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Expressing deference and intimacy concurrently with honorifics

Native Japanese speakers’ attitudes towards the potential norm breaking honorific ‘ssu’ in comparison to desu and da


  • Patrik Lindqvist Rombe

Summary, in English

This study is about ssu, a potential norm breaking honorific which reportedly can express intimacy and deference concurrently. While expressing intimacy and deference concurrently is incompatible with Brown and Levinson’s (1978 as cited in Hasegawa, 2015) politeness theory, Hasegawa (2015) provides a modification of their theory that allows for it. Yet, an honorific in hyōjungo ‘standard Japanese’ that can allegedly do both like ssu, has previously not existed and can be considered norm breaking. There exists a limited way to express intimacy in honorific contexts with the soliloquy mode. However, soliloquy mode avoids the use of honorifics completely while ssu is special in the way that it reportedly can work in the capacity of an addressee honorific according to Akagi et al. (2020). The concept of expressing intimacy and deference concurrently in the capacity of an honorific with ssu is thus anomalous and seemingly distinctive in the Japanese language, this concept was tested by targeting native Japanese speakers’ attitudes towards ssu through a survey. Comparisons were made with desu and da and the differences between the perception of men and women was looked at. This study found evidence which supports that ssu functions like an honorific that can express intimacy and deference concurrently, which supports claims made by Akagi et al. (2020) and Nakamura (2022). Furthermore, that native Japanese speakers recognise ssu as an addressee honorific when it's used. When compared to da and desu in terms of deference, ssu was found to be somewhere in between which supports the study of Hirose and Nawata (2021). Moreover, the study also found there to be little difference between the attitudes of men and women towards ssu, da and desu regarding intimacy, deference, and the perceived masculinity of ssu.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Bachelor's degree


  • Languages and Literatures


  • ssu
  • shinkeigo
  • honorifics
  • politeness
  • Japanese language
  • intimacy
  • deference


  • Mechtild Tronnier