こんにちにゃあ～！Welcome to Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Online in blog form, written before a live studio audience. We’re Kiki and Koko, here to guide you through Japanese language and culture! This is ＳＩＤＥ Ｂ of our magical mystery tour of です, desu. (If you haven’t been to ＳＩＤＥ Ａ , now would be the perfect time.) This lesson, we’ll be tackling Japanese copula! Not to be mistaken with Coppola, of course. For some reason or another, it’s usually pronounced: コピュラ, kopyura.
As explained on ＳＩＤＥ Ａ, です, desu, is a generally polite copula that can be used in pretty much any situation you run into as a beginner. You might remember that we started out by introducing ourselves using: 嬉嬉と興子でございます, Kiki to Koko de gozaimasu! even though we were talking about the magical word です, desu. Very curious, you may think, but no worries, all will be revealed in time! And, the time is now.
You see, in Japanese, we continue to mention honorific speech and humble speech. でございます, De gozaimasu, is a state of being word just like です, desu, with the huge difference that it is a humble version of it. While we will delve into humble and honorific speech soon enough, humble speech is used when speaking about yourself, your company, your family, and friends to other people. ※Honorific speech is used for anyone of higher status or simply anyone outside of your circle or even within your circle that you are speaking to or about to that person. It’s an interesting and intricate system to say the least, so definitely take the brief description knowing brevity doesn’t do it justice.
※The ‘opposite’ of でございます, de gozaimasu, is でいらっしゃいます, de irasshaimasu, which is used for those you are lifting up or honouring—or people of socially higher status.
So, all in all, です, desu, is sort of a catch-all for everyday situations especially for beginners or even native Japanese speakers who may not have a grasp on honorific speech and don’t want to accidentally say something rude. If you’re learning Japanese as a second language, though, we’re sure that they’ll understand you’re doing your best. Though, there is a higher step above です, desu, that is understood in a similar way to です, desu,that simply doesn’t have the same versatility, and that is であります, de arimasu. You might see how です, desu, could be seen as a catchall contraction. But, that brings us to an important side-note, in that there are copula which are state of being verbs, but there are actually really-truly state of being verbs that exist, the ones ending in ます, masu, being the medium-polite versions. (We say medium-polite, now, in light that we mentioned that there are many levels of politeness and honorifics in Japanese)
So, in Japanese, there are two different verbs meaning ‘to exist’ which we’ll delve into in a non-copular article. ある, aru, and あります, arimasu, are used for inanimate objects and いる, iru, and います, imasu, are used for anything animate or living. But, they differ from copula in that they are used for the presence of an object rather than the vague state of being. 繋辞, keiji, the Japanese linguistic word for copula, literally means ‘linking term’ which sort of functions in the way that です, desu, functions semantically as ‘to be’ when comparing it to English, which links the subject and predicate in a way. But, we think the vague-ness of です, desu, is also what makes it so versatile. But, enough about です, desu! Let’s talk about its family!
Now, the reason why we included a bit more information in this lesson—other than simply to teach more information— is because this next part may not come in handy right away, BUT! even though you may not USE this right away, it’s important to understand it, since you’re very likely to hear them.
So, we’ll elaborate more on the intricacies in another lesson, but in Japanese, there are actually quite a few dialects! And, with these dialects come differentiations in the casual copula of です, desu. Most of Japan seems to use the casual copula: だ, da. This makes for casual conversation with a very close friend or family members to change from sentences like this into this:
(This is/I am/It is) bread.
So, while you may not say ‘I am’ bread—not very often at least— だ, da, is still the same versatile possibility of です, desu, only confined to VERY familiar/casual speech. It’s the lowest of speech in respect to politeness which can be endearing to those close to you as not to seem distant, but can seem very familiar and rude to use with someone like your boss or strangers. That being said, you still might hear casual speech on television, movies, and obviously, amongst people, so it’s something important to know.
But, we mentioned dialects in which だ, da, isn’t the go-to casual form of です, desu. These are words like: じゃ, jya, and や, ya. Now, there are even more variations throughout which relate to honorifics, but these are just a couple that you’ll be more likely to come across.
(This is/I am/It is) bread.
Oddly enough, while じゃ, jya, is heard in central mainland Japan, you might hear archaic fictional characters on televisions and in literature use this as well. BUT! this is also a word that can be used as a conjunction, or a shortening of a parting phrase like we discussed in our Japanese greetings lesson.
All in all, all that you really have to think about using is: です, desu, but it’s always nice to get a bit of useful information for the future! We hope the revelation of these fabulous secret powers were useful to you! If you have any questions or requests for more Your Questions Answered articles, feel free to leave a comment below!! We’re here to help!!
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