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I know in Japanese it's possible to refer to people by name when speaking with them, using the name instead of a pronoun. I'm trying to understand what in the sentence, if anything, makes it clear that the subject is the person spoken to, and not someone else.

Example (from Tokyo Ghoul): in this page, the first balloon reads 「—平子{ひらこ}班長書けましたか?例の…」, which means "Hirako, did you write it? What we spoke about...".

What I'm trying to understand is, what in that balloon makes it clear that that is the meaning, instead of it being "Did Hirako write it? What we spoke about..."; that is, how can I understand that Hirako is the person spoken to, and not a third person? Would it have been written in a different way, if it were to mean "Did Hirako write it?"?

That balloon is the first in the scene, so as far as I can understand there is no ulterior context (here you can find the previous page), and since the characters are out of sight we can't use that, either.

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For that line to sound natural in a situation where the listener is not Hirako himself, the listener would still have to be someone who is somehow qualified to definitely state that Hirako has manage to write something he is supposed to have, and the speaker would have to know the listener is in such a position. For example, the listener might be Hirako’s supervisor and perhaps Hirako’s ability to write a report or something is in doubt. In such a case, the speaker might ask 平子班長書けましたか meaning “Did Hirako (manage to) write it?” It’s kind of similar to asking a parent 太郎くん宿題できましたか in reference to her child’s progress with his homework.

If the listener is not in a position to give a definite answer about Hirako like that, the speaker would most probably ask about what the listener can observe from the outside in a less direct manner. For example, the speaker might ask 平子班長書けたみたいですか or 平子班長書けたんですか.

But I cannot think of a situation where this actually causes any confusion in real life because the listener would know he is the one addressed as 平子班長 unless he has forgotten his own name.

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It is easy to tell who is talking to who just by looking at the picture. Hirako is clearly in this page, so I don't think the context is missing. (This is not the first scene where Hirako appears in the series, right?)

That said, even without the picture, this sentence almost certainly means this person is talking directly to Hirako. The sentence would usually be 平子班長は書いたんスか, 平子班長は書けたんでしょうか or something if Hirako were not in the scene.

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  • Yes, Hirako already appeared in the past; the reason I said the context is missing is because - at least when I read it - I first read the circled balloon, and only after that I saw Hirako, which is clearly visible two panels later.
    – Mauro
    Jun 24 at 7:37

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