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In a professional setting, would two professors/doctors/lawyers—who would normally be addressed as "sensei"—refer to each other (as peers) using "sensei"?

Note: This question used to be asking about Japanese formality in English. Now I'm just interested on how sensei would be used in this context in spoken Japanese.

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This is bordering on what would belong on ELU and maybe off-topic for JLU, but I'm not voting close on border cases either way, you might get a better answer on ELU however. –  Ken Li Aug 17 '11 at 16:01
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Agreed with sawa. In addition, while using 'sensei' in English informal conversation may be fine, using it in English formal writing is a bit inappropriate, IMHO. If "Dear Dr. [SURNAME]" belies your acquaintance, would "Dear Dr. [FIRSTNAME]" work for you? –  Lukman Aug 17 '11 at 23:25
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@sawa, I think this question is "what is the Japanese etiquette for this situation?" –  Troyen Aug 18 '11 at 1:56
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@sawa I don't think the English etiquette is always applicable simply because there is such a big difference in formality that it might come across as crude or offensive, but a debate on that is probably off-topic. –  Troyen Aug 18 '11 at 2:15
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@All-closers: Disagree on closing for off-topic. This site is called "Japanese Language & Usage". He's asking how he can use part of the Japanese language. Just because he's using it within the context of an English letter does not diminish its relationship to the Japanese language. Voting to reopen. –  istrasci Aug 18 '11 at 3:40

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

(now that the question is finally on-topic, I am happy to contribute my 2 yens ;-)

The general use of 先生 (sensei) when addressing a professor/doctor/etc. is already discussed elsewhere on JLU... As for the particular case of writing to someone who is your peer (in rank and range of age), the answer is:

No you do not have to use it.

My colleagues/bosses (themselves Drs. and/or Profs.) usually do not use 'sensei' (only 'san') when mentioning or talking to another Dr./Prof.

Of course, if the professor in question is some famous old professor (or simply an authority figure to the speaker), 'sensei' is used as a form of politeness.

The bottom line is that you use 'sensei' just the same as you would 'Prof.' in English: you would probably call your (possibly tenured) lab neighbour "John", but your advisor or some visiting professor will get "Prof. Smith".

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