The Way of Politeness with Keigo

The Japanese language can be complex for any beginner to learn. Several levels of speech have different words and expressions. Keigo is one of the reasons that add nuances of the language.

Keigo (敬語), or honorific speech, literally means “respectful language”. It is used in parts of speech to show respect. The use of keigo is mandatory in many social instances to emphasize social distance, social intimacy, or similarity in rank. Honorific speech is extensive and has its own vocabulary and grammatical forms to express the many different levels of being humble, deference, and politeness.Business people bowing

The principles of Uchi and Soto

Japanese culture focuses heavily on social accord and collectivism. Meeting the standards and being part of a group is considered a fundamental step to being accepted as a member of the community. The effects of the principle of Uchi and Soto are seen in every social dynamic in the country, from politics to economics.

Uchi and Soto signify two fundamental concepts that essentially shape the culture and society of Japan. Uchi denotes people who belong to a particular social circle. This can include family, your team, or your company. Soto refers to people outside that social circle.

The three forms of Japanese keigo

Japanese honorifics are classified into three main categories:

Teineigo (丁寧語) or the polite form. It is usually the first form that students of the Japanese language learn in class. This is mainly used when the speaker doesn’t know the person spoken to. This form is also used when the speaker wants to put some distance between them.

Sonkeigo (尊敬語) or the respectful form. This is used to show respect for others when talking about someone with a higher status than the speaker. People in this group included elders, bosses, and customers. This form is never used when speaking about oneself.

Kenjougo (謙譲語) or the humble form. This form is used when speaking to a superior or someone of a higher social status than oneself. It is essentially being humble in the presence of a person or people of higher status.