addressing one’s mother humbly / neutrally in Japanese

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One important aspect of addressing someone else in one’s or someone else’s family is by selecting the correct word when referring to them. One way to do this is through the usage of an appropriate title within a conversation as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

When the speaker humbly refers to his or her mother in the presence of respected interlocutor(s), haha (母) is often used as in the case of Abraham referring to his mother before Abimelech (Genesis 20:12). This form is very appropriately chosen as Abraham is speaking to Abimelech the king of Gerar. While haha can carry this humbling effect in reference to the speaker’s mother, in some types of dialogues/utterances such as in poetry (Song 3:4) and proverbial teachings (e.g. “honor your father and mother” in Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16 et al.), haha is used without the humbling effect.

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )