LINGUIST List 3.788

Sat 17 Oct 1992

Disc: Japanese Pronouns

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  1. , Re: 3.765 Japanese Pronouns
  2. , Re: 3.755 Japanese Pronouns

Message 1: Re: 3.765 Japanese Pronouns

Date: 10 OCT 92 22:32:38
From: <>
Subject: Re: 3.765 Japanese Pronouns

A skeptical outsider's comment on the discussion of Japanese "pronouns":

If I am not mistaken, the discussion started from the assumption that
"boku" is a 1sg personal pronoun. But is it?

What is a personal pronoun anyway? You can't call a linguistic form
"personal pronoun" before you have studied all aspects of its syntactic
and semantic behavior. The mere fact that it can be translated into
English by means of the English 1sg personal pronoun in most cases does
not qualify as a linguistic justification.

A strict distinction should be made between a 'genuine' 1st person
pronoun whose sole function is to refer to the so-called first person
on the one hand and a noun, or a linguistic form for that matter, which
may be used to refer to the spekaer himself/herself. The Japanese word
Japanese langauge is not that the '1sg personal pronoun' is used to
refer to someone other than the '1st person', but that there are a set
of nouns which may be used in a way that reminds the SAE speaker of
their personal pronouns. It is a pity that students of the Japanese
language, both native and non-native, have erroneously been led to
assume that the linguistic forms like "boku," "anata," "kare," etc.
are 'personal pronouns'.

I am not denying the fact that such a way of presenting Japanese
grammar to non-Japanese is very helpful in language classes. I am
simply pointing out that the whole discussion stinks and is
unfruitful because it is based on an apparently false assumption.
The words "boku," "anata," etc. are not very much like personal
pronouns in SAE languages, which, it seems to me, count as
prototypical pronouns. I would appreciate it if someone would
redefine the notion of 'personal pronoun' and start the whole
discussion all over again.

By the way, why on earth should every language be expected to have a
replica of the SAE personal pronoun system? Or would anyone be ready
mentioned above, that "boku" etc. should by all means be called and
treated as 'personal pronouns' in the authorized Japanese standard
grammar yet to be written? Thank you.

Kazuto Matsumura
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Message 2: Re: 3.755 Japanese Pronouns

Date: Sun, 11 Oct 92 17:57:52 +0Re: 3.755 Japanese Pronouns
From: <>
Subject: Re: 3.755 Japanese Pronouns

Has anybody pointed out that "anata" and "kare" were historically
demonstratives? "Kanojo" was the combination of a demonstrative
adjective and a noun menaing "that woman". I'm sorry if anybody
has mentioned this, but "boku" was originally a noun meaning
"(supposedly "YOUR") servant". Some scholars doubt if we could
claim the existence of the category "pronoun" in Japanese.

 Melody Sutton writes;

>> I have heard Japanese speakers consistently use their own name instead of
>> watashi ("I") when referring to themselves.

Some speakers do, but I think it is a marked case. Some children,
especially girls, use their given names when they address themselves.
True, some teenage girls do the same, but they might be regarded
as immature. Some male adults use their family names, and it gives
a formal, conservative, armylike atmosphere.

I would like to point out one thing. Everybody seems to be saying
that a "pronoun" can be sometimes deleted in Japanese. It seems to me
that it is much appropriate to say that it is added, rather than
deleted, when necessary. I believe the use of zero-pronouns is the most
unmarked case in Japanese. But again the term zero-pronoun itself might
be a misnomer.

Kyushu Institute of Technology
Canada n. A socialist protectorate full of nice people and clean
 streets, with no crime except teevee
R.W. Jackson _The_Diabolical_Dictionary_of_Modern_English_

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