LINGUIST List 3.755

Wed 07 Oct 1992

Disc: Japanese Pronouns

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  1. , RE: 3.746 Japanese Pronouns
  2. Bob Kerns, Re: 3.746 Japanese Pronouns

Message 1: RE: 3.746 Japanese Pronouns

Date: Mon, 05 Oct 1992 21:06:25 RE: 3.746 Japanese Pronouns
From: <>
Subject: RE: 3.746 Japanese Pronouns

Wrt the use of 'boku' and other so-called 'pronouns' in Japanese, it seems
that those who have posted so far are missing a bigger picture. The use of
ordinary terms of reference as 2nd person 'pronouns' (terms of address, to be
a little more precise) is also very common in Japanese. For example, when one
is speaking to his/her own teacher, he/she would not use a 'pronoun' like
"anata (you; one of the most common 2nd person pronouns)" but "sensei (lit.
'teacher')" or the teacher's last name plus "sensei" (Remember Japanese is a
rigidly head-final language, so it's "Suzuki sensei" and not "sensei
Suzuki".) So one would say something like "What does Suzuki sensei think
about this issue?" even when one is speaking to Prof. Suzuki. The only
language I know other than Japanese that do does something similar is
Portuguese with "o senhor" and "a senhora" (My Portuguese is so rusty now,
and I have never asked my Brazilian colleague about this, but I am pretty
sure about this.).

Also, "kare" and "kanojo" can be used in a similar way. To me, this use is far
from polite, and it is limited to referring to somebody younger than the
speaker. A typical situation in which such a use can be observed would be one
in which a "friendly" TV reporter or something is speaking to a younger person.
(This use has nothing to do with the boyfriend/girlfriend use.)

e.g., "Kare-wa doko-kara kita no?"
 '(lit.) Where did he come from?'
 'Where are you from/did you come from?'

This use is very similar to the one of "boku" (1st person _singular_
'pronoun'). I think that in a limited number of situations, even other 1p
sg. 'pronoun' like "watashi" may be used in a simlar way, though I don't
think you'd find me doing that.

One similarity between the use of "kare/kanojo" and "boku" is that they occur
only in those situations in which the speaker does not know the name or the
appropriate term of address of the hearer. It is very rude to use these forms
in this way if you know the name/title/etc. of the hearer (In fact, as a little
boy, I hated it when someone referred to me as 'boku'.).

The use of "Mommy" or "Daddy" to refer to oneself when speaking to one's own
baby is common, and the Japanese often do just that even after the child has
grown old enough so that using a 1p sg. 'pronoun' is not confusing to the child
any more. Also these words are also used as terms of address among married
couples in Japan. It is well known that Japanese couples often stop calling
each other by their first names or anything else after they have their first
baby and call each other 'father' and 'mother'. (Note that this is very con-
sistent, as you will be always the 'father', the 'mother' or the child in a
nuclear family.)

Well, this was meant to be a short note, so I will quickly summarize what seems
to be going on here.
1) the avoidance of 2nd person pronouns in a formal situation, which is also
 found in other languages, such as Spanish
2) the confusion or rather interaction between terms of address and terms of
 reference including "pronouns"
3) the pronouns as terms of address rather than ordinary R-expressions

I have a lot to say about "Do we want aunty to carry us?", too, but I'll save
it for next time. (The key word is "empathy" here, too.)

					--Satoshi Stanley Koike
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Message 2: Re: 3.746 Japanese Pronouns

Date: Wed, 07 Oct 92 02:18:14 -0Re: 3.746 Japanese Pronouns
From: Bob Kerns <>
Subject: Re: 3.746 Japanese Pronouns

>> Date: 30 Sep 1992 12:04:12 -0400 (EDT)
>> From: This space for rent <>
>> With regard to the use of "boku", I believe that it is generally accepted
>> that most if not all Japanese pronouns are actually names (which is why,
>> for example, there can be so *many* words for "I" and "you".

As near as I can figure, the same could be said for english pronouns.

However, a related point is that wives will frequently call their
husbands "anata" (you). Imagine the havoc this would cause in
English! It's used in circumstances which are clearly affectionate,
so it's clearly not the marker of hostility addressing someone by
pronoun instead of name would be. ("You, pass the coffee!").

Still a further point is that "anata" is not usually used, especially
outside close friends and aquaintences. The more formal mode is to
use the person's name, or title, or some other referent. This
is both in address, and where we would use pronouns. I.e.
"What did teacher do on vacation? "What is Mr. Tanaka's opinion of
the proposal?" (Even more likely, however, is that the person
will be elided from the sentence altogether, to be understood
from context".)
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