In the 7th book of the awesome High School of the Dead, there's this page:


The situation is that the main characters, a group of mostly teenagers who are surviving a zombie apocalypse, are walking through a neighbourhood where some of them used to live.

The character with the sword, Saeko, says 〈奴ら〉になっているのは君たちの隣人だ……. Meaning, "The people in this area that have turned into zombies are your neighbours..." (Not an exact translation, of course - I'm adding more context to help clarify the situation.) She's saying that she should go forward and be in a position to kill zombies because if the other team members recognize a zombie as someone they used to know, then they might hesitate.

Another character, Takashi, who is one of the people who used to live in the area responds ……家族をやれるか/ということですか/必要ならきっとーー. "You mean if we have to kill someone from our family? If we have to we'll definitely..."

Saeko cuts him off and says [友]{・}[達]{・}[と]{・}[家]{・}[族]{・}[は]{・}[違]{・}[う]{・}[よ]{・}?

That's where I get a little bit lost on the nuance. I get that the baseline of what she's saying is, "friends and family are different", which I think can be extrapolated more specifically to, "killing family and killing friends is different."

But, because it ends in , which to me seems like an assertion, but the sentence also ends with a question mark, I'm not sure if it's a rhetorical question as a statement or a sincere question. As a response, Takeshi thinks to a moment when he had to kill a friend, but since I'm not sure of her statement, I'm not sure of the meaning of his reaction.

Is she saying "Killing family and killing friends is different, don't you agree?" Meaning that of course, it's different, so you shouldn't think you can just because you had to kill your friend before. Takeshi was able to actually kill his friend, but maybe Saeko is saying killing family is harder.

Maybe she's asking "Is killing friends and killing family different?" leaving it open for Takeshi to consider the difference. Maybe Takeshi then just reflects on how hard it was to kill his friend, even though he eventually did it, and realizes that killing his family will be a challenge.

Or maybe she's saying "What's so different about killing friends and killing family?" Meaning both are difficult. Takeshi then remembers killing his friend, and this steels his resolve to face up to killing people he might remember.

Or maybe it's something else entirely. Is what Saeko is saying a genuine question? What exactly is the subtext of it?

Also, her words all have dots beside them, indicating emphasis (my understanding of these kinds of dots is that they're like using italics in English). Is the emphasis for the benefit of the character Takeshi, or for the reader? And how does the emphasis impact the meaning?

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    It's like 友達と家族は違うよ、分かってる?/友達と家族は違うよ、それでも殺せる? – user1016 Aug 20 '12 at 13:50
  • @silvermaple: Sorry, I rolled back your edit for two reasons: The word "zombie" is not in the sentence in question, and "neighbourhood" is correct UK/Canadian spelling. – Questioner Aug 20 '12 at 17:42
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    @Dave: It's all good :) I thought adding the "(zombie)"s would make it a little more PC, that's all. And "neighbourhood" looked right to me, but I'm a terrible speller and Firefox underlined it so I just changed it...I wasn't trying to Americanize it or anything (: – silvermaple Aug 21 '12 at 1:27
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    @Chocolate: In the manga it's definitely 「か」. Also, you can't tag me because people are automatically notified of any comments on their own questions or answers anyway. – Questioner Aug 21 '12 at 2:31
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    Seems like a genuine question to me, it's great shame people are down voting without commenting. – Jeemusu Aug 21 '12 at 3:04

Still no replies... well, I'll give it a shot.

Apparently my intuition about what counts as a "question" or a "rhetorical question" or "not a question" is absolutely useless, so instead of attempting to describe things with those terms, I will answer this with some potentially interesting usages of the question mark in Japanese and my best attempt at translating them.

For the purposes of the translations, I'd like to add that I speak British English, and also I play loosely with the question mark where some people are a lot more strict. I'm perfectly happy with forms such as this in English:

We will proceed with the next item on the agenda, unless there are any questions? No? OK, moving along...*

You can join me if you like? (implied question: would you like to join me?)

Yeah, I thought our team played really well. And, that other match? It went to the final game!

Understanding these usages might help understand what Japanese is doing with the question mark.

Moving on then:

……どうします? 保留でも結構ですよ?

What's your choice? Holding back is also acceptable? (rising tone)

This corresponds to your example sentence. It's information (よ) with an added nuance of "you might want to incorporate this information into your decisions perhaps?"

You could add "you know?" to this sentence, but if you make a habit of doing that it can become quite repetitive in translation. Depending on how you treat question marks in English, you may even prefer not to use one here.

"You know?" isn't a perfect match -- this sentence isn't explicitly asking "did you know what I just told you?", and you can't reply to it with an いいえ and expect people to infer "I didn't know that."

ハシゴ、しっかり押さえててくれよ。 あと、ちゃんと上を見てろよ? 俺が手を滑らせて、この金槌を落っことしちまうかもしれねぇからなぁ

Hold the ladder steady for me. And make sure to look up, yeah? If my hand slips I might drop this hammer on you.

No response is particularly called for by the question mark. This isn't a "you know?" but just something indicating "this bit's important, I hope you got it!"

あらぁ、必要な話よぅ? だって遺産相続は、その時点で直ちに行なわれなきゃならないものよ?

Oh, but this discussion is necessary! (you know?) After all, the succession of inheritance has to be performed immediately, then and there! (you know?)

An example of how constantly translating as "you know?" can get ridiculous. The speaker's tone throughout the sentences, added by the two よ?s, is "Do you realize that your position doesn't stand in light of the facts? Are you sure you know what you're talking about?", but adding "you know?" constantly is like adding 、分かってる? constantly to the Japanese. It's not supposed to be that explicit.

…それより、聞いたぞ聞いたぞ? 二人きりで旅行に行ったとな。

But never mind that... a little bird told me you two went on vacation together!

Again I feel like "you know?" is misplaced here. The question mark corresponds to a raised pitch on each of the ぞs, what might be a "light taunting" emphasis on the words "a little bird told me" in English. The tone that indicates you know something significant about the listener.

恋の資格はね? 自分だけが与えられるの。

The right to love, you know(?), only you can give it to yourself.

No response is called for at the point of the question mark, and in fact it would be rude to interject, as the speaker is just about to make her point.


These being the few remaining years of a person successful in life, those around him "warmly"(?) watched over him, feeling the time was his to spend as he pleased--or so I hear, but...

The implication of the question mark is that the author or speaker is unsure that 温かく really does describe the situation accurately.

As for the dots, it implies the character is saying it in a bit more of a "weighty" fashion. The added "importance" of the line is intended to be perceived by both the reader and the characters. Sometimes there will be emphasis dots in a person's internal thoughts; the same applies there, it indicates that the character thinking those words considers them the important part of the sentence.

  • こういうのって談話分析discourse analysisっていうんですよね、すご~い – user1016 Aug 27 '12 at 15:50
  • Related discussion: books.google.com/… – snailboat Oct 16 '13 at 21:53
  • @snailboat Thanks, looks useful :) A shame it doesn't touch on "<statement> yo?", only on "<question> yo", e.g. "ima nanji da yo" / "~~ ka yo". – Hyperworm Oct 16 '13 at 22:09

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