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I'm only starting to learn the language so last lesson I learned the family members. My teacher mentioned some "rules" and I wanted to know if they were correct and if people actually talk this way:

  1. When talking to your own family member you should use the words that refer to someone else's family (when talking to my own mother I should call her おかあさん instead of はは).
  2. When talking about your family with someone else it's ok to call them はは、ちち、あに、あね、etc.
  3. When talking with someone else about their family then use おかあさん、おとうさん、おねえさん、etc.
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In Japan there is a distinction between inside and outside. If you know which you're dealing with, it will help you determine the words you use. (This applies to more than just how you talk about your family. It'll apply to if you're working for a business and dealing with customers or people from another company. It's a very important distinction that marks conversational styles in Japanese practically all the time.)

When you're just with someone from your family, you're talking with someone who's on the inside, So, you use the words like おかあさん, おとうさん, etc to talk about the respective members of your family.

When you're talking with someone who's not from your family, you're talking with someone outside your family. So you will use humble terms to refer to your own family members and the non-humble forms for the person outside of your family.

The humble forms are はは, ちち, etc.

The non-humble forms are おかあさん, おとうさん, etc.



Read the following with a bit of caution since in English we easily break these rules. But in most situations what I describe here is fairly accurate.

Assuming English is your native language (or a language you're fluent in), one way to think about this is to consider how you would refer to, let's say, your mom. If you were to say,

Mom walked to the bank.

then, even in English, it's pretty clear you're talking to someone from within your family. If you were talking to someone who's not part of your family this can sound slightly odd (though in English it generally doesn't bother us too much). But, most likely if you were talking to someone from outside your family, in English you'd more likely say,

My mom walked to the bank.

If you said,

Your mom walked to the bank.

in English, then you're most likely talking to someone who's not in your family.

My point is that even in English with these words we draw these distinctions.

If in English you would say my mom, you're most likely talking with someone who's on the outside. So the corresponding Japanese would be はは. If in English you would say your mom, again you're most likely talking with someone who's on the outside. So the corresponding Japanese would be おかあさん.

If in English you would say *mom" (without my or your attached to it), you're most likely talking to someone inside your family. So, in Japanese you would say, おかあさん.


Another point of interest. While in English we say "my mom" or "your mom", in Japanese you don't. I think the only time you might say something like 私のおかあさん would be first as a question (like "are we talking about my mom?") And even then perhaps only if somehow there was a misunderstanding resulting between you and the person you're talking to misconstruing what's inside vs outside. But generally, I think 私のおかあさん would sound rather rude in Japanese regardless of inside or outside distinctions. I think it would come across a bit like you're saying you possess your own mom.

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