Chinese honorifics and diminuitives are quite a bit different from Japanese honorifics. They tend to be more practical and less involved with abstract forms of etiquette. But it's important to use the right one, anyway. Here are some examples, all in Mandarin, with the example name being family name LI:

- Xiao LI: Little Li, used with children or among adult friends. Rarely, but sometimes, used to distinguish a younger person with the same name as an older/more important person, who would be Da LI, or Big Li.
- Lao LI: Elderly Li, used with those 40 and older if they are older than you.
- LI Yeye, LI Nainai, LI Shushu, LI Daniang: Grandpa, Grandma, Uncle, Auntie. Traditionally used for elderly strangers, now usually only used for same-generation friends of one's grandparents (first two) or parents (second two).
- LI Laoshi: Teacher Li. Used for any kind of teacher, from a dance instructor to a professor.
- LI Shifu: Master Li. Used for any kind of skilled person, possibly a teacher of a skill (such as a kung fu teacher) or professional.
- LI Tongzhi: Comrade Li. Essentially obsolete.
- LI Xiansheng: Mr. Li. Xiansheng means "gentleman."
- LI Xiaojie: Miss Li. Xiaojie means "little sister." A bit old-fashioned.
- LI Taitai: Mrs. Li. Old-fashioned, but coming back into style.
The Chinese words listed above don't really form an honorific in the applied linguistic sense of "words tending to convey honour".

Above all other things, people have to realise that ALL languages have strategies and forms which are used to convey politeness, honour, etc. In Japanese, this has been part of the words themselves, due to a highly stratified society in the past. Chinese, lacking convenient morphemes to place honourific ideas, often move the honourific aspect into sentence forms, and the use of literary language, which has been separated from colloquial chinese (i.e. the form most people speak and learn today), for a good many centuries, or scholarly/formal language.

Politeness in Chinese language is often to use older and more abstracted language, and deference about opinion. The only real word changing forms in common use can be found in the use of pronouns, of which there are many.

To refer to you, the common word in Mandarin is "ni". The slightly more polite form is to use "nin", which has the same character + a character for heart. To enquire after something you possess (like a name), the formal practice is to use "gui", a word which means "precious", but is an classical form for the second person, although sometimes Hong Kong movie translators, being rather insensitive to these things, translate the sentences into things like "What is your most precious name?" Ditto for the use of "ben" to refer to yourself or your own things.

The words listed above, Xiaojie, Shifu, Laoshi, are all titles. They mean Miss, Master, and Teacher, and convey nothing about honour or politeness other than the fact that you are using them.

All of the terms listed above are in common use, and none can be called "old-fashioned", simply because all of them are used across the gamut of dialects and regional uses of Mandarin. I have always called my old neighbour: Lee taitai, Mrs. Lee, and official statements from the People's Republic always address Tongzhi-men, Comrades, which has also been used in other contexts; and I, along with the population of Guangdong, have always called waitresses Xiaojie.

Also, Xiansheng is a term of scholarly connotations, left over from the days when all scholars were of "gentle" birth. The title has the same characters as the Japanese word "sensei", their reading for those characters.

In the "old days" (say in classical chinese 2000+ years ago but even persisting to novels written today as well as when you are being polite ) there were more honorifics than there are today. These were real honorifics in Chinese, they had different connotations to them and varying levels of respect for different people. You can find these honorifics in books like the Analects of Confucius and Mengzi. For example, a vassal addressing his ruler would call his ruler "jun" while the ruler would call his vassal "chen". That said, I agreee with myrmidion that titles in modern mandarin like laoshi, xiansheng and taitai are not really honorifics in the same sense that saying "san" in Japanese is an honorific.

It is definitely true that people have different ways and conventions of speaking if they are being extra-polite. Whereas one normally would say "wo" you say "zai xia" or "ben ren" - this language is quite extensive- this is the sort of language that one would hear in kung-fu movies (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragonfor example)set in classical times. These forms are not true honorifics, but simply more polite forms of the normal pronouns and introductory questions.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.