Japanese first person pronouns

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Andrew Peters noticed an interesting aspect of the concise little figure in this article:  "Evolution of the first person pronoun in Japanese spoken language" (click to nicely embiggen).  It claims to show which pronouns were in use in various eras (Nara [710–794], Heian [794–1185], Kamakura [1185–1333], Muromachi [1336–1573], Edo [1603–1868], Meiji/Taisho/Showa [1868-1989], and postwar).  What Andrew discovered is that the two casual masculine pronouns ore おれ (俺) (this may even sound rude) and boku ぼく(僕) are, respectively, the oldest and newest pronouns in use today.

As a teacher of Literary Sinitic (LS) (Classical Chinese [CC]), I've always been intrigued that the casual male first person pronoun boku in Japanese is derived from a Chinese word that basically meant "slave; servant" — 僕 (now written with the simplified character 仆 ["fall forward; lie prostrate / prone"]).  Both of these characters go back two millennia or more with these meanings.  On the other hand, ǎn 俺 is a northern topolectal word for the first person. The character originally (around two thousand years ago) meant "big" (in that sense, it is now pronounced yàn).  It's interesting to note that it was initially used to write the northern dialecticism signifying the first person pronoun during the Song (960-1279), Jin / Jurchen (1115-1234), Yuan / Mongol (1271-1368) period.  It is noteworthy that this is precisely the same period when ore おれ (俺) became current with this meaning in Japan, i.e., Kamakura (1185–1333).

This leads me to conjecture that ǎn / ore 俺 ("I") may derive from the language of a northern group such as the Koreans, the Khitans, the Jurchens, or the Mongols who were internationally active during this period (perhaps in order of decreasing likelihood).


  1. Bathrobe said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 7:36 am

    It could also be that the character 俺 was borrowed to write the word おれ during this period.

  2. krogerfoot said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 8:12 am

    Fascinating. The choice of first-person pronouns for foreign male speakers of Japanese is interestingly fraught, as (I think) it isn't for female speakers. Proficient female speakers sound pretty natural dropping the w from watashi in casual speech. For males, using ore in mixed company can raise eyebrows, but boku can sound cloying or cutesy if the speaker is older or otherwise being treated as an eminence of some sort.
    Luckily Japanese provides a lot of ways to avoid committing to a particular pronoun, since you can employ myriad workarounds like 自分 jibun "myself," うちら uchi-ra "us-folk, people like us, our side," and the way auxiliary verbs like ageru/kureru/morau serve to specify the giver and receiver in interactions.

  3. Matt said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 9:39 am

    It seems very unlikely that the direct source of the character 俺 as a way to write "ore" was anything other than Chinese. The word itself is probably related to the Old Japanese "ore" that is used in the Kojiki (helpfully written 意礼 with the note 二字以音, "these two characters used phonetically") as a second-person pronoun, more or less.

    Of course, that "ore", like the rest of Old Japanese, had to come from somewhere, and that somewhere was very likely the Korean peninsula… so maybe "ore" is related to a northern group's first-person pronoun, even if it didn't come over as late as the character 俺.

  4. NV said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 10:20 am


    It seems the prevailing theory is that "ore" is just a contraction of "onore".

  5. Victor Mair said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 10:42 am

    From a colleague:

    Interesting. I guess “ware” doesn’t count as "in use today" because it is only pressed into service for song lyrics and so on? (But what about wareware?) The chart shows that ware is older than ore, does it not? I was taught that the vernacular has no personal pronouns, because ware is from Sinitic and most other “pronouns” are nominals of place. Have to think about this some more.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 10:43 am

    From another colleague:

    I too think his chart has some problems, For example, I would also argue that “wa,” which he has dropping out in the Muromachi, is still around in phrases like “wagakuni” (our country), “wagaya” (our house), and “wagamama” (selfish). where the “ga” is a possessive connector, the classical equivalent of the modern “no.”

  7. Victor Mair said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 10:45 am

    From Sasha Vovin:

    Several brief notes here.

    Jpn. ore as a 1p pronoun, as far I can remember is not attested before the Muromachi period. In Muromachi singular ore was a humble pronoun, while plural ore-ra was inclusive. It is a late innovation. There is Western Old Japanese ore 2p pronoun which is pejorative and appears only in three examples in the earliest texts. It has a cognate in proto-Ryukyuan *o-, *ore (thorpe: *Ure), which a 2p. pronoun throughout the Ryukyus (non-honorific). Thus, it most likely reflects pJ *ə 'thou, you'. This is discussed in the ADDITIONS chapter in my A DESCRIPTIVE AND COMPARATIVE GRAMMAR OF WESTERN OLD JAPANESE, vol. 2, Goubal Oriental, 2009 at some length

    Mod. J. boku is not, strictly speaking, exclusively 1p pronoun. Young boys are addressed as boku: my wife calls our son boku all the time. Both ore and boku used as 1p have their age and social limitations. I would not refer to myself as boku standing on the podium or even talking to a colleague, with whom I am not intimate enough. And ore would sound as a very bad taste joke in these situations.

    Proto-Japanese forms are *a 'I' and *wa 'we' — there is near-consensus on this nowadays. It is currently believed that these two mostly overlapped in OJ, with some distinctions remaining. I am currently preparing an article that while the overlap started to show up, it was not all as significant as people use to think these days. And in addition, there are Ryukyuan dialects that still keep the distinction intact. In Middle Japanese, a goes out of usage, so wa is both 'I/we' (but a might have survived as distal demonstrative a in both MJ and MdJ — it is a separate very long story as to why it might be so).

    As I said above, the pJ for 2p is *ə 'thou, you' . In OJ it was replaced completely after the earliest texts by na, which in all likelihood has Korean provenance (< unattested phonographically OK form, cf. MK ne 2ps, ne-huy 2pp). The reason for the loanword scenarion is that unlike *ore, *na is not found beyonf Northern Ryukyus, and it has a mildly honorific function even there.

  8. Herschel Schwartz said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 12:44 pm

    Re: "(click to nicely embiggen)." is this an extended use of 'embiggen'? So 'augment' > 'expand image image in computer system' > 'open image (in new tab/window?)' > 'open anything in new tab or window' ?

  9. Victor Mair said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 1:10 pm


    "It seems very unlikely that the direct source of the character 俺 as a way to write 'ore' was anything other than Chinese."

    Of course, it's a Chinese character.

  10. Tim Martin said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 1:12 pm

    It's weird that 'washi' is considered no longer in use. It is – it's associated with older speakers, although depending on the dialect you will find younger speakers using it, too (I have a friend from Osaka who was using 'washi' at least as young as college age).

    krogerfoot brings up good points in that 'jibun' can basically be used as a way of referring to oneself, as can 'atashi,' which isn't on the chart for some reason, even though it represents a less formal version of 'watashi,' and so probably deserves its own entry, just like 'watakushi' and 'watashi' each have separate entries.

    To add to what krogerfoot said, in the Kansai dialect 'uchi' is not a "workaround" so much as a normal, everyday personal pronoun. It's used more frequently by women, but men us it too.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 1:17 pm

    @Herschel Schwartz

    What do you think?

  12. Ross Bender said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 1:34 pm

    FWIW the first person 朕 われ (Chinese "chin") is frequently used as the royal 'We' in the OJ senmyou.

    Senmyō 15
    【S15】天皇〈 我 〉御命〈 爾 〉坐、申賜〈 止 〉申〈 久 〉。去辰年、河内国大県郡〈 乃 〉智識寺〈 爾 〉坐盧舍那仏〈 遠 〉礼奉〈 天 〉則朕〈 毛 〉欲奉造〈 止 〉思〈 登毛 〉、得不為〈 之 〉間〈 爾 〉、豊前国宇佐郡〈 爾 〉坐広幡〈 乃 〉八幡大神〈 爾 〉申賜〈 閉 〉勅〈 久 〉。

    #15 Tenpyō Shōhō 1.12.27 Shōmu Daijō Tennō [749]
    Sumera ga ohomikoto ni imase mawoshi tamafu to mawosaku. Inishi tatsu no toshi kawachi no kuni no ohogata no kohori no chishikji ni imasu rushana hotoke wo worogami matsurite sunahachi ware mo tsukuri matsuramu to omohedomo enasazu arishi ahida ni toyokuni no michi no kuchi no kuni no usa no kohori ni imasu hirohata no yahata no ohokami ni mawoshi tamahe to noritamahaku

  13. GH said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 2:04 pm

    @Herschel Schwartz, Victor Mair:

    If I may jump in, I believe I see the confusion. As I take it, the intended meaning is: if you go to the article, you can click on the little figure to embiggen it (open an expanded version of it). Not "open this link in a new tab (i.e. embiggen it) to see the article and figure that this post is about."

    So no, the word is used in its "traditional" sense.

    To make this vaguely on-topic, a friend of mine is going to Japan on a three-month internship, and is therefore studying basic Japanese. She mentioned that her instructor had commented that many male foreign speakers "talk like women" because they've been taught by female teachers. I was vaguely familiar with the idea of gendered Japanese language (http://www.tofugu.com/guides/japanese-gendered-language/); I take it pronouns such as the ones discussed in this post are part of the issue.

  14. Tim Martin said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 2:34 pm

    GH: Interesting article. I've been interested in the history of gendered Japanese for a while, though not enough to do serious research on it. I was told that feminine speech was simply taught to women during the Meiji (?) era. What the author writes in this article is a priori more believable, although his only reference is a single person who is a "big expert," so… grains of salt all around.

    The rest of the article has me wondering who it's aimed at. If it's aimed at people studying Japanese as a foreign language, then I'd be wary – there are a number of wordings on there that people hardly use at all, and the differences between the genders are at times overstated. I wouldn't have wanted to use this as a resource on gendered Japanese when I was learning!

    Anyway, the possibility of a male Japanese learner accidentally talking like a woman is a real one. In my opinion it's not just a problem of being taught by female teachers (you don't speak to your teachers in casual Japanese, which is where most of these differences turn up), but a problem of having lots of female Japanese friends. For a man studying at a Japanese university, it can be a lot easier to make female Japanese friends than male, and you naturally learn a lot about the language from the people you spend time with.

  15. Chris C. said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 3:49 pm

    Re: Prof. Mair's response to Matt's comment — I think what Matt was getting at with "direct source" is that, if "ore" were a loanword from some northern group as you conjectured, we might have expected the character to write it to have been borrowed from the same group at the same time — for that particular use, anyway — and not directly from Chinese.

    If I may interrupt with a learner's question, can anyone briefly outline what first person pronouns are appropriate in which circumstances? The "La plume de ma tante" level of a Japanese self-introduction goes something like "Watashi wa [name] desu," which I can't help but feel is only correct some of the time. But introductory level Japanese materials don't talk about that much, if at all.

  16. Tim Martin said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 4:24 pm

    "…can anyone briefly outline what first person pronouns are appropriate in which circumstances?"

    It's literally impossible to do that briefly! But Wikipedia has a decent outline, if you care to look: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_pronouns#List_of_Japanese_personal_pronouns

    If you had questions about specific scenarios, I'm sure someone (including myself) would be happy to answer. But the basics are in the Wiki article.

  17. Victor Mair said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 4:48 pm

    From a historian of Japan:

    You may also be interested to know that the most popular first person pronoun among my male Japanese academic colleagues is shōsei (小生*).

    Of course, that is in writing, not necessarily in oral communication….


    *VHM: lit., "(your) pupil".

  18. Chris C. said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 5:09 pm

    Well — I assume the self-introduction usually taught is meant for introducing oneself to strangers whose status relative to you is uncertain. I am unable to determine from the Wikipedia list which would be appropriate, since it seems to say "watashi" might be perceived as effeminate. (I'm a man.)

    If I better understood what a Japanese person would and would not consider formal, I might be able to figure it out with more confidence.

  19. Tim Martin said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 5:47 pm

    Chris: The phrasing you're taught for introducing yourself in an introductory Japanese class isn't a very natural way of speaking. Consider, how often do you meet someone and say to them in English – "Hello, my name is Chris"? But that's probably what you'll find in an English 101 textbook.

    In reality you probably say "Hey, I'm Chris," or "Hi, I'm Chris." Or the other person says "Hey. Bob." and you reply "Chris." and you do this while shaking hands. There are lots of ways to do it, and none of those will be in the English 101 book.

    When you meet someone and introduce yourself in Japanese, you will almost never have occasion to say 'watashi wa [name] desu'. The pronoun is entirely unnecessary because everyone knows you're telling your own name. You don't have to specify.

    So rather than asking what pronoun you should use in "my name is," I would just ask what pronoun you should use at the start of your conversation with a new person (because at some point you will have to use some pronoun. Probably.)

    Unfortunately, the answer depends on your age, social status, who the other person is, etc. To a beginner, I would say this: If you're a woman, use 'watashi' everywhere (super easy!) If you're male, younger than middle age, and speaking with a person on the street or a friend of a friend or a store clerk, etc, 'boku' is a decent choice. If you're in a professional context, especially speaking with your boss, use 'watashi.' 'Boku' can be fine with friendly coworkers, but that's too subtle for a beginner. If you're older than middle age, your frequency of using 'boku' will probably diminish in favor of 'watashi'.

    But it isn't like a set thing. It will always depend on what you're saying and who you're saying it to and what your individual personality is.

  20. Matt said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 6:10 pm

    Chris C.: Yes, that is what I meant.

    NV: Surprisingly, the NKD says that regarding OJ "ore", the prevailing hypothesis is that there is "little direct connection" to OJ "onore". ("上代の「おのれ」という反射指示の語形とは語源的には直接の関係が少ないと考える説が有力である。") Instead they draw parallels to OJ first-person "are", Okinawan "uri" (presumably < "o(re)" in Sasha Vovin's comments above). NKD is prone to dubious etymologies but they usually err on the side of overacceptance.

    Whether 1p "ore" is a direct descendant of 2p "ore" is another question I suppose.

  21. Matt said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 6:53 pm

    Incidentally, the NKD also cites some possible reflexive usages of "ore" from the Heian period, which along with the extremely wide distribution of various "ore"-style 1p words around Japan suggests that 1p-ish "ore" and ancestors/descendants might have been around much longer than previously assumed. Perhaps they were even part of spoken OJ and just not thought appropriate for poetry or official histories.

  22. Bathrobe said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 8:42 pm

    Tim Martin is on the money. You wouldn't say 'watashi wa Bob desu'; you would say 'Bob to iimasu' or 'Bob to mōshimasu' or 'Bob to yū mono desu'. 'Watashi wa Bob desu' is very artificial textbook Japanese and shouldn't really be taught in the first place.

    Regarding 自分, in the Kansai it's used to mean 'you'. 自分はどうする?'What will/would you do?'

  23. krogerfoot said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 9:18 pm

    "Regarding 自分, in the Kansai it's used to mean 'you'. 自分はどうする?'What will/would you do?'"

    It's used this way in Kantō as well. It just means "oneself." Context does a lot of work in Japanese.

    Chris C., the answer I got to the question of when to use ore to refer to yourself was, as a non-native speaker, probably never. It presumes a fair degree of intimacy between speakers—the corresponding 2P pronoun, お前 omae, can really cause offense*—and at any rate, carries a high risk of making yourself look ridiculous. Watashi is the best bet for learners, and boku is pretty standard for foreign males in less formal circumstances.

    It's frustrating, I know, not to get a definitive answer on things like this. I don't even remember when I started using ore, but it was after years in Japan and lots of exposure to and observation of other men.

    * I think the one and only time I used omae to someone's face was to someone I thought I was about to slug, also the one and only time in my adult life I've been in that situation. (I didn't.)

  24. Tim Martin said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 10:18 pm

    I think 'ore' gets a bad rap.

    Textbooks for Japanese learners describe 'ore' like you'd have to be a macho jackass to use it; like you should be afraid to even think about it. This is despite the fact that 'ore' is a natural pronoun choice for, I would guess, a sizeable percentage of the Japanese male population. I've attended college in Japan, taught high school in Japan, and otherwise participated in Japanese society, and it seems to me that *more* boys and men use 'ore' as their most casual form of personal address than use 'boku.' Given that there are so many ways to be rude when speaking one's non-native language, it's silly that we focus so much on this one.

    I would advise a Japanese learner against using 'ore' until they had a firm grasp on when to do so, and had the ability to pronounce the word without overemphasis (which would make you sound macho or silly).

    I must admit though that I had an easy time of it – I started learning Japanese in college, and first tried out 'ore' with my Japanese friends at Kansai Gaidai University. College is a less formal setting than many, and it's a place where you can become buddies with somebody fairly easily. If I had moved to Japan as a professional, getting a feel for these things would have taken even longer.

  25. Weltanschauung said,

    December 4, 2015 @ 1:04 am

    To a grammarian, there aren't any personal pronouns in Japanese because there aren't any pronouns, not in the sense of a grammatically distinguished category. In Indo-European we are used to personal pronouns having their own peculiar inflections (I/me/my), triggering special verbal concord (I am), and most saliently in English, being exempt from rule that singular countable noun must have determiner. So of the alternatives "a guy/the author/your humble servant/I", it's clear which one is "the first-person pronoun" and which are just "noun phrases referring to the speaker".

    All the Japanese words under discussion are grammatically just nouns.

  26. krogerfoot said,

    December 4, 2015 @ 4:24 am


    Hm, it never occurred to me that the category "pronoun" had to meet criteria like you describe. Is it really the case that to have pronouns, a language must also have Indo-European features like case and so forth? I don't quite grasp the idea that Japanese just doesn't have pronouns—there certainly does seem to be a distinct category of words that serve a very similar purpose that English pronouns do in our language.

    これ/それ/あれ kore/sore/are
    "this/that/that over there"
    (viz. determiners kono/sono/ano,
    kō/sō/aa "like this/like that/like that over there"
    彼/彼女 kare/kanojo

    "Pronoun" seems like a pretty useful label for these kinds of words, doesn't it?

  27. krogerfoot said,

    December 4, 2015 @ 4:31 am

    "College is a less formal setting than many, and it's a place where you can become buddies with somebody fairly easily."

    The word "buddy" might be a good way to think about the complications of using intimate pronouns like ore when you're a foreigner. In US English, using "buddy/pal/friend" to address someone you don't know well can sound downright threatening. "You talking to me, buddy?"

  28. flow said,

    December 4, 2015 @ 6:30 am

    Two remarks, one about the periodization, one about pronouns.

    1) The table in the article has 昭和 and 戦後 as period identifiers. From context I assumed that the writers meant to include only the pre-WW2 part of Showa, i.e. 1926–1945, the time from 1945 to the present being subsumed under 戦後. At least it would seem to me that there's some association between the term 昭和 and the good / bad old days up to or including WW2, although the only thing a quick search gave me was 昭和文学, which Baidu takes to end in 1939. In case 昭和 is intended to mean both the early and the late part of the Showa years (1926–1989), then the label 戦後 would be quite awkward; one should expect 平成 Heisei or similar in its place. Linguistically, 1945 also seems to make more sense as a line between "now" and "then" than 1989. I really like the table in the article because it slices up the past so neatly and memorably, but of course it's probably also a bit over-simplified.

    2) @Weltanschauung—From a German / English / French… speaker's standpoint I must agree. In these languages, pronouns form a small and pretty closed class of words; when learning Japanese, it should be made clear that in Japanese, the closest equivalents are neither a very small nor a very closed class of words. Whether one wants to classify Japanese 'watashi', 'kanojo', 'wareware' etc as 'pronouns' or as 'class X words' is in IMHO something that can only be meaningfully answered in the broader context of a grammatical description of the language. Since Japanese verbs as such don't indicate grammatical person, it's also hard to say whether a switch from "boku wa…" ('I', at work) to "chichi wa…" ('I' lit. 'daddy', talking to the offspring at home) entails a grammatical switch from 1st p to 3rd p—maybe there's no such distinction in Japanese at all!

  29. Bathrobe said,

    December 4, 2015 @ 7:33 am

    "chichi wa…"

    — maybe "otōsan wa…" or "papa wa…" would be more natural.

  30. flow said,

    December 4, 2015 @ 8:18 am

    @Bathrobe—yeah I was guessing at that one; would a father use 'otousan' or 'chichi' as a '3rd person self-reference'? The mother 'haha' or 'okaasan'? Anyway the idea is that where a Westener might expect to use a single equivalent to 'I', there is no single right way to refer to oneself in Japanese.

  31. V said,

    December 4, 2015 @ 9:35 am

    To those pointing out that "ware" and "wa"(gakuni, etc) are still around, note that the chart is talking about 話し言葉 (hanashikotoba, "spoken language"). Ware and wa(ga) are not productively used outside of writing and other "composed" settings like speeches and song lyrics that don't really count as natural spoken language.

  32. Eidolon said,

    December 4, 2015 @ 1:49 pm

    "This leads me to conjecture that ǎn / ore 俺 ("I") may derive from the language of a northern group such as the Koreans, the Khitans, the Jurchens, or the Mongols who were internationally active during this period (perhaps in order of decreasing likelihood)."

    I find this order perplexing, and want to see an explanation. The Koreans were not very internationally active during the Goryeo period. They were divided from China by the Khitans/Jurchens, and had no opportunity to directly interact with Chinese populations, and so are not the best candidates compared to the Khitans, Jurchens, and Mongols, all of whom actually ruled regions in China. There was an opportunity for Koreans to spread such a term through the Mongols, as the Mongols found certain aspects of Korean culture attractive, but that'd have been a late 13th century/14th century derivation, and in any case still does not explain why we'd look for this term among the Koreans as opposed to the actual Mongols.

  33. Eidolon said,

    December 4, 2015 @ 2:22 pm

    To further elaborate a bit:

    Tungusic first person pronouns: bi; bue; mü-n;
    Mongolic first person pronouns: bi; min-; ba; man-;

    The mü-n, min-, and man- are possible cognate pairs with ǎn. Of the two, Mongolic is closest, but we are ignoring now extinct languages such as Khitan, Xianbei, etc. That is where I'd look, as these peoples have long lived in and around northern China.

  34. Victor Mair said,

    December 4, 2015 @ 3:06 pm


    I mistakenly put Koreans at the beginning of the list; meant to put them at the end — was thinking of them as a bridge to Japan, not a linguistic source.

    Thanks for pointing that out.

  35. Chris C. said,

    December 4, 2015 @ 7:37 pm

    Many thanks to those who responded to my question.

    I must admit — one reason I asked is because I had been watching subtitled clips from Hokuto no Ken on YouTube, and I noticed Kenshiro always referred to himself with ore. Which he was unquestionably macho enough to do in every situation, but it made me wonder about the parameters of how the various 1st person pronouns should be used.

  36. Matt said,

    December 4, 2015 @ 9:21 pm

    Just to tie up a thread, parents (at least in Tokyo, speaking more or less standard Japanese) would invariably prefer "otōsan" or "okaasan" to "chichi" or "haha". The reason is that it's not a "third-person" reference so much as an "interlocutor-centric" reference: they use the word that the person they are talking to would use to refer to them. Same logic as "boku". And if you think about it, this flows naturally from not having any sign of person in the grammar or syntax. It only seems strange if you insist on translating the words involved as actual genuine pronouns.

    Anyway, kids don't call their parents "chichi" or "haha", so parents don't use those as para-pronouns either. (Well, some rich kids might call their father "chichiue" 父上 or something if media depictions are to be trusted, but this would be well out of the mainstream in any case.)

    ("Chichi" or "haha" are more like regular nouns: you can use them to say sentences like "My father is…" or "I'm X's mother" to a non-family member, but it's weird to use them in sentences like "Hey, Mom, can you…" or "Daddy has to cook dinner now". Note that the latter is very close to Japanese usage!)

  37. Tim Martin said,

    December 4, 2015 @ 9:34 pm

    No worries, Chris.

    I do just have to make one more comment, in case you don't already know: don't use anime to learn anything about how to use politeness levels in Japanese. It's complete fantasy. The writers want to quickly establish a "character", and they do this by giving each character a special way that they talk, no matter what.

    Real people don't use the same pronouns/sentence endings all the time; they modify them in response to the situation, just like I'm talking to you differently than I would talk to my boss. Again, you absolutely cannot learn these rules from anime – they aren't followed at all.

  38. Guy said,

    December 7, 2015 @ 2:05 pm


    The category of Japanese words commonly called "pronouns" is a useful and important classification to make, and "pronoun" is a reasonable label for that category, but I can understand why some people think labeling them "pronouns" is misleading. It's not about lacking specific Indo-European features like case (which isn't really unique to pronouns in most Indo-European languages anyway), it's just that Japanese pronouns don't form a syntactically distinct category of words. Syntactically, they're the same as ordinary nouns. The distinction is really mostly a semantic one, like the distinction between agentive and non-agentive verbs, as opposed to, say, the distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs, which is syntactic. Someone who thinks the label "pronoun" suggests that they form a syntactically distinct class as the words called "pronouns" do in many languages might prefer some other label, such as "deictic nouns", to refer to them.

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