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A question

ninjacatman

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Hi all,
I was wondering, does Japanese have a separate word for he she and it?
In Chinese they have a character for each, but in spoken Chinese they are
the same word, see; until the early 60s, Chinese only had one pronoun
(plurals were made by adding 'men', or by the context), spoken AND writing.
In the early 60s, there was a Women's Rights movement in China, and they
demanded that 'she' be added to the Chinese language, because the word
'ta', although it could be used for both sexes implied that the subject was
male. Thus two Chinese characters were added to the language, one for
she and one for it; they both still had the same pronunciation as he though.
I know Japanese also uses Chinese characters, but does spoken Japanese
have separate words for he she and it?
 

Mikawa Ossan

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The short answer is yes.

The long answer is that it's not quite that simple in Japanese, because pronouns in Japanese work a little differently than they do in English. (Sorry, I don't know nearly enough about Chinese to make a statement about it.)

The pronoun for "she", "kanojo", does mean "she", of course, but it also means "girlfriend". Because of this, you can not use the pronoun in many of the same instances you would use "she" in English.

Also, "it" technically doesn't have a counterpart in Japanese, but many people will use "sore" when translating, as it is the closest thing to "it". However, "sore" actually is closer in meaning to "that".

Japanese does not use pronouns nearly as much as English does, due to at least for structural reasons and reasons of omission.
 

grapefruit

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Interesting topic. In the same way the third person pronouns develop in modern Chinese, Japanese did not have a third person pronoun until translations of western text became popular in modern Japan. The Japanese equivalents of kare (he) and kanjo (she) are considered are common in writing, but they are rarely used as personal pronouns in English.

Dictionaries surely list kare and kanojo as pronouns but in reality their use is limited. Most often, Japanese opts for dropping the subject to refer to a person.

In English, "he" in the second sentence "John likes coffee. He goes to Starbucks every day" refers to John. So, personal pronouns refer to a person or object that is clear from the context.

In Japanese, instead of using "kare" the subject of the second sentence would be dropped. "John wa coffee ga suki. Mainchi, Starbucks ni iku."

In this way, Japanese often does not use third person pronouns. Also, another way is to use "this person" and "that person" to refer to the person. Chinese uses this strategy as well. Instead of saying "ta", "zhege ren 这个人" and "nage ren 那个人" are more often used in Chinese too.

I believe the commonly know concept of "personal pronoun" might be a result of western linguistic tradition. Since European languages commonly have pronouns, the normal mode of thinking is to find similar things in other languages and call them pronouns. In my opinion, Japanese and Thai have too many "pronouns" to consider than as "pronouns". If you list how many first pronouns Japanese has, they are surely different from what people usually imagine for "pronouns".
Japanese 1st pronoun: watashi, ore, boku, atashi, jibun, watakush, uchi, etc..
Also second pronouns are not often used in Japanese as well. Instead, person's name is more often used.

Anyway, the use of pronouns in Japanese is a fascinating topic.👍
 

ninjacatman

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Thank you both, especially you grapefruit, this is very interesting, I also noticed that
in Japanese (at least in anime) 'you' is sometimes replaced by the second person's
name, and likewise, some times people speaking in the first person use their name in
stead of I or me (assuming Japanese has more then one word for 'I' that is; Chinese
doesn't)

Also it is true what you said about Chinese, but you should be careful,
because nage ren, and zhige ren, except for when joking or when the
person you are talking about isn't present, this term can sometimes be somewhat rude. Although I am American, I spent half my life in China (10 years over there, and I am 20), if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask (;
 
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Booberry

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I'm only in a beginning Japanese language class but I've found that the use of the word "you" (anata) is avoided whenever possible in Japanese as it is deemed to be somewhat impolite. They have a few methods of doing this. One is addressing a person by their name, which you have keenly noticed. Another is to put "o" in front of a word. For example: o-namae wa (your name). From what I understand, pronouns are used only if it is necessary to make clear who is being talked about. Again, I'm only a beginner but I believe this is correct.☝
 

ninjacatman

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I think you are correct, although I understand FAR less Japanese then you,
I already have some prier knowledge about Asian languages, also I've noticed
the same thing from what little I did understand. In Chinese, using pronouns
is fine. Sometimes they can be dropped if it is already clear who you are talking
to/about. Like in of ni qu bu qu (will you go?)((actually it's literally
you go no go?)) 'ni'(you) can be often be dropped if
it is obvious from context who you are talking to.

I noticed that 'o' can make things more polite, I heard that some things in
Japanese are said different by men then by women, like I heard that a
woman should never say 'sake'; instead they should say o'sake is this
true?
 
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Chidoriashi

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Actually I was taught the same thing about pronouns not being used in Japanese, but in my opinion they are used much more often than i was lead to believe. So don't feel as though they are something to be ignored in your Japanese language education. It is true that they are not used as liberally as they are in English, but they are in fact used. So don't pass them off as unnecessary.

And my little tip..
You will see kare, and kanojyo used lots of times when someone is talking about someone else to you that you may not have a personal relationship with or know very well. At least that is my experience.
 
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