Honorifics: Formal vs. Informal Speech
Honorifics are ways, in languages, that we show special respect or honor for a person to whom or about whom we are speaking.
For example, in English, one might call someone Ma'am or Sir or refer to them as Mr. So-and-so or Mrs. Such-and-Such. In Japanese, one might refer to someone as So-and-so San or Such-and-such Sama or conjugate their verbs in a different way (or have completely different verbs altogether for a few words).
Neutral = Formal / Polite
Some nouns in Kryptonian can reflect gender (please see the page on gendered nouns for more information). All gendered nouns come in three types: feminine, masculine, and neutral. It is considered polite and respectful to defer to the neutral form whenever possible. If a distinction needs to be made for clarity, it is perfectly acceptable to use the gendered form, but one should be careful to revert to the neutral once clarification has been established. Some examples:
In this text, you can see that the pronoun referent is clear from context, thus, no gender specificity is required.
However, in this text, the gender is needed in the second and forth sentences to establish the referent. In the third and fifth sentences, though, since our subjects have not changed from the previous sentence, the gender is dropped back to neutral. Technically speaking, the subject could (and normally would) be omitted entirely from the third and fifth sentences.
Masculine / Feminine = Informal / Impolite / Familiar
Be careful when applying gender to all of the gendered nouns in speech. This can be considered intimate or rude depending on context. A Kryptonian will only use gendered speech when speaking with nuclear family members or close friends. Outside of these contexts, it can potentially be taken as disrespectful or, in some cases, insulting. If you are uncertain which to use, it is almost always better to err on the side of caution rather than clarity, i.e., use the neutral if you are unsure.
Here are the same example sentences from above in the familiar form. In these examples, I'm making the 1st-person pronoun masculine (because that's what I am), and I chose the opposite form (feminine) for the listener. Obviously, be sure to adjust appropriately when speaking/writing.
*These pronoun forms don't have a direct translation into English.
Much like "Mr." or "Mrs.", Kryptonian has a few honorific titles. These titles are postpositional, i.e., they always follow the person they are describing. Note: one never applies an honorific to oneself.
There are four honorifics that indicate family relationship:
There is one non-familial honorific.
Showing Respect or Admiration: Talking to Someone
Using an honorific when talking directly to someone is somewhat uncommon and usually requires some kind of personal relationship to the person to whom you are speaking. The casual use of honorifics when speaking to someone will usually be perceived as insincere and will probably cause people to question your honesty. It's best to err on the side of not using honorifics—especially if you are trying to conduct business or trade. Below is a rough guideline of who you should use an honorific with...
Always with these people...
- Great-grandparents on your father's side
- A teacher or mentor
Often with these people...
- A close older relative not already listed above (not siblings)
- Someone you know well and for whom you have respect or admiration.
- A well-known and respected colleague in your field of work or study. Note that this is akin to knowing the person and/or their being your teacher/mentor inderectly through their work.
Seldom with these people...
- Your superior in the military or government. Note that this usually implies that you consider them a kind of mentor.
- A high-ranking person in foreign government or military, but usually only in formal or ceremonial settings
- Someone to whom you are submitting by coercion ("say uncle")
Never with these people...
- A customer or client
- A stranger or person you just met
- Someone you are trying to impress or flatter
The "seldom" and "never" categories can be overridden by the "always" and "often" categories. For instance, if you are an entomologist and you meet for the first time the world's foremost authority in entomology--all of whose work you've studied--it would be perfectly acceptable to address them with an honorific.
In or Out?
So now you know when to use an honorific in talking to someone, but which honorific do you use? For direct speech this is very simple: if the person is related to you, you use H /te/. If the person is not related to you, you use H /jran/.
If you are speaking for a group of people and everyone is related, then use the plural familial honorific: J. For example, if you and your siblings were asking: "Mom, can we all go to the movies?" then you would switch to the plural form ("our mom"). If the group included non-relatives (friends), then you would retain the singular form ("my mom").
Respect and Family Relationships: Talking about Someone
When talking about someone (3rd-Person), usage of the honorific is dictated by the same rules as above: someone respected, that you know or whose work you know, etc. However, the familial honorifics are utilized more often, and more extensively, to indicate family relationships. In fact, this is the sole means by which you indicate a possessive for family members, i.e., my mother, our father, your sister, his cousin, etc.
For more information on the use of the familial honorifics as possessives see the Familial Honorifics page.