Native speakers' perceptions of the second person pronoun anata 'you' in Japanese




Yonezawa, Yoko

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The Society for Teaching Japanese as a Foreign Language


This study examines native speakers’ perceptions of the second person pronoun anata ‘you’ in Japanese. It uses the results of a questionnaire given to speakers of the Tokyo variety of Japanese in January, 2014.  The respondents indicated that as a regular address term, they very rarely used anata in any of the following cases: when referring to an addressee of higher status; when referring to an addressee of lower status; and when referring to an addressee of equal status. Instead, they expressed a number of perceived incongruities in the use of the term. Their perceptions included such contradictory views as ‘it is rude’ or ‘it sounds too formal’.  An analysis of these results supports the notion that the use of anata absolutely specifies a second person without indexing any social attributes of the interlocutors. It does not inherently have the property of indicating the speaker’s biographical characteristics or of indicating the degree of politeness. The study explains the mechanisms that lead to anata having such a socially inert role, which in turn allows its use to occur in limited contexts as well as to create disparate perceptions among native speakers. This also explains why anata has never been accepted as a general form of second person address even after The National Language Council of Japan defined anata as a ‘standard’ address term in the proposal Kore kara no Keigo (Honorifics From Now On) in 1952.





Nihongo Kyoiku Gakkai


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