Yes, No: formal and casual

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kyn

Senior Member
Vietnamese
In formal conversation (with teachers, etc.), of the followings, which word is it impolite to use: "ええ"、"うん”、”うーん”、"いや" , "ちがう" 、"ちがいます"、"じゃありません" ?
By the way, what Japanese words (common ones) are often used to say "yes" & "no" in conversation?
 
  • Flaminius

    coclea mod
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    ええ, うん, うん, いや, ちがう, ちがいます, じゃありません

    I assume the third item in your list is a casual word for "no." The spelling うーん is reserved for what English represent by "Hmmm." Both ううん and うーん consist of the same phonemes but the former is uttered with a higher pitch than the latter.

    ええ and いや stand on the borderline of formal and casual registers. I have encountered both on formal occasions but I know older people frown at them on formal occasions. This may mean different people understand an occasion's formality differently, variations exist as to what constitutes formal or casual register, there are subtle but distinct layers in the formal-casual scale or any combination of them.

    うん, ううん and ちがう are casual words. ちがいます and じゃありません are formal, even if the latter is decidedly less formal than the former.

    By the way, what Japanese words (common ones) are often used to say "yes" & "no" in conversation?
    "Yes" pretty straightforward. はい, ええ, うん and そうです immediately come to mind. As for "No," I am afraid there are a lot of occasions where euphemism is preferred for fear of violating the politeness code or enraging the hearer.
     

    Joannes

    Senior Member
    Belgian Dutch
    Thank you both!

    Small additional question: I have a source claiming that nn can be used as 'yes' and mm as 'no'. Is there a conventional way of writing those in Japanese?

    Moderator Note:
    The thread has been branched from here.
     

    Flaminius

    coclea mod
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    Hello,

    Japanese has a few expressions for yes and no. The ones mentioned in this thread are casual ones (to be used for one's peers or those with less prestige).

    Yes: うん
    No: ううん

    The actual pronunciation of the two has no relation with the phonetic values of the letters they are written with. They can be transcribed as un and ūn but that's not how they are actually pronounced. I think I need IPA symbols for an accurate notation.
     

    Anatoli

    Senior Member
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    I wonder if there is an IPA for うん or the actual sound. :) It really sounds like something like nn or mm with the closed mouth. I heard it a few times watching Japanese dramas. You need to hear it. Perhaps, if you try to say a short "ah" with your mouth closed, you get something similar.

    I don't remember hearing ううん or didn't realise I heard it.
     

    akimura

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Casual yes, or うん, might be best pronounced or articulated if you pronounce it just like 運(うん、un). Nn and mm are more lazily pronounced versions of it. If you would like to copy any lazy version, then just make the pronunciation of うん sound lazy without much of lip movement. It doesn't matther whether you keep your mouth closed or open. It will work.

    The pronunciation of casual no or ううん is hard to describe only by typing but I try the best I could here. The smooth change of your tone in pronuncing either うん or ううん is very important. If it could be said that うん (yes) is something like う (musical note B) and ん (an octave lower B), then ううん (no) would be something like う (B), う (an octave lower B), and ん (B at the same tone as the first B).

    I hope this helps...
     

    notnotchris

    Senior Member
    U.S.A., English
    Going with Akimura's explanation, there is a difference in tones in addition to the difference in length.

    Yes = un (falling tone)
    No = uun (high, then falling then rising tone)

    If it were Chinese, Yes would be 4th tone and no would be a combination of 1st and 3rd tones
     

    Flaminius

    coclea mod
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    Thank you both!


    I read IPA, if you care to give it a shot. :)
    Hello Joannes,

    I came back to this old thread to answer your question after a long time. Hope you are still interested. :)

    First, take a look (and a listen) of this youthful Japanese speaker. :) He pronounces うん with much articulation (not lazy) but the vowel is affected by nasalisation. It's a pity that I cannot see his mouth more clearly but the nasal consonant sounds more like a uvular than a alveo-dental sound.

    My best IPA description for the clip is [̃ʉ̜ɴ] (The vowel I seem to hear is nasalised and less rounded [ʉ]), while the usual Japanese う is [ɯ]. This is in fact what is most common in adults speech too. The difference between casual Yes and No is largely that of intonations as notnotchris has already explained. In order to accommodate a more complicated tone, the vowel in No (ううん) may be longer than that in Yes.


    Authorisation: The multimedia link has been approved by samanthalee.
     

    Joannes

    Senior Member
    Belgian Dutch
    Cool kid - already knows where you need to grab a violent mouse to harm it the most; the left ear. :cool:

    It was interesting to actually hear the casual 'yes'. Thanks, Flam!
     

    Anatoli

    Senior Member
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    I have recordings, I guess I could provide short snippets of うん, ううん and even う~ん audio (WAV format as allowed here).

    Please let me know (email or PM), if interested. I will need some time.
     

    Joannes

    Senior Member
    Belgian Dutch
    Thank you, Anatoli, that's very kind! It would be interesting to hear them. But given your 'I will need some time', I assume there is some effort involved, and some is too much, really; as it's not important for me at all, so please save yourself the bother. It was mere curiosity, nothing more, and I think I have a pretty good idea of its pronunciation by now anyway. So thanks, but no thanks.
     

    adexx

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    Once I heard a Japanese man talking on the phone, sometimes he said はい, sometimes ええ. So I'm wondering about the level of formality of these words. Is it OK to use ええin formal situations? Talking of which, what about いいえandいや?
     

    masatom

    Banned
    Japanese
    Hello, again.
    I think hai and ee are both formal expression. ee is more often used by female than male, but a man can use ee in his formal speech.

    Telephone speech is different thing.
    In telephone speech, as listening sound, I think ee is sometimes better than hai.
    Because, repeating hai might be impolite. ( hai,.....hai,....hai,...hai, )
    Repeating ee is not so impolite. ( ee,...ee,....ee,...ee)
    I think mix them might be the best. ( hai,...., ee,....ee,....naruhodo,.....hai,....ee,....)

    I think iie and iya are both formal, too. iya is usually used by only men. iya is always followed by the next sentence.
    iya sore wa chigauto omoimasu.

    Hope this help.
     
    Last edited:

    wathavy

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Hi, masatom san.
    You said iya is only for male, but I guess it is not completely true.
    What do you think?

    P.S.
    All the rest, I am nothing to deny. You are perfectly right on them. :)
     

    adexx

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    Oh, I thought only "hai" and "iie" are formal, and "iya" and "ee" are informal.
    So, what's informal for "yes/no" then?
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    Oh, I thought only "hai" and "iie" are formal, and "iya" and "ee" are informal.
    So, what's informal for "yes/no" then?
    Yes: うん (un)
    No: ううん (uun)

    These can sound very similar of course, but the context, tone (and body language) usually makes it clear. Un seems very similar in usage to English "mmm" when used as an agreement, and can sound very similar indeed. I found it very easy to get into the habit of using it both in Japanese and English!

    A teacher once said that these words were more appropriate to children, but she was very strict about such things (she said the same about boku) and I'm not sure that I agree at all.

    It's often said that hai is not strictly equivalent to "yes". I know it is used on its own to signal compliance to a command (where "yes" on its own would not do in English), and I wonder if non-native speakers often use it inappropriately. Can Japanese native speakers identify common situations where this occurs?
     

    wathavy

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Hi.
    As Maching Mole san said, these two are the daily words for both Yes/No.
    But for foreigner these are the most difficult words to use, I may say.
    If you regard yourself rather beginner I recommend to use Ee and Iie rather than Un and Uun.

    I can only think about the suitable situation for any adult to use either Un or Uun(denial) such as when you don't want to interrupt the other end's speech and try to keep lowest possible profile you can take.
    But again, it is absolutely not possible for one to know if that situation is in front of you unless you are keen, in my humble opinion.

    I may have ovver looked something, as susual, (and that is my purposes to participate here too, so I can correct my own knowledge), please have some more suggestion.

    BTW I didn't even think of these two words Un/Uun as rude ones from the first moment, but these are, those were buried underneath... :)
     
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