Tuesday, May 5, 2009

politeness and etiquette

The Globe and Mail Focus section had an interesting article Saturday 2 weeks ago.

The way ESL students learn, they tend to revert to imperatives for requests, instead of the indirect question format.


I want you to close the door.
Close the door!
Can you /will you/ would you (please) close the door?

A structure such as Espo would help.
C^u (means query) fermis la doro (OK I couldn't be bothered looking up the words).
It potentially leaves the word order intact.
OK, if there was word order instead of infix/agreement hell.
An anglicized version might look like this:
Query: you close door.

D: more particles for the other Espo query words would have been welcome.
A word for what, followed by word for space (where), time(when), thing (what -), person (who), reason (why).
This would have avoided kie kiel and the confusing rest of the lot.

D: must-do for Decimese!

Changing word order is difficult for ESL students, or can be.
I imagine the minimal grammar of Chinese results in this perceived rudeness.
E.g. You go now!

Korean is an interesting take on honorifics.
Apparently you can say a fairly rude sentence. Just remember to add the right title at the end.
For foreigners, it's best to avoid honorifics entirely unless you are sure.


Ssi (씨/氏) is the most commonly used honorific used amongst people of approximately equal speech level. It is attached at the end of the full name (such as Kimcheolsu-ssi) or simply after the first name (Cheolsu-ssi) if you are more familiar with someone. Appending -ssi to the surname (Kim-ssi) can be quite rude, as it indicates you are of a higher social status than the person you are referring to. The word is pronounced 'shi' with a tense 'sh' sound. Ssi is derived from the Chinese character 氏, meaning surname and has its equivalent (and cognate) in the Japanese 氏(し;shi), pronounced 'san' and 'shi'.


Seonbae (선배/先輩)is used to address senior colleagues or mentor figures, e.g. students referring to or addressing more senior students in schools, junior athletes more senior ones in a sports club, or a mentor or more experienced or senior colleague in a business environment. As with English titles such as Doctor, Seonbae can be used either by itself or as a title. Hubae (후배)is used to refer to juniors. However, the term is not normally addressed to them directly. It is mainly used in third person.


Seonsaeng (선생/先生) has much more formality and is used to show respect to the addressee. It is related to the Japanese honorific, 先生(せんせい)and shares the same pair of Chinese characters, representing 'teacher' or 'one has lived before' (literal).

A few verbs have special humble forms, used when the speaker is referring to him/herself in polite situations

Pronouns in Korean have their own set of polite equivalents, e.g. 저 (jeo) is the humble form of 나 (na, "I") and 저희 (jeohui) is the humble form of 우리 (uri, "we").

Speech levels

There are seven verb paradigms or speech levels in Korean, and each level has its own unique set of verb endings which are used to indicate the level of formality of a situation. Unlike "honorifics"—which are used to show respect towards a subject—speech levels are used to show respect towards a speaker's or writer's audience.

D: of course, English finds a way to be polite or rude.
Compare "excuse me sir" to "yo, beeatch".

A simple, optional, and methodically applied system of honorifics would reflect social status realities.


San (さん ?), sometimes pronounced han (はん ?) in the Kyoto area, is the most common honorific and is a title of respect similar to "Mr." or "Ms." However, in addition to being used with people's names, it is also employed in a variety of other ways.

San is used in familial honorifics. For example, mothers - both one's own and other people's - are addressed as okaa-san (お母さん ?, "honorable mother" + san), whereas the word that simply means "mother" (母 ,haha?) is used when referring to one's own mother while speaking to a non-family-member. In the same way, younger siblings address their older brothers and sisters as onii-san (お兄さん ?) and onee-san (お姉さん ?), but refer to them to outsiders using the plain words for "older brother" and "older sister," ani (兄 ?) and ane (姉 ?).


Kun (君 , in Kanji ?, くん in Hiragana) is used by persons of senior status in addressing or referring to those of junior status, or by anyone when addressing or referring to male children. It can also be used by females when addressing a male that they are emotionally attached to or have known for a long period of time.


Chan (ちゃん ?) is a diminutive suffix; it expresses that the speaker finds a person endearing. A similar example in English would be calling a girl named Mari, "Mari, dear." Thus, using chan with a superior's name would be condescending and rude. In general, chan is used for babies and young girls. It may also be used towards cute animals, lovers, and very close friends.

D: it's best to avoid them entirely if you are not sure.
I tried to show respect to guru/mentor and mixed up chan and san. Oops!

For the record, as an ex-infantry with Corporal rank, I consider sir to mean "doesn't work for a living", and perhaps implies imcompetence also.

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