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For example:

自分の名前が呼ばれたとき、私は自分の耳を疑った。
I couldn't believe my ears when I heard my name called.

Would it be appropriate if I said ? When is it appropriate to use 自分? What is the difference?

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Not closing (yet), but this is very close to an exact duplicate of: japanese.stackexchange.com/q/979/290 –  Dave Jan 22 '12 at 7:41
    
@Dave, I'd say there's a slight difference. The other question is about using it as a first person pronoun, this question focuses more on its hyoujungo use to refer back to the topic. But sure, there's some overlap, since it's natural to bring in some perspective. –  dainichi Jan 26 '12 at 4:24
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1 Answer

While the pronoun has its own referent, meaning I, 自分 (in the Tokyo dialect) does not have its own referent, and it means self. That is the difference.

In this case, it will be somewhat redundant if you use in place of 自分 because there will be two different instances of the pronoun referring to the same thing:

の名前が呼ばれたとき、 は自分の耳を疑った。

If you have 自分 in the adverbial-clause 自分の...とき,

自分 の名前が呼ばれたとき、 は自分の耳を疑った。

then, there will be only one instance of , and 自分 can anaphorically receive the referent from . That is more "economical" from a linguistic point of view, and is preferrable.

An analogy in English (not be taken so strict, due to the difference between the languages; in fact, there is a categorical difference) is the fact that

When John's name was called, John could not believe what he heard.

sounds somewhat redundant, and

When his name was called, John could not believe what he heard.

is preferrable.

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Thanks! I often found myself using 自分 instead of 私 in certain cases because I felt that 私 was just too redundant. Do you know if there is a cultural element to this? Or is it just used in the Tokyo dialect? –  user1087 Jan 22 '12 at 7:31
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@user1087 In the Kansai dialects, 自分 can be used as a second person pronoun, in addition to the usage mentioned here. –  sawa Jan 22 '12 at 7:47
    
@user1087 To add to the confusion, some people, mostly 体育会系 males, use it as a first person singular pronoun. –  dainichi Jan 22 '12 at 16:34
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