On Wikipedia's page for Logophoricity, there is an example of that concept in Japanese.

On this Wikipedia page, sentences from Susumu Kuno's 1972 journal article Pronominalization, Reflexivization, and Direct Discourse are used as examples of when 自分 can and cannot be used.

Kuno's examples are as follows, copied verbatim from Wikipedia in full romanized glory:

11) a. Johni wa, Mary ga zibuni ni ai ni kuru hi wa, sowasowa site-iru yo.
                            meet  to come days       excited  is
   'John is excited on days when Mary comes to see him.'
b. *Johni wa, Mary ga zibuni o miru toki wa, itu mo kaoiro ga warui soo da.
                      self     see  when     always complexion bad  I hear.
   'I hear that John looks pale whenever Mary sees him.'
   (Kuno 1972: 182 (93))

The Wikipedia page notes the following about these sentences:

The sentence in 11) a. is considered grammatical because the individual being discussed (John) is aware that Mary comes to see him. Conversely, example 11) b. is ungrammatical because it is not possible for John to look pale when he is aware that Mary sees him. As such, John's awareness of the event or state being communicated in the embedded sentence determines whether or not the entire sentences is grammatical.

Well, to be honest, I don't understand the logic of this argument. In particular, I don't understand the following statement:

it is not possible for John to look pale when he is aware that Mary sees him

Why is it "not possible"? If John is scared of being seen by Mary, isn't that a normal reaction?

What is the logical reason why it's "not possible" for John to be pale here?

  • I suspect this is a grammatical issue and not a semantic one, and so the Wikipedia description may or may not be helpful.
    – Sjiveru
    Sep 29, 2018 at 18:52
  • Yeah, I basically just don't understand what they are trying to say. Sep 29, 2018 at 18:57
  • I think the argument is that John can't know when Mary is looking at him, and therefore 自分 is unnatural or impossible. The wording is ambiguous, but it feels correct. Sentence 1 seems to be inside John's head in a way that makes the use of 自分 feel natural, and Sentence 2 is not. I realize I'm dangerously close to answering in the comments, but I'm not a native speaker and am really going off a gut feeling here.
    – mamster
    Sep 29, 2018 at 23:26
  • The way it says "when he is aware that Mary sees him" sounds like it might be happening in his head anyways Sep 29, 2018 at 23:32

1 Answer 1


Who 自分 indicates depends on whose perspective the part is expressed from. (Sorry, this is probably wrong.)

The sentence b is fine if Mary seeing is depicted in John's perspective and (edit) he knows that he looks pale. In this case, he is an informer himself anyway, if not necessarily the final one. (Now that you mention it, it's only practically possible because the sentence structure is hearsay, unless you have a perspective like the author of a novel to his character.)

When it's depicted in someone else's perspective other than John, 自分 indicates the "someone else" (including Mary).

When John is not aware of it, it's obviously not a depiction in John's perspective. So, you can't use 自分 to indicate John.

Revised: However, you can say ジョンは自分が見られているときは顔色悪い. In this sentence, 自分 can be either John or the speaker. Likewise, 自分 as in ジョンはマリーが自分を見るときは顔色が悪いそうだ can be either Mary or the informer.

In conclusion, the example 11b is not possible unless John himself is the informer. When John is not aware of the situation, he can't be the informer, thus, you can't use it.

it is not possible for John to look pale when he is aware that Mary sees him

I think it's trying to say that John can't see his own face when he sees Mary see him in his perspective.


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