First-person singular pronouns in Japanese: How do they work in conversation?
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Subjectivity-- expression of our thoughts and emotions-- is the essence of everyday conversation (e.g., Benveniste, 1971; Scheibman, 2002). Previous studies have found that subjectivity is expressed in a variety of linguistic items in a wide range of languages. First-person singular (1SG) pronouns may be one of the most fundamental linguistic items for expressing subjectivity because they directly reflect the speaker, who is the owner of subjective point of view. This dissertation explores the use of 1SG pronouns in Japanese utilizing the analysis of naturally occurring conversational data. In Japanese, personal pronouns including first person are used infrequently, especially in spoken language, and the first-person reference is often unexpressed (what is known as pronoun ellipsis). Although they may look odd or ill-formed from the perspective of languages that have rigid syntactic structures such as English, utterances with unexpressed elements can be considered to be the default' in Japanese conversation. Because of the variability of expression of 1SG pronouns, it is assumed that they add some pragmatic functions when they are explicitly expressed. Data analyses of 1SG pronouns taken from naturally occurring conversation revealed that the use is often motivated by various discourse-pragmatic functions such as expressing subjectivity, introducing a topic, and holding the floor rather than referential necessity. The speaker decides to use 1SG pronouns or not to use them in order to achieve his or her particular communicative goals. First-person singular pronouns in Japanese are a versatile linguistic item beyond so-called pronouns that simply replace nouns. This strongly suggests that 1SG pronouns are essentially different from English I, and will lead us to reconsider the categorization of 1SG pronouns in Japanese. Furthermore, the use and nonuse of 1SG pronouns in Japanese has important educational implications. In order to teach linguistic items that are not syntactically required but are used by pragmatic motivations, I suggest that educators seek more effective teaching methods based on authentic language use.