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:
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.
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.