitly coded in both the Japanese vocabulary as well as its grammar. Looking at it in broad strokes, we can identify two dimensions of keigo. The first dimension is something that may be called ‘basic politeness’. Here, it is mainly the setting that determines whether keigo is used or not. Martijn: It is important to note that using polite language is the norm in Japan. Between friends, colloquial language is of course common, but when meeting someone for the first time, polite speech should be used. Milan: This basic form of politeness can easily be witnessed when assessing the verbs used in a sentence. When I want to tell a friend that I am going somewhere, I will use the verb iku (‘to go’). On the other hand, in a more formal setting, for example a meeting, I should use ikimasu. This is a form of the verb iku, with –masu added at the end. This strategy can be applied...