December 01, 2011


Early on, Ryô is actually a lot more condescending than it sounds to western ears.

Namely, she refers to everybody by name alone, while Sen dutifully applies the expected honorifics, -dono (the period equivalent of -san) in the case of Koreya (only the vilest opponent didn't deserve grudging respect) and "Lord" (-sama) with everybody else she regards as her social "better."

Ryô's liberal use of yobisute (呼び捨て), literally "call" + "throw away," is a way for her to assert her superiority (whether deserved or not).

It's still considered rude to address one's superiors by name alone, let alone with a bare pronoun. This includes family members. A scene from the NHK historical drama springs to mind, in which the three amazing nieces of Oda Nobunaga meet after several years apart.

Here's how the dialogue begins:

Hatsu, Gô.
O-ne-sama, Gô.
O-ne-sama, O-ne-sama.

Revealed here is their familial status based on age. Yodo is the oldest, Gô the youngest. These sociolinguistic rules have barely budged in four hundred years. That exchange would be almost the same today (except for a more sparing use of the honorific sama).

In Scrapped Princess, for example (which takes place in a fictional alternate universe, not Japan), Pacifica consistently appends ni-san (big brother) or ne-san (big sister) to the names of her (older) step-siblings.

As Peter Payne puts it, relationships in Japan are vertical. Students address teachers as Sensei, lower classmen address upper classmen as Senpai, never by their first names. In a teen romance, you know things are moving to the next level when yobisute kicks in.

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