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Using Japanese honorifics in prose - Yay or Nay?:

When you are writing Japanese characters, that is.

For one thing, quite a few people have gotten used to watching anime subs or translated manga that make ample use of the ubiquitous "-san", "-chan", "-kun", "-sama" etc. that they kinda sorta expect to read that in prose anyway. Also, the honorifics often contain subtle messages about the characters' relationship with others and how they perceive these relationships that are difficult to do in any other way.

On the other hand, many would argue that Japanese honorifics have no place in written English prose, that their effects are readily replaced by other English cues, and that these honorifics are easy to abuse to the point of looking stupid. Or worse, making the writer look like a weaboo, whether or not this is the author's intention.

So, arguments for and against use of Japanese honorifics in English prose. Go.
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 2 Madass Alex, Thu, 1st Sep '11 8:04:13 AM from the Middle Ages.
I am vexed!
Dialogue-only for third-person. It could be used interestingly in first-person or second-person perspectives, though.

edited 1st Sep '11 8:13:36 AM by MadassAlex

 3 JHM, Thu, 1st Sep '11 8:05:44 AM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
Depends on the perspective you're using. Young Japanese woman? Naturally. Neurotic 19th-century Japanophile, ā la Lafcadio Hearn? Possibly. French physics student? Probably not.
I am specifically talking about Japanese characters in a (mostly) Japanese setting, but written by a Western or quasi-Western author.

edited 1st Sep '11 8:08:35 AM by ArgeusthePaladin

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 5 Fancolors, Thu, 1st Sep '11 8:34:14 AM from Land of the Mamelucos
Maybe it's just me reading too many Light Novels, but I'd say that, as long as it's believable, you should use it.
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 6 annebeeche, Thu, 1st Sep '11 8:42:28 AM from by the long tidal river
watching down on us
I say it depends on the character in perspective. If the character in perspective uses Japanese honorifics, then go for it.

But the way I see it, if you as the author (not the character in perspective) want to leave one title/honorific system untranslated, it's inconsistent to render other honorific systems in English. For example, if you're going to call Japanese people "-san", you have to also refer to Polish speakers as Pan/Pani, and Spanish speakers as Seņor/Seņora.

edited 1st Sep '11 8:49:07 AM by annebeeche

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 7 Bobby G, Thu, 1st Sep '11 9:31:58 AM from the Silvery Tay
vigilantly taxonomish
^ I believe that was the formal convention until pretty recently.

I think it works in third person if you're writing from a third person subjective perspective.
 8 fanty, Thu, 1st Sep '11 9:43:15 AM from ANGRYTOWN
Woefully Ineloquent
Some time ago I was reading a novel written by a Pakistani and the main character was a Japanese woman. She would sometimes call her son "Raza-chan", and it seemed completely natural.

So I would only find it annoying if the narrator started doing it too. That would be just mind-bogglingly weird.
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 9 animemetalhead, Thu, 1st Sep '11 11:04:27 AM from Ashwood Landing, ME
Runs on Awesomeness
Long as it stays in dialogue, it's fine, as far as third person goes. For first, it depends on who the viewpoint character.
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 10 Muphrid, Thu, 1st Sep '11 11:16:55 AM from Constellation Bootes
Relativistic physicist
Going along with the general consensus: third-person should have them only in dialogue, first-person will depend on your narrator.

I know with, for example, the translations of the Haruhi Suzumiya novels, the official translators chose to strip them out (e.g. "Asahina-san" -> "Asahina", not "Miss Asahina"). I actually think this worked pretty well. For the context it's in (high school kids), "Miss" for "-san" carries too formal a connotation, but when and how to convert honorifics without using them bare will really depend on context.
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 11 Santos L Halper, Thu, 1st Sep '11 11:26:12 AM from The Canterlot of the North
A Gentlecolt and a Bard
It depends. If Takashi sees his friend Mitsuo, then it would be okay to write ""Hey, Mitsuo-kun!", said Takashi." However, "Takashi-san saw his friend Mitsuo-kun on the street" is a definite no.
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 12 vanthebaron, Thu, 1st Sep '11 1:48:29 PM from Carlyle, Il
Mystical Monkey Master
the characters are Japanese, then fine by me, just don't have non Japanese characters us them, its kind of dumb.

edited 1st Sep '11 1:49:36 PM by vanthebaron

 13 Major Tom, Thu, 1st Sep '11 4:32:47 PM Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
In dialogue: Hai.

In prose: Iya.
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 14 Night, Thu, 1st Sep '11 4:54:37 PM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
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[up]With Tom, with the caveat that if they're speaking to non-Japanese characters they make an effort not to. (And don't always succeed.)
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 15 Fringe Benefits, Sun, 4th Sep '11 1:18:31 PM from in your basement Relationship Status: In the clutches of some Wild Love
I write a series with a culture that's an alternate-universe mirror of feudal Japan, so I struggled with the issue of whether or not to use the honorifics... In the end, I decided to only use them extremely sparingly, and do the same with the rest of the Japanese terms when possible. I don't want my readers to get overwhelmed with a floor of Gratuitous Japanese.
 16 Thnikkafan, Sun, 4th Sep '11 1:33:41 PM from Faroe Islands (not really) Relationship Status: I made a point to burn all of the photographs
Depends. For The Cries Of Haruhi Suzumiya, I use them. That's purely because "Oyashiro-sama" looks damn weird without the -sama.
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 17 Trotzky, Sun, 4th Sep '11 2:37:31 PM from 3 km North of Torchwood
Lord high Xecutioner
Alice and Bob are Japanese it is perfectly natural for them to say "Alice-san, Bob-chan" etc but don't overdo it, we don't want too many "sans" on a page with serifim. Apply a translation convention. "San" = "my lady, your grace" etc; "chan" = 2baby, darling" etc.

If you are writing Hentai and aiming your work at Hentai fans, then "san"itize it all over, that is what Hentai fans like. If you want a wider Audience then less sans.

Perfect example of Translation Convention from HBO Rome: in Latin, "Julia Attia" is obviously an Aristo, but in the show they say "Julia of the Attii" to emphasize her rank and station,

Natasha is short for Natalie, Harry is short for Henry, these names have become so common that they have become names in their own right.

edited 4th Sep '11 4:16:45 PM by Trotzky

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 18 Major Tom, Sun, 4th Sep '11 2:50:24 PM Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!

If a native Japanese speaker hears that, s/he's gonna give that some strange looks.
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 19 Kiri Ame, Sun, 4th Sep '11 6:44:34 PM Relationship Status: Faithful to 2D
I would say no, because Translation Convention would strip out the honorifics naturally. A lot of the time it's possible to convey a person's level of politeness and closeness to the person they are speaking to without using honorifics. Using Japanese honorifics when writing in English is kind of jarring, and will instantly turn off quite a few people, particularly those who don't know what a particular honorific indicates. Also, it sounds really repetitive.

If, however, you have a character who is a weaboo, then they should use honorifics all the time for everything. And get called out for it. tongue
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 20 Sinclair, Mon, 30th Apr '12 9:37:35 AM from Deep Space
Scriptor Referens
I have been tackling this problem recently. In the story there are characters speaking in Japanese and two local languages. However, for the reader's convenience all dialogue is rendered in English, unless the viewpoint character doesn't know a certain language. Generally, the decision was to use honorifics when Japanese characters are speaking in Japanese, and not use them when they are speaking in the other language (The work features a form of an automatic translator).

Thus, when speaking between themselves, with no other witnesses, a bodyguard will call their charge using -dono, while if the viewpoint character is a foreigner with access to a translator, the dialogue would be rendered using the English equivalent of Lord/Lady.
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I keep the honorifics limited to dialogue, and for the most part, it mainly depends on the character and their relationship with the person they're addressing.

edited 30th Apr '12 11:30:35 AM by TwoGunAngel

[up][up][up]Actually now days they don't usually translate them out. They leave them in, it's almost becoming politically incorrect to take them out of a translated work.

That being said I see no issues using it in dialogue either way. I don't use them personally.

edited 30th Apr '12 12:56:03 PM by Vyctorian

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 23 JHM, Mon, 30th Apr '12 12:59:13 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
[up] It's not a matter of political correctness, but of clarity: While in theory there are perfectly fine cognates to things like -san and -sensei in English, other honourifics like -chan and -kouhai have no direct translation that isn't really silly-sounding. It follows, then, that if only half of the terms can be appropriately translated, and leaving half of them alone would be extremely ungainly-looking, that it is best to simply let context explain things.
[up] I'd ague it is becoming a matter of political correctness as now a days you you have fully western works, and when Japanese speaking characters come in, the subtitles leave in terms like -san and -sensei. This isn't something that just happens in translated from Japanese works anymore like anime and manga.

Note sensei is actually a loan word in English but has a more focused meaning here.

edited 30th Apr '12 1:07:53 PM by Vyctorian

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 25 nrjxll, Mon, 30th Apr '12 2:13:19 PM Relationship Status: Not war
I've encountered enough Gratuitous Japanese in my life that I frequently find this very annoying. So I'd advise against it in most circumstances, though not all.

Edit: To clarify that a little, beyond any personal annoyance this particular case provokes, I've always been bothered by what I call "selective Translation Convention". It seems arbitrary, and has a slight feel of stereotyping, to translate everything speakers of some foreign language are saying into English (regardless of grammatical differences and so forth) except for a few specific words, usually those familiar to English speakers.

edited 30th Apr '12 2:19:47 PM by nrjxll

Total posts: 41

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