Lack of Pronouns in Japanese

:eyes: I guess you’re right.

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I’m just a beginner but up till now, I really like that there are no inflections for person etc. On the other hand, I’m rather shocked how overprecise my native language German is, everything has to be in the right place and unambiguous. :grin:


They do inflect for person, but that doesn’t take away potential issues in identifying the correct gender in the third person, specifically when talking about translation contexts. Grammatical gender is usually the biggest issue in referential contexts when using machine translation from (or into) English into (or from) a language that marks gender differently.

Those referential contexts can be tricky even when translating from/into languages that do differentiate gender for their personal pronouns. In French, the gender of the third person singular possessive agrees with the noun it modifies rather than the gender of the person it refers to (sa voiture can be both his or her car) and machine translation often struggles with that when the reference is embedded in a different sentence.

Both Google Translate and DeepL will translate his power and his career in this French example despite ample evidence in the second sentence (elle, favorite, toutes les joueuses) that Williams in the first sentence refers to a female player: Williams a profité de sa puissance pendant toute sa carrière pour remporter 21 titres. À près de 40 ans, elle conserve un statut de favorite contre quasi toutes les joueuses du circuit.

You’ll find similar issues when translating from English into German, which has mandatory gender assignment to nouns expressing a profession, for instance. These examples are of course a lot more technical than the Japanese ones in the video, but it goes to show that you don’t have to stray too far to find such issues.


I can’t speak for other languages, but it does seems to be to most native English speakers…

the same is true in some South Asian languages: the transitive verb’s gender depends on the object rather than the subject. So as long as you use a gender neutral pronoun, any sentence that relies on transitive verbs can be almost as ambiguous as it would be in Japanese.
Interestingly when I plugged Urdu sentences into google translate it left the pronoun as they rather than forcing he/she.

*edit: also Urdu doesn’t have gendered pronouns to begin with, so maybe google translate considered that when it translated the sentence to English


It’s a problem with all of Japanese language teaching. It’s why Cure Dolly is so refreshing.

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Heck, I fail at parsing long strings of kana. I tend to prefer kanji-rich text for that reason. If it’s just a bunch of kana with nothing to delimit it, I don’t know what might be nouns vs. idioms vs. conjugations vs. particles etc., so it leaves me not even knowing what I need to look up in order to begin understanding the sentence in many cases. Is the は or で or に in that string of kana a standalone particle or is it meant to be part of something else? I have no way or knowing, and it’s a real problem sometimes :expressionless:

but then for many people you point out that it’s unnecessary, they say “ok” and then procede as normal with 私は。。。 I mean I doubt I personally would have gotten used to it so quickly if I didn’t already speak a language that drops pronouns as well.

Besides, most people I’ve talked to it about are shocked when you tell them there’s no way of knowing who or what the speaker is talking about from the sentence itself. That’s not a teaching problem, that’s a “wow I didn’t know such a thing could even work, let alone exist” problem…

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I was talking about the exoticizing, and over complicating of the language.

It’s a problem that people sort of want it to be confusing, but Cure Dolly explains why it is logical.


This one is leagues better than Google Translate

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I actually considered running those reviews through Deepl to see what would come out…


Do it. :eyes:

That used to bother me a lot more, but then I watched more Japanese tv, which exoticizes local Japanese culture in the same way, but with less (at least I feel less) potential malice. : /

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I think this is more that different languages focus on different things. Like in Japanese, you have to consider politeness in addressing people, noun forms (sorry it’s early and I don’t remember the right word), and verb inflections as well.

I think that’s because people need to see more examples in their own language sometimes. Subjects are frequently dropped in casual American English and people rarely get confused.

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it does happen in English but it’s a lot more limited. And like you said, people aren’t aware of it.

So yeah, I can see why it shocks people. On the other hand I don’t think it’s more shocking or exotic than having “the” and “a”…(those are mad)


While it doesn’t exist in Japanese, I think “the” is used pretty commonly in the world, or at least in countries that use English, Spanish, French, or Arabic. But I agree that “a” on the other hand is pretty useless since you can just use a singular noun or “one” if you’re talking about a nonspecific object. So we don’t really need it

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Even running those reviews through Google translate itself give quite different results. Most of the review showed in the video are one year old or more and Google translate improved since then. No more puppy ramen !

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There’s a solid amount of languages that use no definite article although languages that do have one in one form or another are probably more common as this map attests (although it only features data for 620 more commonly spoken languages) with a percentage of 60.8%.

Consulting this map with data for 534 languages, only 102 (19.1%) have an indefinite article that is distinct from the word for one, although a further 24 have an indefinite affix, so your hunch wasn’t wrong.

In many cases that’s probably because the learners in question have had little exposure to other foreign languages (in the sense that they haven’t studied one beyond the intermediate level). I taught German to native speakers of English for a year and while the two languages belong to the same family and are therefore typologically close, inexperienced language learners would regularly be “shocked” by relatively small deviations from English.


My point still stands though…(and no, a lot of them have learnt more than one languages, either because they grew up in Europe, or because they’re interested, or because they got taught a bit at school).