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NATLANG: Japanese personal pronouns was Re: QUESTION: types ofplurals, few/many

From:Nik Taylor <fortytwo@...>
Date:Friday, June 21, 2002, 0:35
Tim May wrote:
> I was reading about this recently. Have you ever read Takao Suzuki's > _Words in Context_ (previously published (in abridged translation) as > _Japanese and the Japanese: Words in Culture_, originally _Kotoba to > Bunka_)? It has a section comparing Japanese and Indo-European > personal pronouns, and suggests that it may be misleading to > categorize the former as personal pronouns at all, so great are the > differences.
I read that, however, I don't *completely* agree with his conclusion. I'd say that it's fair to call them pronouns, they fill that function, and most of them can only fill a pronominal function (watakushi [not Uatakassi, as my spell checker would have it ;-)], at least, can still be used to mean "private"). I'd say that Japanese pronouns are a subclass of nouns forming an *open* class, as opposed to European langs where the pronouns are generally a closed class (altho even in European languages, you have things like Spanish _vuestra merced_ -> _usted_, where a new pronoun was formed, or colloquial English "y'all", "you guys", etc. which are also relatively new pronouns).
> At the time Suzuki was writing (1970s) there were no 2nd person > pronouns which could refer to the superior member of a conversation.
I get the impression that it's still that way, "anata" being used if you don't know of a more specific title to refer to the person (e.g., if they're a stranger).
> This all happened relatively recently. None of the personal pronouns > in modern Japanese existed in Old Japanese (up to around the Heian > period, I think) (at least, not as pronouns).
However, _ware_, which by itself is obsolete, but whose plural form _wareware_ is still used, uses the same kanji as the Chinese wo (I), suggesting that it was at least *a* 1st person pronoun at the time that the Japanese acquired kanji. So, that one at least is fairly old, at least in comparison to the other pronouns, possibly going back to Old Japanese. I wonder if this pronoun cycle accelerated after the Meiji Restoration? Before the point, Japan was a feudal, fairly rigid society where one's social class was pretty much fixed at birth, after that, Japanese social class became somewhat more mobile, and less certain. It would make sense that uncertainty like that would tend to accelerate the loss of politeness. -- "There's no such thing as 'cool'. Everyone's just a big dork or nerd, you just have to find people who are dorky the same way you are." - overheard ICQ: 18656696 AIM Screen-Name: NikTaylor42