I'm trying to understand the use of Japanese quotation marks, and I'm at a loss: in other languages, inverted commas shows (1) a direct quote («He said, "That's not enough"»), a non literal meaning («He is my "friend"» - whereas he isn't really a friend), or a meta usage (i.e. using the word for its signifier and not its meaning: «I like the word "red"» - the meaning of "red" is useless and the sentence is completely clear also without knowing it).

Yet in Japanese I found 「」 used with another meaning - and I'm at a loss about what that meaning is.

I found this page on the Internet (from Tokyo Ghoul), with an example of what I'm confused about: in it, マジックテープ isn't any one of the meanings I've mentioned before, yet it is in quotation marks - and I have no idea why. On this other page there are more examples.

I thought it could be to mark emphasis, but I read this isn't the case, since 「」 in Japanese don't have that meaning. I read they mark quotation behaving as single nouns, and are used to talk about something while using it as a noun, but I wasn't able to understand, since in those example they aren't quoting someone; in Japanese sentences can behave as noun without needing quotation marks; and in cases like マジックテープ the work itself is a single noun also without quotation marks.

In the second page, 脆い isn't even a compound word (unlike マジックテープ, that at least as etimology can be read as マジック + テープ), so I don't think being formed by more words is relevant.

What's the difference between ちょっと違うが 「マジックテープ」 みたいなもんかね and ちょっと違うが マジックテープ みたいなもんかね? Or between 他の『赫子{かぐね}』に比べると 「脆い」 and 他の『赫子』に比べると 脆い?


Japanese generally doesn't have bolding or italics or u̲n̲d̲e̲r̲l̲i̲n̲i̲n̲g̲, just as typographic conventions. There is the 傍点【ぼうてん】, the dots put above (for horizontal text) or to the right (for vertical text), to indicate emphasis, such as [傍]{●}[点]{●}は[句]{●}[読]{●}[点]{●}の一種, but these are difficult to enter using a keyboard -- so the 「various」 『kinds』 〔of〕 《brackets》 instead become a good way to set off a bit of text for emphasis. Think of these perhaps as more like "air quotes" when people are speaking in English, and you'll get the idea.

  • Just to be sure, since I'm not sure how air quotes are used in English: you mean 「」 and the like are used to add emphasis like bold, but with no effect like my «He is my "friend"» example, which implies somethin else (which is how I knew air quotes); am I understanding well?
    – Mauro
    Mar 17 '21 at 23:01
  • 1
    @Mauro -- Ya, to be clearer, air quotes in speech are used to specifically emphasize a certain word or phrase. Sometimes they're also used to add a layer of sarcasm, which is not present in the Japanese use of 「quotes」. Mar 18 '21 at 0:27

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