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I've been told during my Japanese classes, and I've also observed in anime and Japanese dramas & movies, that sometimes when talking Japanese people tend to stop halfway and omit the end of sentence especially when the sentence has some negative connotation (e.g refusal etc). For example:

鈴木: これをもっと安くしませんかねえ。
田中: それはちょっと。。

Suzuki: kore wo motto yasuku shimasen ka nee.
Tanaka: sore ha chotto ..

Another example:

鈴木: ブラウンさんの日本語はなかなか上手ですねえ。
ブラウン: いや、私はまだまだ。。

Suzuki: buraun-san no nihongo ha naka naka jouzu desu nee.
Brown: iya, watashi ha mada mada ..

So is there a cultural reason for this behavior? What is term for it? And how should non-Japanese interpret or react if our questions or invitations are replied with such responses?

Meta note: I notice myself that the last question is a bit subjective. Should we or should we not allow this kind of subjective questions in Japanese SE?

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Omission of syntax to allow the user to infer meaning (for politeness or whatever reason) is one of the many characteristics of Japanese. What remains unsaid is often stronger than what is actually said. The Japanese abhor "spelling things out" for you, because it is not "harmonious" and puts them in a position of having to be direct. If you've read こころ by 夏目漱石, you may recall a passage where the narrator feels revulsion for a Westerner he met, in part because the man does not understand the Japanese feeling that what can be said in a look may be vulgar to put into words, etc. –  Robusto Jun 2 '11 at 10:21
    
@Robusto You should post that as an answer so that I can give you some sweet reputation point :) –  Lukman Jun 2 '11 at 10:26
    
As you wish, good sir. –  Robusto Jun 2 '11 at 10:27
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Omission of syntax to allow the user to infer meaning (for politeness or whatever reason) is one of the many characteristics of Japanese. What remains unsaid is often stronger than what is actually said. The Japanese abhor "spelling things out" for you, because it is not "harmonious" and puts them in a position of having to be direct. If you've read こころ by 夏目漱石, you may recall a passage where the narrator feels revulsion for a Westerner he met, in part because the man does not understand the Japanese feeling that what can be said in a look may be vulgar to put into words, etc

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In my opinion,

鈴木: これをもっと安くしませんかねえ。

田中: それはちょっと。。

。。。 would be

それはちょっと(安く)出来ないですねぇ。

Above could be intentionally omitting the rest to get more politeness by not directly saying the rejections.

Regarding ambiguities of the word "ちょっと", please take a look at this Research Paper from Hokkaido Bunkyo University.

  • http://libro.do-bunkyodai.ac.jp/research/pdf/treatises05/06OKAMOTO&SAITOa.pdf

    1. 依頼や、希求、指示行為の負担をやわらげる (To relieve forceness of Requests, Demands and Instructions to someone else)
    2. 否定的内容の前置き (Pre-Phrases / Prefixes? on rejections. I supposed this is the one in your example)
    3. 断りを受けやすくする (to gracefully deny something)
    4. 呼びかけ (To call out someone)
    5. とがめ (To relieve feelings of guilty / for the sake of someones/somethings)
    6. 間つなぎ (Just to connect some words)

Second one would be

私はまだまだ。。

something like

私はまだまだですよ

That one just omitting です。 which is quite normal, IMHO.

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