1

The following sentence is from "A Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar" p.127:

すみません。これでも一応大学教師なんです。 Sorry, (I know I don’t look like one,) but I am in fact a college professor.

I'm having trouble understanding what 一応 is doing in this sentence. Usually it means "tentatively", "for the time being", or "roughly". But it seems to have the exact opposite meaning here.

Is this the equivalent of "kind of", in English when it's used humbly ("I'm kind of a big deal")? Or is something else going on?

4
  • It depends. Does the sentence have any context? May 13 '21 at 20:37
  • No, it's an example sentence from the resource I mentioned.
    – hikobae_
    May 13 '21 at 20:40
  • 1
    If I'm not mistaken, "if that means anything" is close to this type of 一応. In this context, "just so you know" may be used, too.
    – naruto
    May 14 '21 at 2:57
  • Thank you @naruto, that interpretation seems to make sense as well.
    – hikobae_
    Jun 22 '21 at 18:01
6

「一応」is a word very difficult to render into a literal translation. It is frequently employed to impart modesty to an otherwise boastful or pretentious statement. Without more context, I'd assume this 一応 is a hedge word that's meant to express a certain degree of hesitation or uncertainty.

The hedge 一応 often occurs in the response to a question about one's occupation or some other things that one is supposed to be proud of.

お仕事は何ですか?
一応公務員です。

When you use 一応 this way the intended subtext is "Yes I work in the government but nobody knows how long I will be able to hold that job. So it's not that big a deal."

In my view, "actually" is not a good literal rendering, because there isn't really the same kind of modesty semantically intended with 一応. Of course people can say "Actually, I have a degree from Harvard Law" and try to be modest about it, but the meaning is different from that of 一応, both literally and effectively. Also "actually" can carry the opposite intended meaning: "Hey! Have we met somewhere? Did you also go to Boston Community College?" "Actually I went to Harvard." 一応 does not have this sense of correcting the other party and providing new information. All that is to say there is really no global or literal translation for the word 一応, it'd have to be done case by case and I do think "kind of" works in a lot of cases.

Also note that this usage could grate on some people's ear too, although originally intended as a modest hedge expression. Legend has it that if you ask a University of Tokyo graduate/student where they graduated from (or where they go to school), they will invariably say 「一応東大」. Some people find that jarring, if not downright vexing and condescending. For your reading pleasure: 1, 2

1
  • Thank you very much! A very thorough answer and insight to 一応's modern usage.
    – hikobae_
    Jun 22 '21 at 18:00
2

一応 has a sense of “not fully qualified” or “not completely proper” and is often used to show modesty when people talk about their achievements, strengths, etc.

In your example, however, the speaker is not necessarily being modest. Because of how he looks, people might not expect him to be a government employee. Nonetheless, he is one. If anything is “incomplete” here, it is the degree to which his appearance matches people’s expectations. He's not suggesting he is any less qualified or serious as a government employee with an intention to sound modest.

If we are to be loyal to the etymology, 一応 would be better written 一往, which literally means “one going”. I guess the current sense of casualness, incompleteness, etc. arose from the image of one taking a path only once as opposed to repeatedly till it is beaten, or something like that.

応 is more commonly used than 往 nowadays.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.