Writing on the train on my iPhone. Please excuse sloppiness in my writing.

One obstacle you may experience when you learn Japanese .. The more you learn, the more distant you may feel from Japanese people. Ironic, isn't it?

All the hard work you put learning keigo expressions will distance you from people because the whole point of Japanese keigo is to avoid intimacy. By using keigo you are signaling that you are polite, you are humble, you are a distance away. The keeping distance strategy is how you can sound non-threatening and thus polite in standard Japanese.

In contrast, Japanese local dialects are different. In Hiroshima, for example, the only keigo we use for all intensive practical purposes is the verb ending 'chatta.' Notice the syllable chat has the Chinese-like tonality of high-low.

In hiroshima, The hierarchy between people of different ages is relatively flat as a result (or somehow reflecting our language) ... as long as you are a hiroshima carp fan. Of course if you are really integrated into the national business world, your language is more stiff and formal.

I was reminded of this when discussing with people at Phoenix cultural discussion group. An American participant said that foreign people living in Japan should make efforts to learn the language to better understand Japan. But if you really really master standard Japanese, you will be distancing yourself from others as keigo's implicit function ( one of many) is precisely that.


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