Coulmas, F. (1981). "Poison to your soul": Thanks and apologies contrastively viewed. In F. Coulmas (Ed.), Explorations in standardized communication situations and patterned speech (pp. 69-91). The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton.
The author considers thanks and apologies, and argues that a contrastively informed analysis can help to reveal typological relationships between them.  He draws on materials from European languages and from Japanese.  He makes the point that both thanking and apologizing are linked to the notion of indebtedness, through gratitude and regret respectively.  He notes that in Japanese culture, the concept of gifts and favors focuses on the trouble they have caused the benefactor rather than the aspects which are pleasing to the recipient.  So leaving a dinner in a Japanese home we might say, O-jama itashimashita 'I have intruded on you.'  The response, Iie, iie, do itashimashite 'No, no, don't mention it' is a responder for both apologies and thanks.  Coulmas notes that sumimasen 'thank you' or 'I'm sorry' tends to be appropriate for a host of occasions.  It is noted that in Japan the smallest favor makes the receiver a debtor.  Social relations create mutual responsibilities and debts.  Both thanks and apologies stress obligations and interpersonal commitment.  In fact, gratitude is equated with a feeling of guilt.  The Japanese language has a large range of routine formulae for exhibiting sensitivity to mutual obligations, responsibilities, and moral indebtedness.


Eisenstein, M. & Bodman, J. (1995). Expressing gratitude in American English. In G. Kasper & S. Blum-Kulka (Eds.), Interlanguage pragmatics (pp. 64-81). NY: Oxford University Press.
The authors point out that expressing gratitude is a complex act, potentially involving both positive as well as negative feelings on the part of the giver and receiver.  They note that thanks is a face-threatening act in which the speaker acknowledges a debt to the hearer – thus threatening the speaker's negative face.  Thus the very nature of thanking, which can engender feelings of warmth and solidarity among interlocutors stands as well to threaten negative face (a desire to be unimpeded in one's actions).  They report on four studies that they conducted on expressions of gratitude.  In the first they audiotaped or wrote field notes on 50 situations in which expressions of gratitude occurred.  They then prepared 14 vignettes which they had 56 NSs of American English write written responses to.  These natives were found to draw from a finite pool of conventionalized expressions and ideas.  In the second study, the same questionnaire was administered to 67 nonnative speakers in advanced-level ESL classes.  Twenty-five of them also provided L1 responses, so that they could check on transfer from the L1.  In their report of the findings, they focused on the seven situations that were problematic.  The Japanese respondents were found to have a low percentage of acceptable responses.  One explanation given was the lack of cultural congruity and the fact that this written DCT did not allow for nonverbal cues and prosodic features which could soften the response.  In addition, they might have wanted to apologize instead, since that would be acceptable in Japanese given the indebtedness implied in an expression of gratitude in Japanese culture.  In a third study, the questionnaire was administered orally to 10 NSs.  They found the results almost identical to the written DCT results for NSs.  In a fourth study, they set up role plays – 34 by NS pairs, 40 by NNS pairs, and 24 by NS with NNS pairs.  They found that the role plays contained the same words and semantic formulas as in the written data, confirming that the written data were representative of oral language use as well.  NNS role plays were 50% shorter than those of natives, most likely because they lacked the words.  Also, they lacked the warm and sincere tone conveyed by NSs.  NNSs sometimes lacked the expression of reciprocity that NSs gave or did not convey it in an appropriate manner.  They conclude that expressing gratitude involves a complex series of interactions and encodes cultural values and customs.


Eisenstein, M. & Bodman, J. W. (1986) 'I very appreciate': Expressions of gratitude by native and non-native speakers of American English. Applied Linguistics, 7 (2), 167-185.
The researchers looked at 6 DCT situations out of 14, administered first to 56 NSs and then revised and administered to 67 NNSs from five countries.  The study found native speakers to show consistent use of expressions of gratitude within specifically defined contexts, often in the form of speech act sets.  For example, the thanks was accompanied by other functions such as complimenting, reassuring, expressing surprise and delight, expressing a lack of necessity or obligation.  The speech act sets ranged from two to five functions.  Shorter thanking episodes sometimes reflected greater social distance between the interlocutors.  Longer episodes would come under conditions of social disequilibrium when the perceived need for thanking was great.  Advanced nonnative English speakers had considerable difficulty adequately expressing gratitude in the target language.  They found limitations at the sociopragmatic level that were severe because they created the potential for serious misunderstandings.  Other problems arose at the pragmalinguistic level: divergence at the lexical and syntactic levels and inability to approximate native idioms and routines.  They had the most difficulty with a situation involving a lunch treat.  Almost all native speakers stated in general terms an invitation to reciprocate ("Thank you very much. Next time it's on me.")  NNSs rarely said this, though some indicated in interviews afterwards that they intended to do this but felt it unnecessary and inappropriate to mention it.  When this was omitted, native speakers felt the responses were incomplete or lacking the appropriate level of gratitude.  The researchers were struck by the fact that the Japanese respondents had the lowest percentage of acceptable and native-like/perfect responses.  The researchers speculated that they either could not find the words, were perhaps not comfortable socializing in the US, or had not had opportunities to express gratitude.


Ide, R. (1998). 'Sorry for your kindness': Japanese interactional ritual in public discourse. Journal of Pragmatics, 29, 509-529.

The study examines the social and metapragmatic functions of sumimasen (lit., 'there is no end' or 'it is not enough'), a conventional expression of apology in Japanese that is also used to express the feeling of thanks.  Using Goffman’s (1971) notion of ‘remedial’ and ‘supportive’ interchanges as the conceptual framework, the paper first describes seven pragmatic functions of sumimasen based on 51 instances of sumimasen recorded through ethnographic participant/non-participant observations of discourse in an ophthalmology clinic in Tokyo.  The professionals were two female doctors, a female nurse, and a female receptionist.  Fifty-eight patients participated, males and females of many ages.  The seven functions were: 1) a sincere apology, 2) quasi-thanks and apology, 3) a request marker, 4) an attention-getter, 5) a leave-taking devise, 6) an affirmative and confirmational response, and 7) a reciprocal exchange of acknowledgment (as a ritualized formulas to facilitate public face-to-face communication).  These seven functions are presented not as mutually exclusive but rather as overlapping concepts, ranging from remedial, remedial and supportive, to supportive in discourse.  The author also cites Kumagai, Kumatoridani, Coulmas, and others to account for the concept of indebtedness that emerges from the shift of point of view from the speaker (the benefactor) to the listener (the provider of the benefit) (‘debt-sensitive’ society).  The paper also demonstrates the exchange of sumimasen as a metapragmatic ritual activity, an anticipated and habitual behavior in public discourse in Japanese society.  The author also reframes the multiple functions of sumimasen in accordance with the folk notion of aisatsu, which constitutes the ground rules of appropriate and smooth Japanese public interaction.  The author notes that historically arigato 'thank you' was a form of excuse, derived from ari  'exist, have' plus gatashi 'difficult,' literally meaning, 'it is hard to accept/have.'  Shitsurei shimasu  'I intrude' is a similar expression when leaving or entering one's space in public.



Kim, Y. (1994). Nihonjin jyakunensouno ‘kansya’ to ‘wabi’no aisatsuno hyougenno anketo cyousa to sono kousatsu [A study of the expressions of gratitude and apology in Japanese young generation: In comparison with those in older generation].  Kokugogaku Kenkyuu [The Japanese Language Review] 33, 23-33.

This study used a questionnaire to survey 20 native speakers of Japanese in their 20’s to 30’s (younger generation) in comparison with another 20 in their 50’s to 60’s (older generation) regarding their use of apologizing and thanking expressions.  The frequency of the expressions and intensifiers (adverbials such as doumo, taihen, hontouni, makotoni) were analyzed in terms of: the semantic categories (apology, or thanks, although sometimes combined), magnitude of thanks and apology, and status of the interlocutors.  Among the younger speakers, the prototypical expressions of thanks were variants of arigatou, whereas typical apology expressions (variants of gomen, sumanai, and moushiwake nai) were sometimes used for thanks as well.  The larger the magnitude of thanks/apology was and the older the hearer was than the speaker, the more intensifiers were likely to be used and apologetic expressions were preferred (rather than pure expressions of thanks like variants of arigatou).



Kimura, K. (1994). The multiple functions of sumimasen. Issues in Applied Linguistics, 5 (2), 279-302.
The article describes the functions of sumimasen, expressing both apology and thanks in everyday Japanese conversation.  A database consisting of 10 hours of daily conversation was used, yielding a total of 44 tokens of sumimasen  (41 uttered by women, 3 by men).  The database had been collected in 1984 and consisted of audiotaped conversation between a housewife in Tokyo and people she interacted with for a week.  Five functions of sumimasen were found: request marker, attention-getter, closing marker, regret marker, and gratitude marker.  As a gratitude marker, "the speaker, recognizing that s/he is the cause of some trouble for the addressee, attempts to redress the threat to the addressee's face by producing sumimasen.  If sumimasen is not uttered by the speaker, the addressee may feel that s/he has lost face through the imposition" (p. 287).  The study also relates sumimasen to at least ten other strategies for expressing apology and to eight other ways to express gratitude in Japanese (e.g., arigatou 'thank you,' osore irimasu 'thank you so much,' and kyoushuku desu 'thank you so much.').


Kumatoridani, T. (1999). Alternation and co-occurrence in Japanese thanks. Journal of Pragmatics, 31, 623-642.

This article deals with how thanks and apologies are not as distinctly different as might be thought.  The author compares the usage and functions of two Japanese apologizing and thanking expressions, sumimasen and arigatou, based on: 1) 140 collected interchanges including naturally occurring gratitude and apology exchanges; 2) findings from the questionnaire give to 189 native speakers of Japanese; and 3) the intuitions of the author as a native speaker.  Thanks in Japanese can be conveyed by apologizing:  Shouyu o totte moraemasen ka. 'Please pass me the soy sauce.' Hai douzo. 'Here you go.'  Doumo sumimasen. '(lit.) I'm very sorry.'   Although sumimasen can replace the gratitude expression arigatou, the two are not completely interchangeable.  The author first accounts for the applicability of alternation, and discusses the more formal and thus polite nature of sumimasen as an expression of gratitude. The apology form is in empathy to the hearer (such as when this person is of higher status).  The use of sumimasen as a gratitude expression occurs as a result of a shift in the focus (‘empathy operation’) from the speaker’s to the hearer’s perspective.  This shift is considered a conventionalized strategic device to repair the politeness imbalance between the interlocutors.  However, the use of sumimasen tends to be appropriate only in expressing acceptance of the offer combined with gratitude and not refusal, whereas arigatou can be used for both acceptance and refusal of the offer.  Use of sumimasen is also inappropriate in response to ‘affective’ speech acts such as congratulations, condolences, compliments, and encouragement.  Finally, the author explains the sequential preference in using the two expressions in a single event (sumimasen first, and then arigatou).  While sumimasen functions to repair imbalance locally, arigatou has a dual function, both to repair imbalance and to close a conversation.



Miyake, K. (1994). "Wabi" igaide tsukawareru wabi hyogen: Sono tayoukatno jittaito uchi, soto, yosono kankei [Formulaic apologies in non-apologetic situations: A data analysis and its relation with the concept of uchi-soto-yoso]. Nihongo Kyouiku [Journal of Japanese Language Teaching], 82, 134-146.

This is a questionnaire study reporting the occasions in which apologies like sumimasen are likely to be used (as well as non-apologetic occasions in which apologies are used) and the effects of social variables on such occasions.  English and Japanese questionnaires were given to 101 British and 122 Japanese participants respectively.  The questionnaire presented 36 situations that elicited expressions of gratitude and/or apologies.  Closeness and status of the interlocutors, and severity of the offense/indebtedness (benefits and losses) were manipulated in those situations.  The participants first wrote down the responses they were likely to give (most like in speaking, although this is not specified in the article) and indicated on a 5-point scale what their feelings would be (strong gratitude/slight gratitude/neutral feeling neither gratitude nor apology/slight apology/strong apology/others).  The paper reports only the idiomatic expressions found in the data, excluding additional expressions.  Major findings: 1) the language forms for apology expressions (e.g., sumimasen)  in Japanese are used not just to express apology but also gratitude; the Japanese form for apology can co-occur with the form for thanking (arigatou) where both are intended as part of an apology (thanking apologetically), and as a way of phatic communication (like greetings); 2) Japanese speakers tend to feel apologetic in more situations than British English speakers; 3) Japanese speakers tend to feel the more apologetic when their feeling of indebtedness is greater.  However, apologies are often employed when the hearer is relatively older in age and in a soto ‘outside’ relationship (e.g., an academic advisor), as opposed to uchi ‘inside’ and yoso ‘somewhere else.’ 



Moriyama, T. (1999). Oreito owabi: Kankei syufukuno sisutemu toshite [Gratutude and apologies: A system of repair]. Kokubungaku: Kaishakuto kyouzaino kenkyu [Department of Education: Interpretation and Material development], 44 (6), 78-82.

This article is an essay on gratitude and apology expressions in Japanese as a repair strategy in interpersonal communication.  The motive for both gratitude and apologies is caused by a psychological imbalance (or a sense of indebtedness) between the speaker and the hearer.  Expressions of gratitude and apologies both attempt to adjust that imbalance.  An expression of gratitude repairs the sense of imbalance accompanied by a certain benefit on the part of the speaker offered by the hearer.  Apologies also repair the offense caused by the speaker.  Section 1: conceptual understanding of gratitude and apologies.  Section 2: analysis of various expressions of gratitude and apologies.  Section 3: sumimasen as an expression of gratitude.  Section 4: responses to expressions of gratitude and apologies.  Section 5: phatic greeting expressions including gokuro sama, otsukare sama, omedetou.



Nakata, T. (1989). Hatsuwa kouitoshiteno chinshato kansha: Nichiei hikaku [Apology and Thanks in Japanese and English]. Nihongo Kyouiku [Journal of Japanese Language Teaching], 68, 191-203.

This study compares English and Japanese apologies and thanks collected in movie and TV drama scenarios (400 apologies and 400 thanks in English and Japanese each).  Major differences between the two languages: 1) Japanese were more likely to thank for voluntary assistance offered by the hearer; 2) Japanese more often apologized to someone close to themselves than did English speakers; 3) Japanese thanking expressions included versatile expressions like sumimasen that can be used both for apologies and thanks.



Ogawa, H. (1995). Kansha to wabino teishiki hyougen: Bogowashano shiyou jitttaino cyousa karano bunseki [A study of Japanese formulaic thanks and apologies: A data analysis of the use by Japanese native speakers]. Nihongo Kyouiku [Journal of Japanese Language Teaching], 85, 38-52.

This paper investigates formulaic expressions of gratitude, which includes not only the variants of arigatou but also those that can also convey apology (such as sumimasen).  Utilizing a questionnaire containing 19 thanking and 9 apologizing situations, this study surveyed native speakers in their 20’s to 80’s to reveal their usage of formulaic expressions of thanks and apology.  The informants were 221 females and 51 males of similar educational backgrounds who spoke the standard variety of Japanese.  The variables manipulated in the survey were high/low status, in-group/out-group, and closeness/distance.  The findings suggest that the use of sumimasen is not suitable for all thanking situations.  Whereas in this study the younger generation of speakers used sumimasen to express slight thanks or apology to someone older and/or in out-group (soto such as strangers), the older generation used it to friends or those younger than themselves.  Younger speakers used more formal apology expressions (such as moushiwake arimasen) with someone older (and higher in status) for a major infraction, since sumimasen was used to express relatively slight thanks and minor apology.