Publication details [#57068]

Burdelski, Matthew. 2013. “I’m sorry, flower”: Socializing apology, relationships, and empathy in Japan. Pragmatics and Society 4 (1) : 54–81.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Language as a subject
Place, Publisher
John Benjamins
Journal DOI


Apologies have long been considered an important social action in many languages for dealing with frictions of everyday interaction and restoring interpersonal harmony in response to an offense. Although there has been an increasing amount of research on apologies in non-Western languages, little research involves children. Japan is an interesting case in which to examine apologies. In particular, Japan has been called a “culture of apology” in the sense that speakers often ‘apologize’ (ayamaru) in a wide range of communicative contexts. This article examines children’s socialization to a culture of apology as evidenced by a large corpus of audiovisual recordings made over the last decade in households, playgrounds, and a preschool in Japan. In particular, it examines ways Japanese caregivers (e.g. parents, preschool teachers) use the expressions Gomen ne and Gomen-nasai ([I’m/We’re] sorry) when addressing third parties, including not only other people (e.g. children’s peers) but also a range of entities in the surround (e.g. animals, supernatural objects, objects in the environment such as a stone), and ways they prompt children to say these expressions to such third parties. This analysis suggests that apology situations are an important site through which children are socialized to empathy and relationships in the social world. It also examines ways children use these expressions when addressing peers and inanimate objects, and ways they prompt others including peers and even on occasion adults to say them. These findings suggest that while children deploy strategies in ways that reflect the socialization process, they also deploy them in ways that construct this process in creative ways.