Language | WELL SAID

Uh, if you want to speak Japanese like a local, you'll, er, need to master 'eeto' and 'anō'

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Yo-nin de waru to, eeto, hitori sanzen-nihyaku-en ne. Divide that by four people, uh, that’s ¥3,200 per person.

Situation 1: Ms. Tamachi, Ms. Gray and two colleagues are at a restaurant and have just finished their meal.

田町: ここは割り勘にしようね。一人いくらになるかな?

グレイ: 全部で12800円だから、4人で割ると、ええと、一人3200円ね。

Tamachi: Koko wa warikan ni shiyō ne. Hitori ikura ni naru kana?

Gurei: Zenbu de ichiman-nisen-happyaku-en dakara, yo-nin de waru to, eeto, hitori sanzen-nihyaku-en ne.

Tamachi: Let’s split the cost here. How much does it come to for one person?

Gray: In total it’s ¥12,800, so divide that by four people, uh, that’s ¥3,200 per person.

ええと and あのう are two of the Japanese language’s main filler words, and are used to fill in pauses in daily conversation. ええとand あのう inform the listener that the speaker is thinking about what they are going to say, and using them properly will make your Japanese sound more natural. As seen in Ms. Gray’s remark in Situation 1, ええと is used when the speaker is recalling a memory, calculating or thinking things out:

その方(かた)のお名前(なまえ)は、ええと、山下(やました)さんでした。 (The name of that person is, uh, Mr. Yamashita.)

きのうの晩(ばん)ごはんは、ええと、魚(さかな)だったから、きょうは肉(にく)にしよう。 (Yesterday’s evening meal was, uh, fish. So, I’ll cook meat today.)

えー is a more formal substitute for ええと, and ううんと is a more casual version:

わが社(しゃ)は、えー、今年(ことし)で創立(そうりつ)50年(ごじゅうねん)になります。 (Our company is, uh, 50 years old this year.)

Situation 2: Walking down the street, Mr. Tien notices a woman drop her key.

ティエン: あのう、この鍵、落としましたよ。

女の人: あ、私のです! どうもありがとうございます。

Tien: Anō, kono kagi, otoshimasta yo.

Onna no hito: A, atashi no desu! Dōmo arigatō gozaimasu.

Tien: Erm, this key, you dropped it.

Woman: Ah, that is mine! Thank you very much.

あのう can be equivalent to “er,” “well” or “excuse me” and is used at the beginning of a sentence to indicate that the speaker is considering what they are going to say. Therefore, あのう conveys the speaker’s hesitation or reserved feeling, and makes the sentence sound more polite. あのう is used when the speaker wants to attract someone’s attention or to bring up an awkward topic:

あのう、セーターを裏表(うらおもて)に着(き)ていませんか。 (Er, you put your sweater on back to front, right?)

Bonus Dialogue: Mr. Okubo and his staff are at a meeting.

大久保(おおくぼ): 全社的(ぜんしゃてき)にペーパーレス化(か)が進(すす)んでおり、ペーパーレスにすることによって、ええと、年間(ねんかん)500万円(ごひゃくまんえん)ほど経費(けいひ)が減(へ)らせます。したがって、うちの課(か)も取(と)り組(く)まなければなりません。この件(けん)について、何(なに)かご意見(いけん)はありますか。

田町(たまち): あの、ペーパーレスにした場合(ばあい)、パソコンやUSBでデータを管理(かんり)しなければならないので、もしデータがウイルスに感染(かんせん)したり、サイバー攻撃(こうげき)があった場合、危(あぶ)ないではないのでしょうか。

大久保: そうだね。それは紙(かみ)の資料(しりょう)のほうがいいね。

グレイ: 私(わたし)もペーパーレスには賛成(さんせい)ですが、あのう、一気(いっき)に進めるのはちょっとむずかしいと思(おも)います。まだ慣(な)れていない人(ひと)もいますので。だから、徐々(じょじょ)に進めたほうがいいんじゃないでしょうか。

大久保: 確(たし)かにそれはそのとおりだね。

三田(みた): あのう、特(とく)に心配(しんぱい)なのは…。

大久保: わかってる、わかってるよ。一番(いちばん)慣れていなくて、みんなに迷惑(めいわく)をかけないようにしなきゃならないのは私だ。本当(ほんとう)によろしくね!

Okubo: The switch to paperless is happening company-wide. By making us paperless, uh, costs can be reduced by about ¥5 million per year. Therefore, our section must work on it, too. Does anyone have any opinions on the matter?

Tamachi: Well, in the case where we go paperless, we need to manage the data on our laptops and USBs. But if they get a virus or there’s a cyber attack, I reckon it might be dangerous.

Okubo: You’re right. In that case, paper documents are better.

Gray: I agree with paperless but, er, I think it’s a little difficult to proceed all in one go. There are still some people who are not yet used to it. Therefore, wouldn’t it be better to proceed gradually?

Okubo: Certainly, that is the way to go.

Mita: Er, what I find especially worrying is …

Okubo: I know, I know. It’s me who is the person least used to it and who’ll have to try to not be an annoyance to everyone. In advance, I really appreciate your help!