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Conjugating Honorifics? (尊敬語)

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Conjugating Honorifics? (尊敬語)

Postby ThePacster » Thu 11.04.2010 1:11 am

Just got home from class and the teacher was going over 敬語 briefly and how to conjugate verbs. I'd gone over these already some time ago with books on my own so I wasn't too worried about anything she put on the board, but towards the end she mentioned something that totally confused me.

When she was going over the ways to conjugate words for 尊敬語 at first it was nothing I hadn't already seen.

お + V-ます + なります (例:お帰りになります)

Special words (例:いっらしゃいます、召し上がります、なさいます、etc.)

These I already knew, but for the third group she said you can conjugate verbs into the potential form and use them as 尊敬語. At this point I was pretty perplexed as she wrote her example word on the board. Now the word she wrote on the board was 食べられます, and while that is potential form, that is also the passive form. However, referring back to my books here at home, it gives an entire list of conjugations into passive form for both ichidan and godan verbs into the passive form which according to this text can be used for honorific.

So if I were using an ichidan verb technically she would be correct, but could you say

部長はもう資料を読めました。 instead of 部長はもう資料を読まれました。 Or do both of these work?
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Re: Conjugating Honorifics? (尊敬語)

Postby NileCat » Thu 11.04.2010 10:17 am

ThePacster wrote: …,but could you say
部長はもう資料を読めました。 instead of 部長はもう資料を読まれました。 Or do both of these work?

No. That’s incorrect. Your first hunch is right.
Since I’m not familiar with grammatical terms for JSL learners, I can’t tell the general rules using the terms such as ichidan or godan. (Believe it or not, the accurate technical terms are slightly different from ours.)
Let me point out just one tiny little thing, instead.
In terms of the example sentence your teacher wrote on the board, unfortunately, that contains a controversial issue even amongst native speakers.
If you want to be very strictly accurate along the proper grammar, I have to say that is not a good example sentence. 食べられます can’t be a proper honorific expression.
However, in our daily life, many people actually use the expression as if it were a proper honorific expression. But if it were a proper high level exam for…well... for executive assistants or…translators for government or…something like that, they wouldn’t be able to pass it. Kinda tricky, isn’t it?
But it is acceptable in our casual conversation. So, I wouldn’t say your teacher is wrong or something. On the contrary, I think she wanted to show you a "practical" usage.
In short, I share your confusion. :wink:
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Re: Conjugating Honorifics? (尊敬語)

Postby ThePacster » Thu 11.04.2010 10:54 am

Thank you Nilecat. Putting her example of 食べられます aside (I'd personally choose 召し上がります), when she said potential form something inside me just screamed "noo! :shock: " when thinking of all the wonderful godan (or う-verbs as some books call them) that I've seen written using the same form as passive when using 尊敬語. Class doesn't meet again until Tuesday, but I will definitely make sure to bring my book to class and bring it up since we'll be going over it more again. I'd hate for the class to get inaccurate information.
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Re: Conjugating Honorifics? (尊敬語)

Postby micahcowan » Thu 11.04.2010 2:39 pm

NileCat wrote:Since I’m not familiar with grammatical terms for JSL learners, I can’t tell the general rules using the terms such as ichidan or godan. (Believe it or not, the accurate technical terms are slightly different from ours.)


Whoa. I'd always assumed "ichidan" and "godan" were the Japanese terms for those verb categories.

Some English textbooks on Japanese I've encountered distinguishing them by calling them "-ru" verbs versus "-u" verbs, and others (older) refer to verbs whose stems end in vowels (that is, the unchanging part of "age(ru)/age(nai)/age(masu)" is "age", so that's the stem, and it ends in the vowel "e") versus verbs that end in a consonant ("oyog(u)/oyog(anai)/oyog(imasu)" = "oyog-", ending in the consonant "g", which of course breaks down for the gerund and plain past forms ("oyonde/oyonda"), and require special treatment of verbs like "kau", whose stem is considered to be "ka(w)").

Both of these are obviously Western ways of viewing the Japanese language, and especially in only viewing Japanese through the lens of romaji.

But ichidan and godan... those clearly map more cleanly to a more Japanese way of thinking about the differences between those two verb categories, so I assumed they were the common way for Japanese to distinguish them. Since they aren't, I'm now dying of curiosity: what is? (Or is it simply that most Japanese don't bother to refer to them by any particular term at all, which I imagine is the case, since we English speakers don't go around distinguishing our different word types, either, at least beyond the level of "verbs/nouns/adjectives/adverbs/etc".)

If you want to be very strictly accurate along the proper grammar, I have to say that is not a good example sentence. 食べられます can’t be a proper honorific expression.
However, in our daily life, many people actually use the expression as if it were a proper honorific expression. But if it were a proper high level exam for…well... for executive assistants or…translators for government or…something like that, they wouldn’t be able to pass it. Kinda tricky, isn’t it?


This is a very interesting point to make. Virtually every English-language source on Japanese that I've read describes it as a way for forming an honorific, just as viable a method as the お+V-ます+になります form. It seems this may be yet another point in which English-native Japanese learners have been misled, whole-sale.

I begin to get the impression that several small inaccuracies of this sort cropped up at the beginning in the first available texts on the Japanese language, which were viewed as authorities, and that these inaccuracies then went on to spread throughout the literature.

On the contrary, I think she wanted to show you a "practical" usage. In short, I share your confusion.


My suspicion is that she wouldn't have distinguished it as "practical" versus "official", since I haven't seen any textbooks that make that distinction for this case, so she was probably just unaware. Of course, "potential" form was simply a mistake, I hope no textbook teaches that; she may have temporarily forgotten that godan verbs allow a shorthand form for potentials which are not acceptable for this (pseudo-?)honorific style.
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Re: Conjugating Honorifics? (尊敬語)

Postby NileCat » Thu 11.04.2010 3:57 pm

Interesting.
I might be wrong. But regarding the terms, have you ever heard of 下一段/上一段 or 変格活用? When I made a quick search about 動詞活用 in English, it seemed to me that they simply explain all the verbs using the simple terms ichidan and godan ONLY. So I assumed that the English definition might be slightly different.

micahcowan wrote:
NileCat wrote:If you want to be very strictly accurate along the proper grammar, I have to say that is not a good example sentence. 食べられます can’t be a proper honorific expression.
However, in our daily life, many people actually use the expression as if it were a proper honorific expression. But if it were a proper high level exam for…well... for executive assistants or…translators for government or…something like that, they wouldn’t be able to pass it. Kinda tricky, isn’t it?

This is a very interesting point to make. Virtually every English-language source on Japanese that I've read describes it as a way for forming an honorific, just as viable a method as the お+V-ます+になります form.

You are talking about 食べられますか as 尊敬語, right? As I wrote in my previous post, it can be a controversial issue, I'm afraid. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of the textbooks have defined it as a correct usage. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be harmful information that there are many people who consider it sounds very awkward when we have more proper expression 召し上がる. For instance, if I go to an exclusive restaurant and if the waiter said 食べられますか instead of 召し上がりますか, I would never go to the restaurant again. Because I (personally) assume the restaurant “second-rated”. And, believe me, it would be very rare to happen at least in Tokyo. Restaurant owners know that textbooks have nothing to do with their business.

EDIT: In other words, I’d be very surprised if the textbooks/manuals FOR PROFESSIONAL whose work requires to use proper 敬語 described that you can use 食べられますか as 尊敬語 to their customers. (e.g. hotel clerks)

Well, I apologize I posted my subjective opinion as if it was a generally-authorized-formula or something. :think:
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Re: Conjugating Honorifics? (尊敬語)

Postby Hyperworm » Thu 11.04.2010 4:43 pm

In case it's not obvious from NileCat-san's post, られる is fine for a honorific. (Unless I've got this all horribly wrong :D)
It's just that 食べる already has an honorific form in 召し上がる, so using られる with that particular verb is strictly incorrect.
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Re: Conjugating Honorifics? (尊敬語)

Postby micahcowan » Thu 11.04.2010 8:53 pm

NileCat wrote:Interesting.
I might be wrong. But regarding the terms, have you ever heard of 下一段/上一段 or 変格活用? When I made a quick search about 動詞活用 in English, it seemed to me that they simply explain all the verbs using the simple terms ichidan and godan ONLY. So I assumed that the English definition might be slightly different.


I hadn't heard of those first two (下一段/上一段)... they seem to be used to distinguish between 一段 verbs that end in either -eru or -iru. Is there a useful purpose in distinguishing those verbs? Or is it just to the same purpose as calling them "-eru" or "-iru" endings (which again, admittedly, is a decidedly western way of categorizing them).

We do use the term "irregular verbs" in various instances, which I'm guessing probably maps exactly onto the Japanese category 変格活用.

micahcowan wrote:
NileCat wrote:If you want to be very strictly accurate along the proper grammar, I have to say that is not a good example sentence. 食べられます can’t be a proper honorific expression.
However, in our daily life, many people actually use the expression as if it were a proper honorific expression. But if it were a proper high level exam for…well... for executive assistants or…translators for government or…something like that, they wouldn’t be able to pass it. Kinda tricky, isn’t it?

This is a very interesting point to make. Virtually every English-language source on Japanese that I've read describes it as a way for forming an honorific, just as viable a method as the お+V-ます+になります form.

You are talking about 食べられますか as 尊敬語, right? As I wrote in my previous post, it can be a controversial issue, I'm afraid. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of the textbooks have defined it as a correct usage.


Ah, to be clear, and as chikara helpfully noticed, I was more caught up in the -areru form-as-honorific in general being taught as a true honorific style, where you were perhaps picking on just one specific instance of its application (to 食べる specifically), which I had missed.
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Re: Conjugating Honorifics? (尊敬語)

Postby chikara » Thu 11.04.2010 9:35 pm

micahcowan wrote:..... as chikara helpfully noticed ....

どういたしまして :?

Maybe I could become the new thanks, Rich. :mrgreen:
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Re: Conjugating Honorifics? (尊敬語)

Postby ThePacster » Thu 11.04.2010 10:02 pm

Oh my :D I didn't realize 食べられます would become such a hot topic.

In regards to that though, as interesting as this conversation is, I don't think her example was necessarily focusing on the verb 食べる so much as her saying that all verbs can be change into the potential form which is actually not true as far as I'm aware, giving me the initial knee-jerk reaction.

Like in my example, you wouldn't say 読めます or 洗えます for godan verbs (う-verbs) but rather 読まれます or 洗われる for 尊敬語, at least that's what the books I've used for self-study have shown me.
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Re: Conjugating Honorifics? (尊敬語)

Postby ss » Thu 11.04.2010 10:35 pm

I don't recall a textbook teaching 食べられます as a honorific expression, not even in Genki series, at least. However, to me, られる form can be fun at times, it can be confusing, as well. I remember a fun lesson we learn in class (quite long ago IIRIC).

私のチーズはネズミに食べられます。 (Would you use 召し上がる in this case? :lol: )
ネズミは食べられます。
マウスは食べられません。

Would you like to try to interpret that in English?

One of my colleagues is a very strict vegetarian, she doesn't eat meat or simply "she CAN'T eat meat". I've always thought that saying 肉は食べられません would be the safest, what do you think?
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Re: Conjugating Honorifics? (尊敬語)

Postby NileCat » Fri 11.05.2010 12:34 am

micahcowan wrote:Ah, to be clear, and as chikara helpfully noticed, I was more caught up in the -areru form-as-honorific in general being taught as a true honorific style, where you were perhaps picking on just one specific instance of its application (to 食べる specifically), which I had missed.

For us, it’s like a common sense that this specific verb’s specific form can be a trigger of a hot dispute. If you googled it, you would be able to find a bunch of meaningless arguments about it. So I have never imagined of the possibility that you have generalized it. :shock:

SS wrote:One of my colleagues is a very strict vegetarian, she doesn't eat meat or simply "she CAN'T eat meat". I've always thought that saying 肉は食べられません would be the safest, what do you think?

You are absolutely right. :)


The following is off-topic, though...
Do you know one of the factors that make this kind of issue more complicated? In Kansai-ben (Western dialect), there are some occasions where 可能形 of 行く is not only 行ける but 行かれる. (e.g. 「こっちの道通っても行かれるで」) Besides, there exists an expression like 行きはる which can be used as 尊敬語.(e.g. 「こっちの道通って行きはったら行かれるで」)  So, 「そのみかん、食べはったらよろしのに」 is kind of considered to be a proper honorific expression in a way. So, to those who are from Kansai area, “部長はお昼はもう食べられましたか” doesn’t sound too weird because they are kind of used to “部長はもうお昼食べはりましたやろか”.
Well, that’s only one of the “trivial pursuits”. :roll:
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