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Exercise 2: Cross-cultural Comparison of Apologies

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Red Core Strategy
Blue Important Supporting Strategy
Black Aditional Strategies
Green General Strategies

   The key strategy to learn here is that repetition is important in an informal setting as well as in a formal one.  It's a sign of sincerity that shows how sorry you are. 

   Knowing the most likely recipients of various apology expressions is another strategy.  Note that in informal situations with close interlocutors, variants of gomen (e. g., ごめん  gomen, ごめんね  gomenne,  本当にごめん(ね)hontouni gomen(ne), ごめんなさい  gomennasai ) can often be repeated.  ごめんなさいgomenasai is often used in relationships that are a bit more distant or in somewhat more serious situations.

   Other apology expressions, such as すみません  sumimasen or 申し訳ありません moushiwake arimasen usually sound too formal or distant for use with close friends.

   It's also an important strategy to use an appropriate level of politeness in your apology and language in general.

Let's review some situational factors in Exercise 1 'apologizing to the landlord' and 'apologizing to a friend' situations that influence the level of politeness in the language.



Situation 1                    

Situation 2

Age difference:                               

you are younger                    


Role/status difference:                 



Closeness or distance:

more distant than Sit.1


Magnitude of your infraction: (judging from the hearer's reaction)

greater than Sit.1

lesser than Sit.2

Pay attention to the level of politeness in the language.  For example, which level of politeness do you observe in the speaker's language in Situations 1 and 2?


No keigo (no honorifics) 

忘れてきてしまった wasurete kite shimatta 'I left it'           

Desu/masu honorific style

忘れてきてしまったんです wasurete kite shimattan desu 'I left it'

Notice that in sample dialogues, the speaker uses honorifics (desu/masu, exalted/respect, humble forms) in talking to someone older and not very close (Sit. 1), but does not use the desu/masu style in talking to an equal-status close friend.  In Japanese, it is crucial to use an appropriate level of politeness according to the person you are speaking to.

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