I have frequently seen 選ばれし者 used as a translation for the English phrase "The Chosen One". I know that し is the 連体形 of the auxiliary verb き which, quoting from デジタル大辞泉, is used when expressing things in the past that the speaker has personally experienced (直接経験を回想的に表す) or when remembering the past that has definitely happened (確実な過去の事実を回想する).

However, in English, the phrase "The Chosen One" is often used as as a conjecture. Here are some examples (SPOILER WARNING):

  • In Star Wars, Anakin Skywalker is thought to be the "The Chosen One" mentioned in a prophecy. And yet there's certainly ambiguity if he really is the "The Chosen One" or not. There's no real moment or event where he was chosen by someone or something and no one who calls Anakin "The Chosen One" knows for sure if he is or isn't. There is just a belief that he could be it.
    • In this case, there are arguments that the "The Chosen One" isn't actually Anakin. And thus the event during which Anakin would have been chosen would have been purely hypothetical.
  • In the Harry Potter series, Harry is speculated to be "The Chosen One" by the newspapers because of the existence of prophecy whose contents are unknown. The prophecy is assumed to say that Harry is the only person who can defeat the main villain. Although in this series, there isn't much ambiguity that Harry actually was chosen by someone (by the main villain as his worthy opponent), the people calling him "The Chosen One" would not have personally experienced that event and those people would also not know with certainty that Harry was chosen as they do not know the contents of the prophecy. They at most are speculating.

Yet, in both of these cases the Japanese translation is 選ばれし者. Is there a nuance I'm missing in き that allows you to use it for speculative talk or is there a more correct way to translate "The Chosen One" in classical style Japanese?

EDIT: To make myself a little clearer, I think for example in

I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

it seems like it would sense to use 選ばれし者 because the speaker would have personally seen the event. Another example would be when one is quoting someone.

However, I feel a statement like 選ばれし者だった (the translation for "You were the Chosen One" in a famous scene in Star Wars) seems extremely illogical in Japanese. From what I've read about き is that there's no implication at all of continuation of the state. It either happened or it didn't. So, it seems extremely odd that one could change from being chosen to not being chosen.

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    I've never really thought of "the chosen one" as having a speculative meaning. Interesting question though. – user3856370 Feb 19 '19 at 22:27
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    --- SPOILERS! --- – sazarando Feb 19 '19 at 22:43
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    Just watched The Matrix again. 救世主 was used for 'The One'. I know this doesn't address your query, just thought I'd put it out there. – BJCUAI Feb 20 '19 at 4:36
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    You're saying "thought to be The Chosen One", but I think it does not mean the word "The Chosen One" itself has the meaning of "thought to be" in isolation. Or "The Chosen One" in English always means "a person who is speculated by some as being a special person"? Then how do you call someone who was undoubtedly chosen? – naruto Feb 20 '19 at 4:52
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    I think I share @naruto's feeling towards this. Isn't the speculative nature stated above about if he is the Chosen One or not, rather than the status of the Chosen One itself? E.g. "He is thought to be the tallest human in the world" is speculative, but there's no ambiguity in "the tallest human in the world", right? – Yosh Feb 20 '19 at 10:53

I think the English and Japanese are the same linguistically. They can both be embedded in speculative or negative contexts without issue:

However, he wasn’t the chosen one.

He was supposed to have been the chosen one...

Is he really the chosen one?

Someone likely to be the chosen one appeared

Only the chosen one can open this gate

I think your Q is possibly also trying to make a point that in English it’s more common to use the expression in negative or speculative contexts than normal positive contexts, which I think I can see. But even there, I don’t think the distribution of usage is particularly different in Japanese, and even if it was, that’d be saying more about the tropes used in Japanese fiction than the word itself IMO.

BTW, it’s very common for modern usages of historical grammar to have different meanings, nuances and distributions than they originally did. In modern Japanese, I’d say the main differences between 選ばれし者 and 選ばれた者 are that the former 1. sounds more grandoise, 2. feels more like a single unit/noun 3. gives the impression that they are Chosen by some higher authority (god, etc) as opposed to chosen by a normal person/process. In those senses, it seems to map pretty well to the English.

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  • So I added a bit more to my question, but I was also interested in there was a more appropriate classical Japanese form instead of き・し. It does seem likely that 選ばれし者 is just being used as a pure replacement of 選ばれた者, the latter of which I would have no problems with at all. – Ringil Feb 20 '19 at 21:26
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    I think I’d recommend splitting out that question into one purely about actual classical Japanese (as opposed to its vestiges in modern Japanese). I don’t feel particularly qualified to give an answer on it myself. – Darius Jahandarie Feb 20 '19 at 21:36
  • Also, I wouldn’t go as far as saying 選ばれし者 is a “pure replacement” of 選ばれた者, I do think it’s slightly different (in the desirable direction for the usage in fiction being discussed here). – Darius Jahandarie Feb 20 '19 at 21:37

At first I was thinking that the 「し」in「選ばれ者」was not a form of(助動詞)「き」, but was rather the 副助詞「し」...

However, I've been looking at examples for this (副助詞)「し」and I haven't been able to find any where the following word is a noun, so I'm sure my initial idea was mistaken and you are correct that this し is the noun-modifying 連体形 conjugation of(助動詞)「き」.

There is an interesting comment on this particular phrase that might be relevant to your question in the Wikipedia article on 完了形:

現代の擬古的表現「選ばれし者よ」などは、文語体の過去と完了の区別を知らないために 生じたもので、「過去に選ばれ、現在もその結果が継続している」という意味では「選ば れたる者よ」というのが正しい。


There is also a related answer here:

Grammar of (verb)し(noun) such as in 選ばれし者

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