Can Reshaping Your Western 考え方 Help You Grammatically?

Disclaimer: I have no basis for what I’m about to propose and ask, but the thought occurred to me and probably others before me with much more precision.

So I like to ponder reasonings for why things the way they are in most things and how X can lead to Y then finally Z. So I began thinking about the differences between individualism and collectivism with individualism being more western and collectivism being more eastern. I have no references to back that claim aside from my communication courses from my college days years ago, so feel free to correct me. Anyway, keeping this in mind, language is shaped by culture immediately with word choices in the short term such as colloquial word choice–just consider the frequency people using the word meme now vs. ten years ago–and the long term with ways of speaking. So I started wondering, could putting yourself in a more collectivist mentality help when constructing Japanese sentences?

Just a couple of examples I’ve been thinking about:

  1. In English, we use the word “I” far more often than Japanese. Just in the paragraph above, I am seeing 4 instances of the word and it feels natural to qualify one’s self. Conversely, 私, from my understanding, is used only when it cannot be obviously inferred that the speaker is the subject. We only have the “understood you” which is a second-person omission, not the first-person or individual self omission.

  2. This is admittedly a very large stretch, but repetitive word usage in English can feel like a revolving door if overused. If I was talking to you about a new video game, I would use the name of it like “Zelda” and you’d probably respond by referring to it as “game” or the even further removed “that” or “it”. It’s stressed that we vary the use of words when you’re able or at least give it room to breathe. it’s as if the word belongs to the user and you need to come up with your own phrasing. Conversely, Japanese can use the same distinct word multiple times while actively seeking affirmation with ね from those talking to you. You can still exhaust the word, but it doesn’t seem so immediately exhausted through repetition. Of course, that might just be from a lack of vocabulary, but I digress.

So putting myself in more of a group-oriented thought process that focuses less on myself and more on those around me makes me want to avoid mentioning myself as much as possible and take the path of least resistance when needing something for my own benefit. I wonder how far that can be extrapolated into the language itself and if that mentality can be somehow utilized to make more sense of grammatical choices such as the usage of ましょうか and ませんか feeling more indirect than their English counterparts.

Maybe this is just me over complicating things when there is no there, there, but I am curious if thinking more collectively can help when using Japanese. Or it could be that my understanding of individualism and collectivism is fundamentally WAAAY off base.

Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Very yes. Aside from the much lesser use of personal pronouns, a great deal of Japanese grammar is about who in the sentence you most empathise with, and English doesn’t really even come close.

The giving and receiving verbs are the most obvious - in English, to say “Bob received that from me” is perfectly fine, but to say ボブは私にあれをもらった is such a weird thing to say that it’s pretty much ungrammatical - but many other verbs and grammar structures involve viewpoints.


An interesting point to think about. I believe there is some correlation between the collectivism/individualism and the grammar in each language, but I don’t necessarily think we should go so far as to think changing our own way of speaking/thinking in English will help with Japanese.

Yes, English uses a lot of “I” and other pronouns but that’s how our language is. It doesnt make the langauge all about me me me, that’s how our grammar is. We conjugate our verbs (I am, you are, she/he/it is, we are, they are). But most of the time if you omit the pronoun the sentence will sound strange on its own.

1 Like

I’d say the opposite: Japanese affected my way of thinking.

Maybe it’s due to my Japanese still having a long way to go, but I feel more acceptive of the status-quo when using Japanese, which is something my Portuguese/English side doesn’t appreciate.



The collectivist mindset in Japan’s roots definitely impacts the language, I think that’s true of any language.

  1. Personally, I just saw the emission of pronouns and other colloquialisms as a result of Japanese being one of the most inefficient languages in terms of information in each syllable. That being said, it’s foolish to say that there aren’t multiple factors. You raise a good point in regards to the collectivism having an influence on the Japanese language.
    I noticed this point when I learned the grammar pattern わけにはいかない which is used to express that you can’t do something, not because you physically can’t, but because you feel pressured (by society) to not. I remember thinking, “wow that’s so Japanese”. However, now that I’ve lived in Japan for quite some time now the only time I ever heard this was in grammar class when the teacher told us we wouldn’t really have to know it.

  2. Disclaimer: I learned spoken Japanese in what’s said to have the “peak of harshness” in regards to the Osaka dialect
    In regards to your point about word exhaustion (you might need to explain this one again, not sure if I’m missing the point entirely), you may have noticed Japanese people don’t often say “you”, when I speak Japanese, unless I know I’m friendly with someone and can banter back and forth I stick to saying names or titles. This is most likely another example of collectivism, as people are what they are (先生、店長、など)before who they are. This is seen further in Japanese’s use of family name before given name. May also be a respect things, Japanese seems to be big on that.
    The constant active seeking of affirmation can be seen in the way conversational Japanese is laden with 「相槌」(あいづち) and may be another example of that collectivist mindset. When I first started speaking Japanese to Japanese people and could start to hold a real conversation I initially found this quite distracting and if I’m honest, a little rude. Also, I found that I had to, when listening, constantly remind myself to make affirmative sounds. I did get past that eventually though.
    I can’t speak for any other languages but I know at least in English non-verbal communication plays a big role in filling the gap of not having 相槌 . It’s highly likely that there’s no language where there’s not some form of that, human beings after all, as much as we enjoy locking ourselves in our rooms are social creatures.

As a takeaway point, thinking like the Japanese will for sure help you talk like the Japanese and things that may not make sense may just require a change to a Japanese mindset or exposure to it in one way or another.
Let me know how I went, happy to continue this discussion!

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.