| It depends (so, there is no simple answer) || Oct 12, 2005 |
Teineigo, sonkeigo and kenjoogo are three different things (Sarah is not correct about that).
It is not easy to explain, but let me try.
Sonkeigo is the honorific language, and kenjoogo is the humble language. I will try explaining them as a pair, perhaps it is easier to understand.
I would use homorific language if I am talking to, or talking about somebody or something that I look up to, somebody that is above me based on the standards of Japanese society. For example, when I talk to my boss at work, or to my professor at the university, I use the honorific form of the verbs in my speech. I would also use the honorific language when I talk about something that one of these people are doing or have done. In other words, you express your respect by "lifting them up" in your speech. (One interesting thing, that surprised me is that your parents and family members don't make it to this "upper" group, in Japanese you would not talk about them in a honorific manner, quite the contrary, in humble manner.)
This brings me to explaining kenjoogo.
Kenjoogo is the humble language, which I would use when talking about myself, or anybody or anything that belongs to me. In other words, kenjoogo is also a language used to express respect, but the method is that you lower yourself relative to the other party.
So, you see, the key is the relative relationship between the parties (the two speakers, or the speaker and the subject of his speech). Again, if I am talking to somebody that is above me, I would use sonkeigo to address him, and at the same time I would use kenjoogo to talk about myself and my things.
Now, if I am talking to somebody that is "below" me, I have two choices. I can use kenjoogo to address the person, or I can use the "equal/normal level speech" (tsuujogo - yeah, one more, huh?). My choice depends on the actual person I am talking to, and also my position. For example, if I am the Charmain of a large corporation, it is likely that I will use kenjoogo to talk to the delivery boy (or even the secretary) bringing my lunchbox. Parents sometimes use kenjoogo to talk to their children, especially when disciplining them. If somebody is nice, and don't want to talk "down" to others, even if they could based on their "rank", they use the equal level speech.
Now, equal level speech has two forms, informal and formal. Informal would be used among friends, kids playing together, girlfriends chatting, or among family members. Formal is more polite, and would be used when talking to strangers (most of the time, unless the relative rank-difference is very obvious), or among people at equal level (coworkers). This latest version of speech is what "teineigo" refers to.
Teineigo is simply using the verbs' "-desu", "-masu" form, instead of the "dictionary form" (ending with -ru, -ku, -tsu, -u, etc.) So, it is not specific in terms of honorific or humble. The dictionary form of the verbs is used in the informal language.
Now, this may seem complicated, and I am sorry if I confused you. You are right, this IS complicated, probably one of the biggest challenges to anyone trying to learn proper Japanese.
I have not touched on the topic of male and female speech (which may play a role in your survey if it is conducted as a personal interview), because that is again a story by itself, and would involve using different verbs or nouns for the same thing depending on the gender of the speaker/listener.
Anyhow, regarding your original question, it would probably be helpful if you could post a few sample questions, so we would get a sense of how much personalization is involved. For example, if the question is about a device, such as "How long did the battery last?" - this would probably not involve more than simple teineigo. However, if the question was "According to your experience, what percentage of your patients had problems, or felt incomfortable using our product?" - that you would use all three of these.
In general, without seeing the questions, I would say you will need to use all three, but obviously not always in the same sentence.
I found a pretty good summary (in Japanese) here:
[Edited at 2005-10-12 01:26]
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