Take the 2-minute tour ×
Japanese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Another sentence from Kanji in Context:

自分は偉いと思って人を見下しているとそのうち逆に他の人から見下されるようになる。 Those who think highly of themselves and look down on others will eventually themselves be looked down upon (by others).

I've been puzzling over the choice to put は (instead of が) after 自分. It's the only は in the sentence and presumably marks the topic. Actually I find the topic itself unclear, if this was meant as a warning the topic could well be the listener, or this could just be a general observation of people.

What bothers me most is the usage of は in a subordinate clause (of 思う) and nowhere else. Is this a sort of shorthand for not stating the topic explicitly? i.e. could this be reworded as 人は自分がえらいと思って etc?

share|improve this question
1  
I've felt it easier to think of 「自分」 as being equivalent to English's "one", the indefinite third-person pronoun. –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Aug 22 '13 at 4:08
1  
In the provided Japanese sentence, it's easier to take it as 「自分は偉い」、と思って... thus it's a sentence. 「俺は偉い」「彼は偉い」 and then you can replace the pronouns with 「自分」. If you say 自分が偉いと思って... people will probably think that you are talking about 'the kind of person who thinks only himself is great' –  Greek Fellows Aug 22 '13 at 15:18
    
I've read that contrastive は can't appear in subordinate clauses, but that non-contrastive は can appear in a few circumstances ("in argument clauses headed by verbs like sinziteiru 'believe', as in (37), and others that arguably subcategorize for speech acts, such as embedded interrogative clauses, as in (38)" - The Expression of Information Structure, p.202, The Information Structure of Japanese). I'll type up the examples, too: (37) is "John-wa [kono hon-wa Mary ga yonda to] sinziteiru.", and (38) is "John-wa [kono hon-wa Mary ga yonda kadooka] siritagatteiru." –  snailboat Aug 23 '13 at 2:44
add comment

1 Answer

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I agree with you that が sounds better in this case.

I think what is going on here is some direct/indirect quote confusion, i.e. a mix of 「私は偉い」と思って and 自分が偉いと思って.

Direct and indirect quotes are less syntactically distinguishable in Japanese than, say, English, so I'm guessing that this sort of thing is more likely to happen. As mentioned, I prefer the が too, but might not notice the は in passing.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.