The distribution and characteristics of Japanese vocatives in business situations

Tamaki Kitayama

Abstract

This paper aims to analyse the types of Japanese vocatives used in business situations, and demonstrate the characteristics of their distribution with different politeness levels as shown in films on human relationships in large traditional corporations in and around Tokyo. The discussion builds on the theory of “discernment or social indexing politeness” (Hill et al. 1986; Ide 2006; Ide et al. 1986; Kasper 1990; Geyer 2008), and positions that of “strategic or volitional politeness” (ibid.) with the variables of “power” and “distance” proposed by Brown and Levinson (1987). In a society of collectivism under a vertical structure with seniority system, people have their own ba (‘place’) (Nakane 2005) where they are expected to choose socially accepted language and behaviour according to whom they address; namely, seniors or juniors, and uchi (‘in-group’) or soto (‘out-group’) members. The use of vocatives is fixed based primarily upon “power” (age and status) and “distance” (in- or out-group), and is hardly flexible to changes in form in business or private situations. “Power” prevails in addressing in-group members; whereas “distance” determines the choice of vocatives used between out-group people. Within a group, indirect polite forms are used to address superiors, whilst direct familiar forms are chosen when speaking to subordinates, which presents a nonreciprocal use of terms; power downwards and reserve upwards. The intentional individual use of last name+-san (‘Mr./Ms.’) is also argued here as it has dichotomous aspects of politeness; sounding more polite to address a subordinate, and less polite when used with a boss. To out-group members, people tend to choose more of polite forms to each other. These vocative choices reflect the relative position of the Japanese interdependent “self” (Morisaki & Gudykunst 1994; Gudykunst et al. 1996; Spencer-Oatey & Franklin 2009) with “other- and mutual-face” (Ting-Toomey & Oetzel 2002), which follows social norms, striving to meet expectations made by groups it belongs to and identifies itself with.

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