It’s time to learn about sentence final particles yo!
Alright, so before we jump into yo/よ and ne/ね, we should probably address what sentence final particles (or SFPs) are exactly. Japanese sentence final particles are particles that act in a very unique way in Japanese grammar. SFPs, like many other particles in Japanese, do not have meaning as stand alone units. Sentence final particles are most often used to modify the meaning of the sentence that it’s placed at the end of (hence, sentence final particles… particles that are placed at the end of sentences). These particles have a number of functions, but the primary purpose of most SFPs are to add emphasis or emotion, to turn the sentence from a statement into a question, or to add more nuanced inflections to the tone or meaning of the sentence. When dealing with SFPs, it’s important to understand these subtle nuances along with the proper times in which to use them.
Now we can start with the first sentence final particle, yo/よ. よ acts as Japanese exclamation point of sorts, not exactly in the same way that the English exclamation point works, but similar in the way that it asserts or strongly presents the speaker’s information. When using よ it’s important to note that the information being asserted or presented is primarily in the speaker’s ownership, per se. When using よ, it’s as if the speaker is asserting the information as if they owned it in some way, whether it be something they feel, think, believe, or has experienced. This being the case, the speaker wouldn’t use よ in situations where they don’t have ownership over the information.
This brings us to our second sentence final particle of the lesson, ne/ね. When the speaker doesn’t have sole ‘ownership’, per se, of the information being stated, in other words, if the information is shared between the speaker and listener, the speaker would use ne/ね to establish information that is understood or experienced by all. Situations where the speaker and the listener both share the information, believe, thought etc. would use an SFP such as ね. ね is also used in situations when the speaker desires affirmation, confirmation, or agreement of what the speaker has stated. This operates similarly to the English “right?”, “isn’t it?”, or “don’t you agree?”. Situations where the information is hearsay, coming from a secondary source, or is otherwise not associated with the speaker’s knowledge or experience, よ should be avoided.
よ can be paired with ね while retaining its original usage. While it can be stacked like this way ね, it can only be stacked like this for particular particles, not any particle. Always formed as よね, never formed as ねよ. The feeling evoked is assertive, yet desires confirmation. The speaker using よね at the end of a sentence is most likely confident in their assertion, but also wants to receive or give confirmation that the listeners are included on the information as well.
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Aizuchi – The Conversational Give and Take
Aizuchi – or conversational ‘back-channeling’ – is essential in Japanese conversation. Aizuchi is comprised of ‘filler’ words or phrases that allows the listener to react and give feedback to the speaker. In English, we would consider these interjections; and in the U.S. (and possibly other English speaking countries) it’s generally more polite to refrain from interjecting too much in conversation. This is because interjections in American culture are often used to indicate that the listener wants a turn to speak; therefore, if listeners interject too often, the speaker can feel like the listener keeps trying to take their turn at speaking away from them.
However, in Japanese, this is entirely different. In Japanese conversation, it’s expected that the listener will use these interjections to show their engagement with the speaker as they proceed through the conversation. Without the use of aizuchi, Japanese speakers will feel like the listener isn’t paying attention or isn’t engaged with the conversation. So, in order to show your engagement in Japanese conversation, you need to start using aizuchi!
So, what are some examples of aizuchi?
Well, the simplest can come in the form of affirmative grunting: ‘うん’ (often, the ‘ん’ sound can be elongated to ‘うんんん’ or just ‘んんん’) or ‘ええ’.
Other affirmative aizuchi are ‘はい’ and ‘そう’ (‘そう’ is commonly used in quick repetition to emphasize agreement ‘そうそうそうそうそう’).
‘たしかに’ is an adverb used as an affirmative aizuchi which loosely translated to ‘exactly’.
‘そうだね’ or ‘そうですね’ is an expression that meaning something along the lines of ‘That’s so, isn’t it?‘, ‘I see, you’re right.’, or ‘I agree with you there.’
If the listener wants to indicated surprise, awe, or concern, they can use aizuchi such as ‘ほんとうに？’ or ‘really?’ , ‘そうですか？’ or ‘Is that so?‘, and まじか？ or simply まじ？ which comes off as ‘seriously?’ ‘you’ve got to be kidding me?!‘.
へえ with an upward inflection (often this is used more like へええええ?!) is used to show emphatic surprise at what the speaker is saying.
So, in order to show interest and engagement in your conversational Japanese, start using aizuchi!