頭を悩ます英文法?それでも挑み続けるべき理由! (Part 2)




Ever felt befuddled by English grammar? Here’s a good reason to keep on trying!

(Part 2)


In the first part of this post, we postulated that learning grammar is equivalent to learning culture, in that grammar was born from a social need for communication (i.e. culture) and also perpetuates this culture by structuring our thoughts.

In this second part, let’s reflect more deeply on the implications of grammar on how we think!


What it means not to have keigo: relationships are not pre-determined

In the first part of this blog post, we saw that English does not have the concept of keigo. Of course, there are ways to express politeness, but rather, there is no concept of “me-ue” vs “me-shita” or “inside” vs “outside.”

What it means in practice is that the relationship between people is not determined in advance. In Japanese, in a given situation, how do you know if the person you’re talking to is above or below you? You need to look at a number of hints about them: their age, their social status, their job, their hierarchical position, or, for elder generations, their gender. Suddenly, these pieces of information become crucial in determining how you must behave toward the other party.


In a world without keigo, though, how do you define how to behave toward the other person? Well, it depends on culture of course, but if you look at the United States, you are basically free to determine your own rules of behavior—albeit most people do it subconsciously. The fact is there’s no common and implicit understanding between people of how they should behave toward one another.


Keigo brings social peace but also rigidity; its absence brings spontaneity but also chaos

So in a social system with no explicit rules on how people should behave toward each other, individuals have to constantly negotiate between them on the particulars of their relationship. You are never assured to be treated in a certain way, and it is your personal responsibility to establish clear limits to protect yourself. Hence it creates a society where communication should be direct, needs and limits should be expressed clearly, and the likeliness of confrontation is higher.

And that’s the greatest benefit of a system where behaviors are pre-determined: it brings social peace (well, at least on the outside). Everyone knows their place and behaves accordingly, and you don’t have to invest as much time and energy in negotiating for your personal position. You can focus on other things.


In sum, as is always the case, it is not that one system is better than the other: rather, it’ll depend on your personal preferences. I have in fact noticed that English is particularly attractive to Japanese who carry within themselves a strong preference for less rigidity and more individual freedom. But nothing is totally free: what you gain in spontaneity, you might also lose in serenity!


In the third part of this post, we’ll explore two concrete examples in which attitudes differ depending on the existence or absence of a keigo-like system: customer service, and receiving orders from your boss!


Are you fascinated by this type of topic? The CfIC organizes corporate seminars on intercultural communication; contact us now, and give your employees the tools to analyze business communications in a global context and make the most of every situation!



(Part 2)





敬語がないとはどういうことか 相手との関係性は未確定






敬語が社会秩序とともに堅苦しさをもたらす/「敬語なし」 が自然さとともに無秩序をもたらす