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() marks all the personal English pronouns (I) used in writing this post

Example:

So let’s say a friend asked me in English about what (I) find the most challenging about Japanese and (I) want to explain to them:

Japanese is hard because, (you) are often not sure on 100% what (they) are talking about, unless (you) understand the context.

*Could someone please translate this bit for me into natural Japanese?

Notice how (I) used the pronouns. (I) used “you” to make it objective (not to refer to the friend) and “they” to refer to the Japanese native speakers.

I could have also perfectly said “I am often not sure” and “unless I understand”, but it would feel too personal, and sometimes (you) do not want to speak like this. (here again (I) would naturally opt for “you” to make it less direct for example).

I could have also said “one does not understand”, but sometimes that feels too wordy.

These are actually fundamental principles on which many Western languages are based. This explicitness expressed by pronouns. In japanese (you) can leave it blank, but how can (I) be sure on 100%, it won’t be understood by others as “I”, as if (I) was talking about myself, but actually I was not?

So, how does this actually work in Japanese, a non-indo-European language? What are some common ways of generalizing statements? This “you” is just one of the many (I) regularly use in English actually.

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  • Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer.
    – Community Bot
    May 27 at 22:22

2 Answers 2

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Actually, you would translate this sentence without a subject. As strange as this sounds, this is actually what I find most natural.

Japanese is hard because, (you) are often not sure on 100% what (they) are talking about, unless (you) understand the context.

日本語が難しいのは、コンテクストを知らなかったら、人の話が完全にわかるわけじゃないから。

Of course the wording will change from person to person, but you can see that without a subject this is completely say-able. As for the "they" you can simply use 人, 他の人, 他人{たにん} or 別の人.

As a side note, when I absolutely have to address someone by the second pronoun, I'd pick one of these four based on the situation and our relationship. From most respectful(to stranger or someone higher) to least disrespectful(to friends, especially when I'm scolding them).

あなた > あんた > 君 > お前

Occasionally with friends when I'm angry or joking I'd also use てめ or 貴様. It's not a hard and fast rule, but most sentences would go more natural without a pronoun.

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    The English "you" here literally refers to "any person," and so does the omitted subject here in Japanese. It's understood to be "any person."
    – dvx2718
    May 27 at 23:28
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    That's the generic "you" which occurs in many languages.
    – Eddie Kal
    May 27 at 23:31
  • Thank you for your answer. What would the sentence look like in case I wanted to direct the attention to myself? I presume I would need to include 私は? I am worried about leaving the subject out in some cases, because I feel like it might get interpreted as being about me specifically, even though I meant to use “the generic you”. The same applies to when I want to say “we”, but without a subject it could just as well be “I” sometimes. This pronoun dropping makes me worried about being misunderstood by natives and vice versa.
    – amfunny
    May 28 at 0:56
  • If you add in subject "I", then you're talking about yourself specifically. If you drop it, you're making a general statement. If you had to say 私, then you could say it like this: 私に(or 私は, or 私には)日本語が難しいのは、コンテクストを知らなかったら、人の話が完全にわかるわけじゃないから。
    – dvx2718
    May 28 at 1:16
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What are some common ways of generalizing statements?

  • You can add adverbs like 一般に and 普通 to indicate that you are generalizing something. (This is kind of similar to how you can add 'tomorrow' 'soon' to make it clear that you are talking about future even if verbs don't have grammatical future tense.)
  • You can omit the subject sometimes to the same effect, although it can be ambiguous because it's also common that the lack of a subject means the particular sentence has inherited the subject from the previous sentence (which might well be "I", "he" or whatever).
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  • The second point is exactly what I am concerned about. If I use は carefully in the beginning to mark anything other than a pronoun, would that shift the attention to that, instead of a specific person?
    – amfunny
    May 28 at 11:02
  • It depends on what the particular word before は makes you expect. Sentences starting with 日本語は often (not always!) talk about some generalization about Japanese. The same goes for 人間は. Whereas, 昨日は is more likely to be followed by some specific event that happened yesterday. May 28 at 11:41
  • Thanks, I will try to observe how the native speakers talk using this knowledge. I might post some other examples sometimes, in case I am not sure.
    – amfunny
    May 28 at 23:20

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