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Fun with honorifics

One thing I've become fascinated by in Japanese in the use of honorifics to convey degrees of intimacy and relationship. I don't think English was ever quite so developed, and modern society has lost much of the nuance we had (e.g. Miss Bennett vs. Miss Elizabeth.) Which may be just as well for social equality, but still, interesting subject. Two examples weigh on my mind.

First is the Nanoha franchise, and the many names of Fate Testarossa (given name, family name), especially in the first two series, where she's a 9 to 10 year old girl.

* Fate-chan to Nanoha and many others. This is the default state of a little girl, almost anyone can -chan them on minimal acquaintance.
* Fate to her mother and her familiar. This is really intimate, but those are the people you'd expect that from. If it has shades of being condescending, too... well, her mother's not very nice.
* Fate-kun while speaking to 'Admiral' Graham, as a probationary member of magical Starfleet. -kun is sort of the -chan for boys, but it's also used for junior employees, including female ones. So this fits.
* Fate-san to Lindy, who also uses it for mundane girls like Arisu and Suzuka. I like my interpretation, wherein Lindy believes in treating everyone with dignity and respect, even 9 year old girls, and even 9 year old girls who can't defeat her in single combat (which Fate quite possibly could). But it's odd seeing a conversation wherein Chrono or Amy refers to Fate-chan and Lindy uses Fate-san, in adjacent lines.
* Testarossa to Signum, an antagonist and old warrior. Seems to fit, standard brusque 'hey, lastname!'
* Testarossa-chan to Shamal, Signum's softer and more motherly colleague. Interesting blend of "little girl that I am not on first name basis with especially as she's an enemy." Logical, but funny.

Even my friend W eventually granted that the diversity in Fate's case was a bit much.

We could get really geeky and consider who's actually Japanese or speaking it. The franchise chickens out of considering any language or translation issues; the simplest explanation seems to be to assume that the non-Earthlings are mostly using translation programs through their Devices. Fate's family isn't Earthling, so it could be that her mother and familiar are simply using her name. Lindy is a Japanophile -- she's got a thing that goes doink in her starship office -- and thus could plausibly be learning Japanese on her own, so maybe she's using -san as many foreigners do, to not mess up. Signum and Shamal are outsiders but must have had Japanese downloaded into them before they booted up this time around.


Then there's a more recent one, Akagami no Shirayukihime ("Snow White with the Red Hair"). The star's given name is Shirayuki, family name unknown. Age also unknown to me, but I'd say somewhere between 15 and 25, probably 18-20. It's set in a Disney-like "fantasy" quasi-European world: no magic or fantastic elements yet, but a weird anachronistic stew of gas or electric lighting, big glass greenhouses, leaf spring carriage wheels, essays on cyanobacteria, and no guns. My subtitles here, unlike the Nanoha ones, try to translate ("Miss Shirayuki") rather than copy honorifics, which I'll grudgingly grant is maybe appropriate for the setting, but I listen for the honorifics in the spoken Japanese anyway. There do seem to be a lot fewer of them, and a lot more use of simple (given name), but they are there.

One particularly interesting one is -dono, which is even more divergent in use than -kun. One use is to address a social superior, but someone not as superior as -sama implies. Another use is for superiors to address each other, sort of granting "you are *someone's* superior and I respect that, though of course you aren't *my* superior."

So, when I was re-watching and paying attention for this stuff, I caught the palace guards of Clarines addressing the heroine as Shirayuki-dono. Who is she to them? At one level, she's a town girl from another kingdom, with no inherent social status whatsoever, definitely not a -sama. At another level, she's the prince's friend (or, they might imagine, mistress) with his personal invitation to visit the palace, and who addresses *him* with his given name, no honorific, which AIUI is kind of more intimate than actually having sex. So more than the default -san. -dono fits perfectly.

Later, another prince visits, and the princes address each other as Raji-dono and Izana-dono, which fits: equal social superiors acknowledging each other's superiority.

More surprising: a recent flashback revealed that Prince Zen's bodyguards initially used -dono with each other. I don't know their background; given their clothing and their job as his permanent companions, it's plausible that they're members of the minor nobility. In the current time they're on unadorned given name basis with each other, Prince Zen, and I think Shirayuki.

Obi, a later guard/attendant, who's some lower class ninja scum, got to be "Obi-dono" recently while accompanying the heroine on a semi-state visit. I imagine that was "you're the personal attendant of this girl who isn't a princess but is kind of being treated like one, and you're dressed up, -dono seems safe, won't insult any -samas who overhear and you won't kill me if it turns out you really are a -sama yourself." For his own part he may still use honorifics with the other two guards (I'm not sure, I haven't paid *that* close attention), and definitely refers to Shira with respect; if not an actual honorific, then certainly a lot of "oujo" (lady/princess), especially when talking about her.

As mentioned, Shirayuki normally addresses the star prince as simply Zen, which must be shocking and provocative for those who overhear. Usually he's either Denka or Zen-denka to people. The chief herbalist used "Zen-sama" in talking to him about how he could abuse his position, but I couldn't parse it more than that. When Shira said goodbye to him recently, while surrounded by lots of people, she used Zen-ouji (another suffix for 'prince'), I assume to cater to appearances for once. She also addressed his older brother as Izana-ouji. Why ouji vs. denka? I have no idea. I've seen 'denka' translated as "highness" while 'ouji' is literally "king-boy", but I don't know the relative status.

Shira herself as apprentice court herbalist is Shirayuki-kun to the Chief Herbalist (that employer-employee thing against), Shirayuki-san to Ryu, who is her herbal senior but her junior in age, and Shirayuki-chan way back in the first episode to the old people she'd grown up among.

I'm trying to recall if anyone addressed Prince Raji, who's a sleazy scummy chump, as Raji-kun to be insulting.

See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/441935.html#comments



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Apr. 9th, 2016 09:42 am (UTC)
I haven't even seen this, but this was a great read.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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