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They're essentially titles, Adrynna. Each one is designed to help place the speaker in relationship to the person they are addressing. Without getting into too much detail (because they can get very complicated), the ones you asked about go something like this:

 

-san = someone with whom you have a formal relationship or someone whom you are expected to respect. In general, that's anyone who's older than you or anyone with whom you have a professional relationship. Those aren't the only cases where you'd use it, but they are the most common. In terms of English, you can consider -san as meaning Mr. or Mrs. or Miss, and you use it in the same places as you would use those titles.

 

-chan and -kun = someone with whom you have a very informal relationship or someone who you are very friendly with. Mostly, this is used for friends or people younger than you. Because it is less respectful, using it in the wrong place can be insulting.

 

-sempai = This is generally used for an older classmate, meaning someone whom you respect but not to the same extent as you would an adult, teacher, or etc. For example, a 6th-year student would probably address both their own class president and a 7th-year student as -senpai because, although peers, they have positions demanding slightly higher respect than the student.

 

-sensei = This is a term of respect you use for anyone in a teaching position. Of course, that most often translates to school teachers, but it can also be sports coaches, martial arts instructors and even just ... wise people who teach you stuff. It's formal, just like -san.

 

-sama = someone in a slightly more formal or more superior position than even someone you'd call by -san. It's really not that common in modern day, but still, you would use it for someone you were really trying to honor or someone you very highly respected. In terms of English, it would be very similar to calling someone Lord or Lady, and is just about as archaic.

 

 

There's a rough introduction. I'm not Japanese, though... I'm sure Madoka-san could give much better answers, if you can catch her. :)

 

Zyaa ne,

~Yui

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Actually, that's something that I'm still not very clear on. Although in practical usage, often younger children and females are addressed with the -chan while males are addressed with -kun, a male/female split doesn't seem to actually be part of the technical definitions of the titles. I suspect that it's more of a 'common usage' rule than a hard-and-fast one. To a native Japanese speaker, it would just sound odd to call a female classmate using the -kun suffix, but it might not be wrong, per se.

 

According to About.Com:

 

"~ kun" is used to address men who are younger or the same age as the speaker. A male might address female inferiors by "~ kun," usually in schools or companies. It can be attached to both surnames and given names. It is less polite than "~ san." It isn't used between women or when addressing one's superiors.

 

"~ chan" is often attached to children's names when calling them by their given names. It can also be attached to kinship terms in a childish language.

~Yui

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So what about people you dislike, despise, disrespect or wish cancerous death upon? How would you go about addressing them in such a manner as to cause shock and/or awe... er... dismay? Are the only options available misused titles based on their station in life and petty childish insults or are there a whole range of titles for people who are just begging to be smeared?

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You tag -Aardvark on to the end of their name, then throw a pie in their face!

 

 

(What, you didn't see that coming... with me lurking around these parts? ...but I kid because I love! ^.^ )

 

:tree:

Edited by The Big Pointy One

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Ah, Japanese honorifics. Due to the proliferation of anime, many people have asked me what they mean, and the contradictions in using them. :)

 

Yui-chan has explained it all every nicely, and I cannot explain it any better than that. She is also correct in that there are exceptions to the rules.

 

-kun is an affix generally associated to young boys in school. -chan for young girls. In an adult setting, being addressed as -chan means that someone has an affinity for you more than on a regular -san level. -chan and -kun are more informal, and are to be used within your peers or a common setting; definitely not to be used for people of a higher stature or towards a stranger.

 

You may be addressed as -kun or -chan by your superior, but you do not address them back as -kun or -chan unless you are raised to their level either emotionally or physically.

 

In this modern age of sexual discrimination, young females are often addressed as -kun by their bosses so that they cannot argue that the boss plays favorites. Nothing more. However, this is rarely done. I am, still, often called Madoka-chan by my uppers. If you know how old I am, then you will realize that I am way beyond the "cute" age. :)

 

-sensei and -sempai are self-explanatory, along with -kohai. However, these days, seniors do not address their juniors with the term 'kohai'. They only say 'kohai' during introductions, as in "Madoka-chan is my kohai".

 

As for insults: Japanese insult each other by deliberately either not saying something or by saying something. For example, if you were of a higher station than me, but not very high, I can insult you by adding the -sama honorific when I address you. Depending on the moment, my body language, my facial expression, and how the conversation is, you will know if it is a grievous insult or praise.

 

The worst way to insult a person, I guess, is to be exceedingly polite to someone when you don't have to be.

 

While we do occasionally get into screaming matches with each other and call each other names, this is generally not the case.

 

Hope that helps!

 

Madoka.

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Thank you very much for the clarification, Madoka-san. The honorifics are often very hard for English-speakers to conceptualize because they have no real equivalent in our language. However, they're so very important to a speaking grasp of Japanese as you said. It wouldn't do to insult someone in Japan just because you made a mistake in how you addressed him/her. I am grateful that you'd help us learn. :)

 

Domo arigatoo gozaimasita,

~Yui

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No problem, Yui-chan! You have a great understanding of Japanese honorifics that I can see, though, so I'm sure you'll be fine.

 

And you can never go wrong with addressing everyone with the -san affix. ;)

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If you know how old I am, then you will realize that I am way beyond the "cute" age.

That's bull! You're ALWAYS at the "cute" age ;P

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So being polite in a zealous way is an insult??? That's unusual indeed. :blink:

 

This is where cultures subtleties clashes. So calling someone sama can be insulting because you make the person feel that he/she doesn't deserve the title right? I want to understand to whole process because it is particular.

 

Is it the same like calling someone "Your Majesty" in a spiteful way?

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So being polite in a zealous way is an insult??? That's unusual indeed.  :blink:

 

This is where cultures subtleties clashes. So calling someone sama can be insulting because you make the person feel that he/she doesn't deserve the title right? I want to understand to whole process because it is particular.

 

Is it the same like calling someone "Your Majesty" in a spiteful way?

Yes and no. There is no real parallel in the Western sense... it's a bit difficult to explain.

 

Basically, the -sama affix should not be used unless addressing people of a real high status, such as royalty, presidents, etc.. If you address your senior with the -sama affix in front of other people who do not really know you, then it could be construed as a deliberate insult to your sempai... especially if you never addressed him with the -sama honorific before. On the other hand, if you have used the term before and the people around you know you, then it could just mean that you are teasing your sempai.

 

However, I'm sure most of you realize that if you walk into a normal department store in Japan, you will be addressed as "okakusama" or, literally, "exalted customer". This is normal and ok. When people send another person a letter, the -sama affix is usually appended to it. This is also normal and accepted.

 

It's a bit difficult to understand, but the general rule of thumb is: you don't know if you insulted someone until that someone gets mad at you.

 

Hence, it is never wrong to use the -san affix if you don't know which honorific to use. :)

Edited by Madoka

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That's bull! You're ALWAYS at the "cute" age ;P

Hee hee, I threw away all my Hello Kitty dolls a long time ago. :)

 

And I'm approaching the big 3-0!! Eeek!

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No paralell? maybe I'm off, since I'm from a completley different part of Asia, but wont 'mockery' be close? Or so it sounds to me.

 

Like. . .mocking someone, but in a not-nice-way.

 

And pshaw, The 3-number isn't _that_ bad! ;)

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Thanks Madoka, it's very interesting. If I ever travel in Japan to pay a visit to my friend Kaneda, I grad a japanese etiquette book along. ;)

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No problem, Celes-san. :)

 

If you really want to have fun, you can always ask your Japanese friend to explain it to you face-to-face. Hee hee. Guaranteed long discussion!!

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