Great Gthulhu in Pronoun Trouble!

I knew that the Shūkan Bunshun would come up with something good for the "poison-flavored gyoza" story, and they didn't disappoint: 恐怖の餃子, "gyoza of terror". Terror! This certainly explains the middle-aged woman I found babbling and writhing on the linoleum before the supermarket freezer the other day -- not to mention the hideous croaking from underneath the carton of unpasteurized milk in her basket! Oh, God! From what black wells of inconceivable spice or flavoring, from what unplumbed gulfs of extra-culinary consciousness or obscure, long-latent cuisine were those half-articulate thunder-croakings drawn? What madman dared write the preparation instructions on that inhuman package of spaghetti, and in what blasphemous, bubbling tongue?! Oh, wait, that's just Italian.

(Interesting side-effect of the gyoza scare: through-the-roof sales of gyoza-making devices. Pace the fact that the only "device" you really need to make gyoza, given that you have the filling and the pastry prepared, is two opposable digits, the psychology behind this intrigues me. "All this talk of poison gyoza is making me hungry... for gyoza! But not the poisonous kind." Or maybe it's just far-sighted survivalists, equipping their bunkers for the coming Gyozacalpyse?)

So anyway, on an entirely different page in SB I came across this:


... even as the lenses of all the other [magazine-publishing] companies turned towards [sumo-wrestler] Asashōryū, we stayed faithful and continued our pursuit of MIYAZAKI Aoi-chan (22 [years old]).

Ignore the creepy stalkerisms, which are after all not unique to the Bunshun, and focus on the word 小誌, shōshi, bolded above. It literally means "small magazine", and it is a humble way for the magazine to refer to itself, which is why it corresponds to we in my translation.

You've probably heard that in Japanese you refer to the company you work for as 弊社 (heisha, "[my/our] wretched company") but other firms as 御社 (onsha, "[your] honorable company"). This is a similar concept, but for magazines.*

Now, whether you can call words like watashi and anata personal pronouns or not is an oft-discussed issue. It might seem from that thread that the discussion is settled, but, for example, the Kōjien is happy enough to mark such words "代", short for "代名詞", which means "pronoun".

I'm not going to get into the issue itself here. Instead, I'm going to pose this question:

If you are willing to call watashi a pronoun, is it possible to put together a logical position that excludes shōshi -- the "first-magazine singular", if you like -- from that class?

* The "small" (小) is figurative rather than literal; it turns up in similar words like 小生, shōsei ("small life"), which means "me" and is used only by men in certain formal written contexts. (Back)

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Vilhelm S:


Or did you want a more complete discussion than that? :)

Anyway, I think the real question is, why would you want to? One of the things that reliably gets learners of Japanese excited is the wealth of personal pronouns, so surely more is better!

(And if the 代 mark means anything at all, it must refer to the semantics of the word, so tagging 小誌 in the same way would be helpful to a user of the dictionary. Do they?)

Vilhelm S:

Oh, and I loved your Gyoza commentary, by the way. :) Your first paragraph made me laugh.


Well, this is so obvious Chinese borrowing to elevate others and humble oneself in naming.

Incidentially, would 弊社 be a ratioanlised form of 敝社? As a Chinese speaker, I find 弊社 to be a rather hilarious phrase because of the connotations of 弊 as in wretched, but 弊 came from 敝 etymologically anyway. It worth mentioning that back at the old days of manuscripts, you literally write smaller characters while referring to yourself, so perhaps the 小 can be literal as well. :)


Vilhem: I agree, I say if there's a personal pronoun class in Japan then this belongs in it, but I can imagine some resistance on the grounds that it's kind of silly because magazines aren't people. (Or possibly other grounds -- I don't know what exact definitin of "personal pronoun" linguists use, if any.)

And no, the Kojien doesn't mark it 代! Therein lies the mystery.

28481k: I didn't know that about the small characters -- that's very interesting! Can you link to an example online?

Yeah, my dictionary says that 弊 is just 敝 plus a dog (犬) to emphasize the wretchedness. I've never seen 弊社 written with any other character, though, and since AFAIK the word 会社 was invented in Japan a couple centuries ago to translate certain Dutch concepts, it hasn't had much time to change.


I'm not sure I'd call it a *logical* position, but the Kojien's pragmatic position may be that 小誌 isn't a pronoun but an adj.+noun construction: "this magazine", "our magazine", rather than "we". It can't stand in for a noun -which is what a pronoun is supposed to do -as it contains the noun in question. But this is just a guess as to the thought processes of the editors, not a firm rejection of the pronominality of 小誌.
It would be interesting to know how the Kojien marks 弊社 and 御社, for comparison, but copies of it are not easy to find here in Saskatoon.

language hat:

Gthulhu? A cousin, perhaps?


Yeah, he takes care of the gyoza. (And the "c" in "Cthulhu" stands for... cetaceans!)

Pastrick: That is one way to explain it. 御社 and 弊社 are both unmarked like all the other nouns, as it happens..


Sorry for the belatedly late reply, but I found the following example here.

You can see that the 弟 character which is used to refer himself there is squashed to the right of the invisible midline.

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