Japanese Dialogue style compared to english

I just wondered something for some time now and I wanted to ask.

Japanese writer has lots of ways of creating speech patterns that can differentiate characters. I think mostly about one series I’m reading called Re Zero in which every character has a distinct way of speaking. I find it adds a lot of “flavor” to characters. You know who is speaking depending on the way they speak. All the possible suffixes also help. ーさん、ーちゃん、ーさまー

If I have to compare it to English, I find it to be way less way of doing it. I might have a huge bias but I don’t see as much creativity in English dialogues. You do an old speech, rough speech(mafia kind) but I find it to be less varied and original than Japanese in which I can just create any pattern and it fits. Maybe because anime kinda broke that “cringiness”. It’s considered good in anime kind of setup and cringe in English but I don’t find that much variety in English dialogues.

In French too I feel it’s the same. You can do regular dialogue and tough guys’ way of speaking but nothing in between. Either your normal or you always curse. You can also see some old dialogue but way different from the Japanese range of speech pattern.

I just wonder what do you think about it and is do you know how it works in other languages.

Like I said maybe I’m just too much of a weeb to see it and I just take it for granted but I wanna know your impression of it.

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Yeah, you don’t really do accents in English writing, per se. I mean, Terry Pratchett did it a fair bit for some characters, but in general, you don’t. I think possibly it’s that regional dialects are hard to portray without caricature, and accents of foreign speakers even more so.

Though, on the flip side, English prose tends to be written as " — " he said, " — " she replied, " — " he complained, whereas Japanese just goes " — " " — " " — " and expects you to keep track of who’s saying what.


That is true. Sometime they do says “he said” to it can be 3 lines after. I did had some problem with finding who was speaking sometime. These they it’s easier. Maybe I got used to it.

You probably got better at remembering which speech patterns belong to which character.

In books like Harry Potter there is a lot of variety in the way people speak, I feel. There is definitely personality in there. I mean, the who-said-it clue usually comes at the end, but the voice in my head usually knows who says it from the start of the quoting.

Also, in the American YA novel I’m reading right now each chapter is written from the perspective of a different character, all monologue, and they definitely all have a different feel to them.

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We talked about this in one of my courses, it’s called 役割語. There’s distinct speech patterns between male and female, old people, and then of course lots of dialects. It also includes stereotypical speech patterns of foreigners.

This style of speech gets used even though you wouldn’t find an elderly person speaking in full わしは〜しておるのじゃ style speech, and everyone knows what the different speech styles say about the character. You can guess from the dialogue alone whether someone speaking is a rowdy guy in his 20‘s, a housewife or someone elderly.

The teacher also showed us part of Harry Potter‘s dialogue with a comparison to the English. You don’t even need the 「„…“, said Hermione.」because it is clear from the style of speech, sentence endings, etc. Which is why Japanese often has just pages of 「」「」「」 dialogue back to back without having to clarify who is speaking.

I‘ll just link the Wikipedia article on 役割語 here: 役割語 - Wikipedia
女性語 and 男性語 have separate articles as well 女性語 - Wikipedia


It depends on what you’re exposed to. There’s a lot of bad writing out there, but there are also authors who are amazingly good at dialogue.

And remember that memorable dialogue isn’t just accents, it’s also word choice and sentence structure. If you read Yoda’s lines on a page, they’d be instantly memorable because verb at the end, he uses.

I think that this is the main reason that it sounds that way. In a different language, something that would come across as cringey sounds pretty cool. This is why I don’t like watching anime subs, because the voice acting is a bit too cartoony and over-the-top in english. (Mostly to match lip flaps, but still)


That is actually considered really poor style by many authors and can make dialog sections harder to read. (For example, “How Not To Write A Novel” by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman strongly advises against it.)


Yeah, Writing Excuses has several episodes as well on the use of dialogue tags: Dialog Tags | Writing Excuses

I think that’s what may also be coloring OPs perception of dialogue in English. If you’ve only ever read mediocre examples, then I can see why you’d get that kind of idea.


Was Yoda perhaps actually Japanese!? :wink:


I think English dialogue can be just as expressive as Japanese, it really all depends on the author. A good author can convey a lot of meaning and personality with the way people talk. You mentioned suffixes like さん、ちゃん and さま. I feel like the meaning of those can be expressed just as well in English. If we have a character called John Smith, there is a big difference in whether people call him John, Mr. Smith, Johnny, Lord Smith or Boss.

I think you’re right that Japanese may make it easier to quickly establish certain character types. However that may also mean there is an increased danger of characters just fitting into tropes, which I feel is often the case in anime. That also opens the possibility of playing with these stereotypes though, like having a young guy using わし or a man using female speech patterns. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that while there are certainly interesting ways that speech can be used in Japanese to differentiate characters, I don’t think it’s inherently superior to other languages or that it can’t be done just as well in other languages.


Possible, it is. Infatuated with Kurosawa movies, George Lucas was.


Interestingly, my recollection is that Yoda actually doesn’t speak strangely in Japanese (though, I imagine he does use old-man role language) and natives I talked to were surprised to hear that his English is distinctively strange.


Agreed, it can be sometimes annoying when authors don’t follow it, imo

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Actually Yoda speaks in OSV constructs (Object Subject Verb). Japan is instead SOV. The OSV construct apparently is very rare in any language, so hats off to the genius of George Lucas.


From what I know, and what I’ve seen in various resources, the only really fixed thing when it comes to word order in JP is verb at the end. Object, subject and other parts can be shuffled around, as long as they have correct particles attached to them - because those sentence parts are indentified by the particles and not by the word order. The nuance can change and some versions will sound unnatural, but still technically gramatically correct.

For example - AFAIK 田中さんがご飯を食べた and ご飯を田中さんが食べた are both grammatically correct, event though the second one sounds weird.

So Japanese isn’t really strictly SOV, but rather just ~V :wink: Especially since everything else can be omitted, and verb alone already can make full sentence :wink:


Missed opportunity there to add some broken Japanese :wink:


A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.

Most languages are flexible enough to accommodate different word orderings (but strangely English not so much). As you said, Japanese grammar is flexible, but nonetheless it is still classified as a SOV language due to the preferred use of that structure.

On Wikipedia I found this nice table.


The SOV ordering of Japanese is actually the most common ordering among languages, with the SVO of English (and my language Italian) being a close second.

If anything, Yoda must be one of the few Warao people (from South America, they are around 30000 people speaking that language).


I see. I just thought that it would be good to point out that flexibility of japanese grammar, since I think it’s its quite distinctive feature.

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I think there might be an illusion of creativity rather than actual creativity. I’m sure associating accents with traits is useful but it’s kind of lazy to me. For example, since it was talked about earlier, Hagrid in Harry Potter has a West County accent. This makes him a loveable oaf because the accent comes through as meandering and gruff. It’s vivid but it isn’t clever.

I read a decent-ish amount and I don’t often come across this type of “old speech” or “rough speech” outside Young Adult. That’s probably why it seems less varied or original than in Japanese because English usually can’t do it at all.

I don’t think good authors need to use that sort of thing because the dialogue should speak for itself without tropes. Fer example, if t’only way thi can mek a Yorkshuhman cum through ont’page is ba butchain’ English then t’dialogue probably in’t an’cop int’fist place.


In English, dialects can require a lot of effort on the readers part, so they tend to be done lightly (see: A Clockwork Orange) and when they’re not (see: The Book Of Dave) they can be a bit of a slog. I think maybe Trainspotting is the only dialect heavy book that I found remotely readable.

After that it’s just word choice and accent. English accents are almost invisible in print; unless you know what accent a character has, you’ve no idea how they’d pronounce the word ‘book’, or whether they’d drop aiches or tees.

So you’re just left with word choice, which you’d hope any decent author would make an effort with. Unfortunately Sturgeon’s Revelation applies.