Sunday, September 19, 2010

Culture: Yes, I Hear You vs. Yes, I Will Do That

This is a fine detail that can lead to big misunderstandings, so it's worth mentioning if you're going to be talking with anyone in Japanese.

In Japanese, to show that you're listening to someone, you'll tend to say, moving down the scale of formality, "hai" or "ee" (said "eh") all the way down to the "nn" grunt. All of these words mean "yes" normally, but here they just mean "Yes, I hear you." They do not mean the person agrees with you or agrees to do what you're asking of them.

It's sort of like the English "yeah" or "uh-huhs" you'll hear people use to show they're paying attention.

In Japanese, to show that you have heard and agree to do whatever is being asked of you, you'll often say things like "Wakarimashita" (wah-kah-ree-mah-shta, formal) or "Wakatta" (wah-kah-tta, casual), or "Sou desu"/"Sou da" ("Yes, that's true") if you're simply agreeing wtih their idea or observation.

"Wakarimashita/wakatta" usually means "I understand (lit. I understood or have understood)" but the feeling when you respond to an order or request with it is "I have understood and will do it."

For the anime or movie fans out there, listen carefully when big bosses are giving orders and you'll typically hear some "wakarimashita"s from the underlings.

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