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Journal of Politeness Research

Language, Behaviour, Culture

Ed. by Grainger, Karen

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Japanese honorifics re-re-visited

Yasuko Obana
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  • Kwansei Gakuin University, School of Science and Technology, Sanda City, Gakuen 2–1, Hyogo Prefecture Japan
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Published Online: 2017-07-14 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/pr-2016-0022


The present paper aims to re-investigate the status of Japanese honorifics in pragmatic principles, and attempts to see how various dynamic uses of honorific terms for different purposes can be unified with the idea of “the grammar of society” (Bicchieri 2006). To reach this conclusion, the paper is organised in the following way. First, I argue that honorifics, or more precisely honorific markings, function as the grammatical conversion of what has already been strategically constructed, and solely index a social or psychological distance between the interactants. This means that honorifics present a double layer of linguistic architecture: a strategically constructed unit and honorific marking on the unit. Second, the paper examines honorific terms used in speech (plus-) level shifts to see a parallel between them and the so-called ‘conventional’ honorifics, and to find similar attributes shared between them, which are in many ways derived from the origin of honorifics. Finally, by re-investigating and reinstating the term ‘social norm’, which Bicchieri (2006) compares to “the grammar of society”, I demonstrate how honorific terms as social norms are first employed, and then applied, manipulated and pragmatically expanded for various purposes.

Keywords: Japanese honorifics; indexing; social norms; speech level shifts

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Published Online: 2017-07-14

Published in Print: 2017-08-28

Citation Information: Journal of Politeness Research, Volume 13, Issue 2, Pages 281–311, ISSN (Online) 1613-4877, ISSN (Print) 1612-5681, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/pr-2016-0022.

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