(I hope this question is just a sanity check but these things are sometimes worth asking.)

On p31 of the Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar, Makino tells us that anaphoric personal pronouns are limited to the third person (彼, 彼ら etc), and would therefore exclude 私 etc.

Is this an over-generalisation (rather like his explanation of how かい is used in the "Basic dictionary", discussed in another recent question)?

  • He may just think あの人 etc. are not a pronoun. Speaking of A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar, I find it not accurate for them to teach what is not standard Japanese (i.e. gender-specific speech) as if it's naturally the standard.
    – user4092
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 6:50
  • @user4092: My mistake, now corrected. I should have said anaphoric personal pronouns. (He recognises the use of demonstrative pronouns, although I am not how to classify あの人 - possibly both demonstrative and personal?)
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 7:26
  • I may be wrong, but I think “I” and “you” can't be anaphoric by nature.
    – Yang Muye
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 8:04
  • Possibly. The case I had in mind was when "the anaphoric noun..appears with a relative clause that reiterates identifying information about the referent mentioned earlier" - I am quoting from the same book - in narrative involving yourself you might use 私 with a relative clause, similar to the expressions in your answer yesterday eg 天才美少女であるこのアタシが教えて...<- this was speech but it might be used (without the この?)in a narrative(?) I might be able to come up with better example later.
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 8:32
  • I think when you use 私 or あなた, they are not anaphoric, because their referents are not determined by the context. I think このあたし, 天才美少女のアタシ, この天才美少女のアタシ, 天才美少女のこのあたし or even この天才美少女 may refer to “me”. Japanese allows personal pronouns to be modified.
    – Yang Muye
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 9:12

1 Answer 1


Over on Linguistics.SE, there's a question about the difference between deixis and anaphora:

The linguist John Lawler posted a short comment there with a simple explanation. It's short, but in this case I think it tells you just about everything you need to know:

Very simple distinction: First and Second Person are Deixis, Third Person is Anaphora.

It makes sense, right? When I say him or her, I'm usually referring back to someone I've already mentioned:

I'm looking for Jane. Have you seen Her?

But when I say you or me, I'm usually not referring back to anything that was previously said. Instead, you figure out what these words mean from context, deictically:

Hey there, my name's Snailboat! Would you like to buy a vacuum cleaner?

This applies to Japanese just as well. 私 and あなた and so forth typically have deictic reference, not anaphoric.

It does seem slightly strange that Makino et al. didn't take the time to explain this. But if you look, their top-level classification is into "personal pronouns" and "demonstrative pronouns". Then they explicitly define the subclass of "anaphoric personal pronouns". I don't know why they didn't go on to talk about deixis as well—I think it would have been clearer if they had.

Of course, the explanation above is slightly oversimplified. It's possible to use a third-person pronoun deictically. I could specify who she is by pointing ("Hey, what's she doing here?"). But generally speaking the distinction in John Lawler's comment holds.

  • 1
    I suspect Makino actually means personal rather than impersonal. In Chinese, when the third person pronoun is used as the subject, it cannot refer to inanimate things. But when it it used as the object, it can refer to animate and inanimate things.
    – Yang Muye
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 14:36

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