A lot of anime fans make a big fuss about honorifics. Some may even argue that a translation isn’t authentic or accurate if honorifics are dropped.
I find that sort of dismissive attitude to be too fussy (plus the specifics and semantics of “genuine” translations, localizations, etc are not the topic of this post), but I do admit that I prefer honorifics being included. That’s because honorifics shed some interesting insight regarding how a character perceives his or her relationship with others. In my opinion, such subtleties are lost if honorifics are abandoned.
For instance, a character who doesn’t use any honorifics at all might come across as being blunt, or overly familiar, or not particularly caring for social graces. When people get close to one another they might drop honorifics (it’s especially noticeable in regards to lovers), but this particular character skips the prerequisite bonding and just starts calling people by their surname or given name. The interpretation of this character may vary wildly, but it’s an element that would be readily less apparent if honorifics were not included in the translation at all.
There are also individuals who addresses everyone with the -san honorific, which is apparently rather normal in real life. This practice paints a particular picture, however, when the individual insists on calling most people “__________-san” while only calling a select few by their first or last name (with no honorifics).
Is there a sense of distance between the individual and others? Does the individual feel like he or she is closer to others? Does the individual feel like he or she needs to convey respect towards those who he or she addresses with the -san honorific? These are the sort of thoughts I think when I see a character who is stubbornly consistent with calling nearly everyone “__________-san.”
What I find interesting is when someone uses honorifics in public but doesn’t do so mentally. For example, A-san might call B-san, well, “B-san” when they interact, but A-san might think of B-san as just “B” in his or her thoughts.
To me, this indicates that A-san is cognizant of their own relationship and is adhering to the social standard that is expected during their interactions, but A-san is a bit more relaxed when it comes to long and revealing internal monologues. Or maybe A-san wishes they were closer to B-san? Such nuances are definitely up to personal interpretation, but again, it’s something that would have been missing entirely if honorifics were dropped altogether.
It gets more interesting when we look at “-kun.” Said honorific is often used to address male characters and is more familiar than “-san” (in other words, if A-san starts saying “B-kun” instead of “B-san,” then something must have happened which resulted in the two of them
dating feeling closer to one another).
But the “-kun” honorific can also denote that the addressed is of a lower position than the addressee. And, believe it or not, “-kun” can be used for women, too. Teachers in particular might use “-kun” for female students in order to denote the difference in social standing while avoiding the potential connotation and infamy that might come with addressing a student with the intimate “-chan” honorific.
So does A-san feel closer to “B-kun” or is A-san subtly reminding B-san of their respective positions on the totem pole? See, this sort of potential controversy would be completely absent if the translations just had A-san calling B-san “B.” Honorifics sure are interesting, huh?
There is soooo much more to talk about in regards to honorifics. There’s “-sama.” What about “-dono?” Don’t forget “-chan,” “-chin,” and “-tan,” too!
But for now, I’ll stop here. What do you think of honorifics? I would love to hear your thoughts!