Friday, December 11, 2009
Because Rebb made a comment on the absent of “I” in Japanese, I hope to write better response than what I wrote in the past. http://www.redroom.com/blog/keikoamano/subject-and-object
According to “Kotoba to Bunka,” I summarized what Suzuki Takao wrote as follows.
The first person singular is “I” in English, “ich” in German, and “ik” in Dutch. They look different, but they are not. In the early modern time, English “I” was written in small letter as “i,” and the pronunciation was not “ai” but “i:”. (I can’t spell the consonant here, sorry.) In the medieval period, it was pronounced with a consonant at the end. And the oldest English document shows the word as “ic” and the pronunciation is considered to be close to “ik.” So, all the first person singulars among the Germanic languages are considered to come from the same source.
And for the Romance Languages, the first person is “je” in French, “yo” in Spanish, and “io” in Italian. They are known to come from “ego” in Latin. So, “ego” in Latin, “ego” in Greek, and “ik” in the old Germanic languages, and also considering other Indo European languages, the very old type of the first person in the Indo European language must be close to “ego.”
Further, Suzuki Takao writes that this is a tremendously amazing fact. The fact is that in the Indo European languages, people spoke for many thousand years with the first person singular and consistently. In comparison, the Japanese language differs totally. I checked other quite different languages like Finnish, Hungarian, and Indonesian, but they all have the Subject- Verb-Object form.
I think it’s best to say, “The Japanese language does not have the same type of the first person singulars of the Indo European languages.” Probably last 70 or 80 years or so western-influenced authors have been increasingly using the following first person singulars, “watashi” or “boku.” Watashi(私) also means private, and boku（僕）, servant.
“Watashi” is used by both males and females, and “Boku” is usually used by males. There are more details about this, but I stop for now. So we have only about 100 year history of Japanese first person singulars. And I think this fact probably is giving non-Japanese illusion. I think knowing the difference is as important as knowing the similarities. So I couldn’t help it, but wrote it again, folks!