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Beginner Japanese phrasebooks can offer the not correct impression that hai is the same as "yes" and also that iie is the same as "no"Sometimes, once listening come Japanese dialogue in a movie or game, you could hear the Japanese indigenous hai, yet see it analyzed into English as “no”. Also if girlfriend only know like 5 words in Japanese, you’ve more than likely learned somewhere the hai way “yes” and that iie way “no”.

You are watching: What does yes mean in japanese

So what gives? go someone chaos up the translation? go you just spot a huge mistake?

It most cases, it’s probably not a mistake. This is because hai functions much more like “correct” and also iie functions an ext like “incorrect”. This normally does equate to “yes” and also “no” in English… but not as soon as a an unfavorable question is involved.

I might probably just end this article right there, yet I assumed this would certainly be a good chance to look deeper right into this language quirk, examine why it’s a translate in problem, and also then see how it’s been handled – and mishandled – in really translations.


Agreement in English

In English, “yes” and also “no” it seems to be ~ pretty clear-cut in meaning, yet they end up being a small fuzzier as soon as a question involves a negative.

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Answering a an unfavorable question v "yes" in EnglishLet’s say someone asks you, “You didn’t walk to school?” and also that you answer v a simple “yes”.

What would certainly that even mean? space you speak “yes, I checked out school” in response to the verb, or “yes, that’s correct, i didn’t walk to school” in response to the totality question? A comparable thing also happens if girlfriend answer v a basic “no”.

Of course, in day-to-day English, we’d probably instinctively include an “I did” or “I didn’t” for further clarification. But the important allude here is that straightforward answers to an adverse questions can reason ambiguity in English.

Agreement in Japanese

Japanese is classified as an “agreement language”, i beg your pardon basically way that hai acts much more like “correct”, and iie acts an ext like “incorrect”.

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Answering the same negative question through hai in JapaneseFollowing the same instance as above, let’s say someone asks girlfriend in Japanese, “You didn’t walk to school?”.

If friend answer v hai, there’s just one interpretation: “that is correct (I didn’t walk to school)”. And if you answer v iie, there’s only one interpretation: “that is untrue (I did walk to school)”.

In short, basic answers to an unfavorable questions aren’t ambiguous in Japanese.

Multiple approaches in translation

Negative sentences can be troublesome because that Japanese-to-English translators. But, depending upon the specific problem, there are two key approaches to this translate in issue:

Restate the concern so that it logically fits v what comes afterwardRestate the an answer so that it logically fits the initial question

Approach #2 is why you’ll periodically hear hai analyzed as “no”.

Anyway, enough with the theoretical stuff – let’s look at at part actual examples of this an unfavorable question problem and also see exactly how they were taken on in translation.

Approach #1 instance

Early ~ above in last Fantasy IV, a spooky voice in a cave keeps informing you to turn back or confront the consequences. Then, once you with the cave’s exit, the voice asks one last question. You’re then offered a choice. Selecting the top option moves the story forward and also starts a boss battle.

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Final Fantasy IV (Super Famicom)Final Fantasy II (Super NES)
Japanese variation (basic translation)English Translation
You don’t intended to turn back?Do girlfriend still great to go on?
hai / iieYes / No

As we have the right to see above, the initial Japanese line is a an unfavorable question, an interpretation we’re in tricky territory.

So, let’s to speak we’re a badass and that we have actually no intentionally of transforming back. If we’re not going to revolve back, we can say one of two people of these points to acquire the same allude across, even though one is “yes” and one is “no”:

Yes, that’s specifically right, i ain’t transforming back!No, i ain’t transforming back!

These 2 are successfully the same, for this reason which one is the player claimed to choose?

To avoid this potential confusion, the initial question was restated as a concern without a negative. Now it’s clear the “yes” means “yes, i still great to walk on” and also that “no” way “no, i don’t wish to walk on”.

Approach #2 example

In this step in the Fairy Tail anime, Gray asks Mest a an adverse question. In Japanese, Mest responds v aa, a much less formal variation of hai.


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In the show, Mest hasn’t heard from the guy in a year. This is why the subtitles interpret aa together “no” here, as soon as you’d usually expect aa to average “yes”.

An alternate solution would’ve been to translate aa as “that’s correct” or “indeed”. Yet another solution would’ve be to restate the question, similar to the last Fantasy IV example above, so the the aa can be left together “yes”.

Exceptions

There room occasional exceptions to this yes/no problem, particularly when the an unfavorable question associated is an invitation or a request. In these cases, it’s frequently okay come keep everything as-is.

For example, in ~ one point in The Legend that Zelda: Majora’s Mask, this girl asks girlfriend if you’ll help protect she farm:

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The Legend of Zelda: Mujura no Kamen (Nintendo 64)The Legend the Zelda: Majora's Mask (Nintendo 64)
Japanese version (basic translation)English Translation
You’re a boy. Won’t you give it a try?You’re a boy, won’t friend try?
hai / iieYes / No

As we have the right to see, the original Japanese line is an invite that supplies a an adverse question. In a straight translation, this currently works quite logically in English, for this reason there to be no require for the translator to take any kind of extra steps.

Problems in activity

Sometimes this an adverse question difficulty goes unaddressed in translation. Right here are two examples that I can recall offhand, but I’m certain I’ve watched more.

Example difficulty #1

In Breath the Fire II, this character supplies to define how a facility gameplay mechanic works:

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Breath of Fire II (Super Famicom)Breath that Fire II (Super NES)
Japanese variation (basic translation)English Translation
I take it it girlfriend don’t need an explanation the Joining?Do you need explanation on authorized souls?
hai / iieYes / No

Answering through the very first option skips the explanation and closes the text window. This is since answering the an adverse question through hai way “that’s exactly (I don’t need an explanation the Joining)”.

However, the English translator mishandled this an unfavorable question problem. As a result, picking the an initial option still close the door the window without any kind of explanation given. For this reason if you do desire to watch the explanation for this gameplay mechanic, you have actually to choose “no”.

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This is actually just one example of hundreds of negative translation options found in Breath that Fire II. I’ve written an ext about the game’s translation here if you’re intrigued!

Example trouble #2

This trouble is a tiny different, yet still touches on few of the problems we’ve seen in this article.

At one allude in Dark Souls, a character supplies to teach you magic. But then he complies with it up v one critical question: