In the Japanese language, Aizuchi (Japanese: 相槌 or あいづち, IPA: [aizu͍t͡ɕi]) are the frequent interjections during a conversation that indicate the listener is paying attention or understands the speaker. In linguistic terms, these are a form of phatic expression. Aizuchi are considered reassuring to the speaker, indicating that the listener is active and involved in the discussion.
Aizuchi are frequently misinterpreted by non-native speakers as the listener showing agreement or fully comprehending what is being said.
Common aizuchi include:
- hai (はい), ee (ええ), or un (うん) (yes, with varying degrees of formality)
- sō desu ne (そうですね) (I see.)
- sō desu ka (そうですか) (is that so? really?)
- hontō (本当), hontō ni (本当に), maji (マジ), or (in Kansai) honma (本真) (really)
- naruhodo (なるほど) (I see, that's right)
These have a similar function to English "yeah", "yup", "OK", "really?", "uh-huh", "oh", etc., but are more pronounced and important in Japanese.
Business relations in particular can be hampered by non-native speakers assuming that their Japanese counterparts have been agreeing to their suggestions all along, when in reality the Japanese have only been saying that they follow or understand the suggestions – "got it", not "agreed".
Aizuchi can also take the form of so-called echo questions, which consist of a noun plus "desu ka". After Speaker A asks a question, Speaker B may repeat a key noun followed by "desu ka" to confirm what Speaker A was talking about or simply to keep communication open while Speaker B thinks of an answer. A rough English analog would be "A ..., you say?", as in: "So I bought this new car"; reply: "A car, you say?".
- Miller, Laura. 1983. Aizuchi: Japanese Listening Behavior. MA Thesis, anthropology, UCLA.
- Miller, Laura. 1991.“Verbal listening behavior in conversations between Japanese and Americans.” In The Pragmatics of Intercultural and International Communication, edited by Jan Blommaert and Jef Verschueren, John Benjamins, Amsterdam, pp. 110–130.
- SEIFI, PHILIP (November 2, 2013). "Are you listening to me? The Japanese art of aizuchi". Lingualift (see "[https edulift dot co]"). Archived from the original on December 23, 2015.
This can cause serious confusion when Westerners and Japanese communicate because it sounds like the Japanese person is saying yes all along and then suddenly saying no, it's difficult, or [...] Japanese body language for, 'No way in hell, sorry.'
- Special issue, Nodding, Aizuchi, and Final Particles in Japanese Conversation, Volume 39, Issue 7, July 2007, pages 1239–1323, Journal of Pragmatics
De Mente, Boye. (2011). Japan's Cultural Code Words : 233 Key Terms That Explain the Attitudes and Behavior of the Japanese. Rutland, Vermont: Tuttle Publishing.