August 27, 2006

Part 21 (A Thousand Leagues of Wind)

Chapter 79

In order to better understand the etymology of Enho's various names, a review of the revelant kanji might help. The root kanji is matsu or shou (松), meaning "pine" or "evergreen."

Enho's full name is Otsu Etsu (乙悦). Later in life, he takes Rou Shou (老松), meaning "old pine," as one of his uji. He becomes a self-made wizard or Senpaku (仙伯), and King Tatsu calls him Shouhaku, or Count Shou (松伯). He helps establish the Evergreen Seminary (松塾). The name of his home town is changed from Shikin (支錦) to Shishou (支松), likely reflecting his fame.

Koshou's gang uses "Rou Shou" as their password, and Rou undoubtedly choses that uji for the same reason. The mythology that grows up around Enho's life is summarized in chapters 49 and 60.

Chapter 78

青辛 [せいしん] Sei Shin, Kantai's formal name
桓魋 [かんたい] Kantai
Some of the humor in chapter 78 gets lost in translation, specifically revolving around the familiar and formal forms of the first and second person pronouns. These differences—known to linguists as the "T-V" (or tu-vous) distinction—existed in English in Shakespearean times, with thou taking the familiar form. In an odd sociolinguistic reversal, the association of thou with the King James Bible transformed it into an archaic honorific, and the T-V distinction in English vanished.

The second person pronoun taught in Japanese classes is anata (あなた). Anata is actually the "safest" of the familiar forms, but is often used incorrectly by foreigners. Linguistically reflecting its feudal past, Japanese pronouns are tightly coupled with the social status of the person being referred to. But what makes the T-V distinction complicated in Japanese is that there really isn't a "V" in the second person.

Anybody above your social status or class is referred to by title, and never by name alone and certainly not with a pronoun. For example, a teacher would call a student by name or use a pronoun (the choice of pronoun depending on what the teacher thought of the student), but the student would always refer to the teacher using sensei. You would never call your boss "you," but "boss" or by his last name plus an honorific, usually san.

The pronoun o-mae (お前) is as ubiquitous as anata. It is generally not taught to novice speakers because it is even more insulting when used improperly. It literally means "honorable" (御) + "before/in front of" (前), implying that the person being addressed holds a lower social status.

In chapter 74, Kantai asks Youko, "Youshi, did you know there were no enemies outside?" The Japanese sentence begins: "Youshi, o-mae . . . . " Because Youko is a teenage girl, adults unaware of her real status naturally address her as o-mae. But as soon as Kantai realizes who she is, he drops the pronoun and uses "Your Highness" (lit. "Empress") to refer to her.

Koshou, however, just can't wrap his head around who Youko really is. When he says to Youko at the end of the chapter, "You being some kind of real important person and all . . . " he's still using o-mae, the same way he always has with her.

This, more than anything else, is what cracks Suzu and Shoukei up. But pronouns can be quite subtle in their implications. At the beginning of book 1, Youko refers to Keiki by name or drops the grammatical subject completely (which in Japanese is acceptable in formal speech). In chapter 43, when Youko says to Keiki, "At least you have to believe in me," she is literally saying (to Keiki), "At least Keiki has to believe in me."

This tells us that Youko is Keiki's superior. A subordinate does not address a superior by name without an accompanying honorific, a practice called yobisute (呼び捨て), literally meaning "call" + "throw away." That's one of the reasons why, in chapter 21, Shoukei gets steamed when the child empress, the Royal Kyou, refers to her by name alone.

But by chapter 48, when Keiki and Youko travel together to Meikaku, while Keiki continues to refer to Youko as "Your Highness," a sentence later Youko refers to Keiki as o-mae, and continues to use o-mae with him, clearly establishing their lord-vassal relationship. O-mae can be thought of as a more familiar form of anata. It's not insulting by itself, as long as social taboos aren't being violated.

On the other hand, if a fight is what you want, then calling a social superior o-mae is cruisin' for a bruisin' (there are far worse pronouns than o-mae, but I won't get into them here). An interesting twist on this occurs in chapter 79, when Enho refers to Youko as o-mae-san (お前さん). He is both recognizing her junior status to him and her elevated status at the same time. (A similar "intimate-honorific" is anata-sama.)

Keep in mind that nobody else in the kingdom but Youko would dare refer to the kirin as o-mae. And only Enho could get away with o-mae-san. When Gekkei kills Hourin in chapter 2, he addresses him as anata. It's still condescending, considering their relative social positions, but more polite than o-mae. In the same chapter, though, Shoukei's mother calls Gekkei onore, which is unambiguously insulting.

First person pronouns are somewhat less problematic. Students are taught the formal watashi (私), which in casual settings sounds a bit stuffy, but won't get your face slapped. Informally, men typically refer to themselves as ore (俺), while women of all ages use atashi (あたし). Boys use boku (僕), though you'll hear girls use boku as well (it does sound tomboyish). At the other end of the spectrum, Enho refers to himself as washi (わし), which is favored by the elderly.

In some cases, using your own name or title instead of the personal pronoun is most appropriate. Knowing when to use one and not the other, though, is not easily taught, so students of Japanese are advised to stick to watashi or avoid the pronoun altogether.

In chapter 78, when one of Kantai's regimental commanders addresses Youko, he begins by referring to himself as ore, but quickly corrects himself and starts over again using the more polite watashi: 「俺は、いや、私は . . . 」which literally means: "I, no (sorry), I . . . " Unfortunately, there's no simple way to translate this and retain the original nuance of the Japanese.

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# posted by Anonymous leilei
1/05/2010 2:02 PM   
So does that mean it is appropriate for girls to use 'boku'? For example, pop singers like Hamasaki Ayumi or Utada Hikaru have used boku in their song lyrics in reference to themselves. It confuses me because I thought it wasn't appropriate for their gender.

Another thing, sorry to bother, I was curious about the difference between 'anata' and 'kimi'? You mentioned that 'anata' is usually more familiar and misused by foreigners in formal situations. Is that the same with 'kimi'?
# posted by Blogger Eugene
1/05/2010 2:51 PM   
Appropriateness is often in the eye of the beholder, so it depends on how you wish to present yourself. A girl who uses boku casts herself as "one of the guys." Or wishes to differentiate herself from the more feminine atashi.

I would recommend avoiding kimi altogether, unless the person you're addressing says it's okay. Kimi can be translated as "bud" or "pal" or "Hey, you." Because it is a familiar form of address, it would sound condescending if used improperly.