Su(m)imasen and gomen nasai : Beyond apologetic functions in Japanese

Roxana Sandu


Previous research on Japanese apologies has presented us with a somewhat static approach, connecting one linguistic form to one aspect of the social context. However, interaction itself is a dynamic and spontaneous process; consequently, apology expressions’ meanings are situated and negotiated in the place of interaction. Therefore, in this study, shifts from gomen to su(m)imasen and gomen nasai, and from su(m)imasen to gomen nasai, were analyzed in order to demonstrate that Japanese apologies function as indexical signs of emotional expression. To this end, data was collected from Japanese television dramas, where the ongoing development of the relationships protagonists were involved in was chronologically observed. Using as analytical concepts, (1) the social context of an interaction, (2) the selves participants impersonate, and (3) the speech styles the interactions occur in, to explain situated variation in the use of apology expressions, the current study revealed new meanings an apology carries in a situated context and also reinforced some of the previous research findings.

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