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Language and Culture: The Honorifics (Speech or System) of Japanese and Korean Research Paper


Use of a detailed system of honorifics has been in use by the Japanese since time in memorial. This sets out a difference between the addresser and the addressee.

Research on this topic has shown that its use is determined by different aspects contained in a speech, this include the formality of the very status and the addresser or addressee position.

In Japan, honorific use is determined by the category of the addressee, that is, he/ she might be superior to the addresser, and this corresponds directly to the verb in use.

Honorific use by the addressee, that is distal forms, is directed by the factors prevailing in that current situation such as the speech formality, addressee/ addresser social identity and logically oriented accounts.

Although rules and obligation dictate the use of honorifics, they cannot account for the differences in their use. There is variation in the use of honorifics regardless of the fact that the same person is addressed under similar speech situation (Dunn 1).

In Korea, a different use of horrific is implemented in order to portray politeness. In the past, horrific was used to set out the differences in societal conditions between orators.

Today, horrific is used to give a distinction between formal and informal speech depending on how familiar the orator and the audience are. Horrific is used to show respect among people of different social status. Examples of horrific used in Korea are; Ssi, Gun, Ghaka, Gwiha among others.

They are used either as prefixes or suffixes to the surname (Byon Para. 4). Each horrific is used at a different social setting and if wrongly used, they are seen as a form of insult. In both Korea and Japan, horrific is generally used to accord respect to the subject and portray some kind of politeness. Different verbs exist in both countries that are used at different social setting and levels.

Importance of understanding culture in explaining one’s language

Culture can be defined as practices that are similar to a given group but different to another one. To understand a different language, it is important to familiarize with the same people’s culture.

Knowing what people in a culture do and speak is important because it helps to know what these people treasure and deem consequently, leading to prediction of their behavior.

This helps one to become more acquainted with the peoples’ actions hence avoiding being caught unawares or reducing chances of mixed reactions to this behavior.

This is important as it helps one adjust to the new setting. After one has come to the knowledge of how and why all these actions are taken, it is easier now to cope with the differences thus making an easier way of interacting.

Culture is likened onto an iceberg. The same way an iceberg has both the visible and invisible sections, the same is evident with culture where some features are observable and others can only be perceived.

Some of these aspects include; gestures, eating habits, music, religious beliefs and many others. Usually, the invisible aspects directly influence the invisible ones (understanding culture 6).

Use of gestures can be used here to depict how important it is to understand a culture in order to better explain a different language. As a common mode of communication in the modern world, body language such as facial expression can have different meaning in different cultural setting.

Therefore, if one is not very conversant with a given culture, cases of misunderstanding may occur thus leading to conflict between these two cultures.

Value differences between the Korean and Japan

Value can be defined as a core component of culture as it focuses on change that directly influences behavior. Value is also vital in the business arena in that, its components influence the customer’s choice.

Such components include social, conditional functional, emotional among others. From a consumer’s perspective, value can be seen as the total measure of utility of a service.

It is apparent that there are differences in value depending on the cultural setting and satisfaction required by the individuals in these two countries (Kim 229).

This is more evident in business ,for example, in mobile internet whereby in Korea, download services are mostly used thus achieving emotional value while in Japan, e-mail services are frequently used thus attaining a functional value. Thus the value attained in the countries (Kim 236).

Differences in Korean and Japan communication system


Culture is divided into two categories in both Japan and Korea. These two categories are individualism and collectiveness. In individualism, societal groups are perceived to be individual and respect for rights and equality is considered.

On the other hand, collectivism deals with groups whereby corporations are formed comprising of different people. Collectivism has various disadvantages such as lack of privacy and self-esteem (Deep culture para. 5).

Both Koreans and Japanese can be viewed to be collectivists. Generally, countries such as Korea, Japan, China and Russia which relay on agriculture as a means of income for survival are said to be collectivism.

Those that deal with nomadic such as, Europe, North America and Arab are perceived to be individualistic. Both Koreans and Japanese are not only collectivism but also, individualism in the sense that they work as groups with an aim of benefiting these very same groups.

This is because of various reasons such as their lifestyle from the past whereby they depended on rice farming that required coming together hence discouraging individualism.

For a long period, there have been interactions between the two countries, thus promoting similarity between them. Due to the Japanese invasion in Korea, the Koreans were forced to think and act in a similar manner to the Japanese.

Thus, aspects of collectivism such as harmony and dependency are upheld. Thoughts for the two Asians states are very similar in that they believe in getting their happiness by a way of interacting with friends.

In the current world, people are moving from collectivism to individualism. This is also evident in the two countries where people have become more self centered.

Egalitarianism- Hierarchism

Egalitarianism is the belief of equality for all people; it imposes an equal treatment for all as the whole human race is entrusted to the same rights. On the other hand hierarchism portrays a protocol in which there those people above or below others in terms of age or their position in the government that is seniors and juniors.

In Korea, egalitarianism is dominant whereby wealth and opportunities are distributed equally. There is no large gap between the rich and the poor.

Egalitarianism has been known to cause tensions in area such as media and education where private sectors are discouraged. This is believed to bring harmony in the society.

In both Japan and Korea, hierarchism has been promoted by Confucianism in which social protocols are vital in training juniors how to respect the seniors and how the same seniors should lead in the right manner. The idea behind this is to ensure a smooth running in the society (Hagget 3126).


Indirectness means diverting from the right course. Confrontation on the other hand confrontation means facing a person or situation directly without fear. There have been confrontations between the two countries in the past.

Such an incident is like the one that occurred at the sea where the Koreans refused to be inspected. This led to a bitter feeling to the Japanese although the problem was solved smoothly.

There is still fear that such cases are likely to occur in the future unless the Japanese will have good faith. The two countries have to act towards the good for both of them. Indirectness is highly embraced in Korea where the listener has to put effort in attempt to understand what the addresser is saying. Much work is to be done by the Korean reader as compared to the English readers (Eisenstein 143).


Though Korea and Japan has had conflicts, there has been close relationship due to the economic transactions carried out between them. Japan is known for its pragmatic goals in economics while Korea is known for its moral superiority.

Japan is known for its pragmatism in the way of accepting to do business with the USA freely. Korea is not as pragmatic as Japan, though at long run, both tend to have the same achievement.

In Japan use of horrific such as Keigo is common and it aims at bringing out the culture for the Japanese. Formalism is used to present the exact information to a scientific researcher because it addresses questions that are more pressing.

The main addressed issues include; reference person reflectivity among others. The use of such brings out some sense of politeness and respect (Wetzel 4).


Rationalism calls for actions out of reason and knowledge rather than religious or emotional reactions while emotionalism focus on reactions based on emotions. Cases of emotionalism are evident in both Japan and Korea.

For example; Japan was not pleased with the discontinued negotiation over fisheries in 1969. Another instance of emotionalism is seen when Korea uses the word king instead of emperor in an attempt to humiliate Japanese.

The issue of abducting Korean girls for slavery and sexual satisfaction by the Japanese also resulted into long debates in the USA House of Representatives with an aim of providing solution to the women mistreatment (Togo and Hasegwa, 52).

Nationalism was more evident in Korea in which movements were formed in order to protect Koreans culture and ethnicity against the outsiders. These movements included independent ones ant the partitioning of Korea into two in order to protect the country from the colonialist thus safeguarding their culture.

Conversational constraints in conflict situations

Both Koreans and Japanese are perceived to be collectivistic in their way of communicating mode. During conversation, conflicts are bound to occur and for both countries, different approaches are used to solve such conflicts and constraints such as concern for clarity, imposition minimization, and hurtful feelings by the audience reduction and hearer’s negative perceptions avoidance.

Koreans seem to be more collectivism as compared to Japanese. While Japanese are more concerned with passage of information clearly and explicitly, Koreans focus more on avoiding negative feelings or hurting the hearer’s feelings.

Differences in the perceptions of interaction goals between Koreans and Japanese

How issues are perceived in both countries differ. This is attributed to the cultural difference in the countries. The way words are understood in both countries is all different, for example; in Korea corruption is not a vice as in other countries like the USA.

Another case can be seen in negotiation processes. To the Japanese, Harmony is a priority and in many cases they would not want to involve in dialogue that is likely to cause chaos.

Honorifics and Politeness

In Japan, use of Horrific is common whereby suffixes are used at the end of names to denote the relationship between the addressee and the addresser. Japanese have diverse levels of speech, honorifics, different words and polite verbs.

The use of the above mentioned ideas depends on the situation in which the word is used; this means a word can have many meanings depending on the situation. The way to address a close friend or a family member is all different from the way of addressing an employer.

The various speech level used include, keigo, sonkeigo and kenjougo. Keigo is the most used level especially with the foreigners because it is simple. The latter two are used in formal situations more so when seniors are addressing juniors.

Examples of honorifics include; san which is equivalent to Mr., Ms or Mrs. in English, it is used for both male and female. Cha is another horrific used in informal situation to denote affection. It is commonly used by women and girls.

In rare occasions, men can use it to imply some sense of affection to a young lady.It can also be used to refer to cute things or pets. Sama is a more polite one and it can be used to show respect to a senior.

To show politeness in Japan, there are different ways of using I and you. It is perceived more polite to use ones title or name than to use you. Examples of I are; Wakatashi, Watashi and boku.

Those of you are; Anata, Kimi and Anta (Honorifics and Politeness Levels para. 2). Just as in Japan, Koreans also make use of different honorifics, speech levels and verbs in order to set out a clear relationship between the speakers and d the audience. All these are done to show respect and create a good relationship among different categories of people.


In both Korea and Japan, use of horrific is embraced in order to ensure harmony in the society. Their cultural practices are directly proportional to their language; therefore, it is important to understand culture in order to have a comprehension of the language.

There are different ways of communicating in both Korea and Japan depending on the values to be achieved.

Constraints in communication in both countries are also evident and these are different in the two countries. It is important to familiarize with a culture in order to be at pace with their way of doing things and communication modes.

Works Cited

Byon, Andrew, S. The role of linguistic indirectness and honorifics in achieving linguistic politeness in Korean requests. Deep culture: Individualism verses collectivism. Web.

Dunn, Cynthia, D. Japanese honorific use as indexical of the speaker’s situational stance: Towards a new model. University of Northern Lowa. Eisenstein, Miriam, R. The Dynamic interlanguage: empirical studies in second language variation. Toronto: Springer, 1989. Web.

Hagget, Peter. Encyclopedia of world Geography: Japan/ Korea. New York: Marshall Cavendish. . Web.

Kim. Lee, Y. et al. . Journal of Electronic Commerce Research, VOL. 3, NO. 4. Web.

Togo, Kazuhiko. Hasegawa, Tyuyoshi. East Asia’s haunted present: historical memories and the resurgence of nationalism PSI reports. ABC-CLIO.2008. Understanding culture. Web.

Wetzel, Patricia, J. Keigo in modern Japan: polite language from Meiji to the present. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press. 2004.

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IvyPanda. (2019, September 10). Language and Culture: The Honorifics (Speech or System) of Japanese and Korean. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/language-and-culture-the-honorifics-speech-or-system-of-japanese-and-korean/

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"Language and Culture: The Honorifics (Speech or System) of Japanese and Korean." IvyPanda, 10 Sept. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/language-and-culture-the-honorifics-speech-or-system-of-japanese-and-korean/.

1. IvyPanda. "Language and Culture: The Honorifics (Speech or System) of Japanese and Korean." September 10, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/language-and-culture-the-honorifics-speech-or-system-of-japanese-and-korean/.


IvyPanda. "Language and Culture: The Honorifics (Speech or System) of Japanese and Korean." September 10, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/language-and-culture-the-honorifics-speech-or-system-of-japanese-and-korean/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Language and Culture: The Honorifics (Speech or System) of Japanese and Korean." September 10, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/language-and-culture-the-honorifics-speech-or-system-of-japanese-and-korean/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Language and Culture: The Honorifics (Speech or System) of Japanese and Korean'. 10 September.

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