Japanese Linguistics TPR Seminar - Study of the second person pronoun anata 'you' in spoken Japanese eiscourse


Yoko Yonezawa

The aim of the proposed study is to discuss the second person pronoun anata ‘you’ in spoken Japanese. Japanese has abundant items of person references, the use of which is primarily determined by socio-cultural factors such as gender, social status, distance between the speaker and the listener and the level of formality involved. The second person pronoun anata is special in the sense that its use has been viewed in a contradictory manner in the previous studies. While its use has been claimed as ‘neutral’ or ‘polite’ in some studies, it has also been seen as ‘impolite’ in others. Expressing ‘intimacy’ in certain cases has been also depicted. Although none of these views are wrong, the nature of the mechanisms which lead to such variations in the views regarding the use of this particular word remains unclear. The analyses within previous studies have been problematic since their account relies on limited examples such as constructed sentences or written materials rather than naturally occurring conversation. In addition, they try to account for the term anata by connecting its use directly to the degree of politeness, which is incapable of accounting for counter examples.

In the proposed study, I empirically analyse various discourses and address the following issues: (i) the environments in which anata occurs in spoken Japanese, (ii) the functions and effects of the use of anata, (iii) the mechanisms behind why the use of anata has the functions and effects found in (ii), and (iv) the implications for the use of personal pronouns in general.

In this talk I will present the data analysed so far, which consists of naturally occurring conversations, parliamentary debate and so forth. I will propose a hypothesis based on the analysis, the hypothesis being that anata is an exceptional Japanese personal pronoun which does not index the relative social relationship between the conversational participants. I intend to examine this hypothesis further in fieldwork by conducting a survey of native speakers’ perceptions.

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