High and Low of Positions and Honorific Speech in Japanese

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Jul 9, 2011 14:47
Though I don't know other societies very much, the consciousness of positions is often regarded as important in Japan. Exaggeratedly speaking, we, the Japanese, cannot sit down in a business meeting, cannot go out from an elevator and cannot sometimes ride a taxi with other people without thinking of high and low positions.

I guess that the consciousness of high and low of positions may be strengthened by use of honorific speech in Japanese (敬語, keigo). When we decide whether to use honorific speech or not to another person, we must make sure whether his/her position is higher than that of us. The large amount of such experiences will reinforce the consciousness (and the unconsciousness) of positions, though this is just a hypothesis.

Contrary to it, the strong concept of positions will promote the complicated and detailed system of honorific speech. If you have learned Japanese, you may have been embarrassed by its complicated honorific system. That's similar to Japanese people. I am often not certain of an exact honorific expression and, probably, have made lots of mistakes. Such complexity of honorific speech in Japanese has been formed by the strong and detailed concept of positions in Japan, I guess.

So the relationship between the concept of positions and honorific speech in Japanese resembles that between the chicken or the egg, though the concept of positions cannot be fried and honorific speech cannot be thrown to the football players who lost an important game.