Today, zero-person perspective and related subjects (or topics, or verbs) will be learned.
Learned by who? Well, that’s exactly the question, isn’t it.
First, an example. A silly 2ch story was once found that started off like this:
Girl: “Who likes?”
Girl: “And who is being liked?”
Girl: “Who is “you”?”
Guy: “The person standing in front of me!”
Girl: “Who would that be?”
Guy: “The only other person here but me!”
Girl: “Okay. What about me?”
The girl is being purposefully stubborn, of course; if what the guy said was said to any ordinary person, it would be easily assumed “I like you!” was intended. But nothing to the effect of “I” or “you” is said, because those parts are obvious in context.
In fact, if the guy had explicitly said “*I* like *you*!”, native Japanese speakers would probably consider it strange. Usually those words wouldn’t be included if they weren’t necessary for clarity.
But English is different, of course. As can be seen, quite the opposite: things like “I” have to be said all the time, or everything is in passive voice, which can read rather awkwardly. (In the original version of this lesson, before it was realized it could be written this way, words were taken right out of active voice sentences, and that was really weird.)
This causes some who learn Japanese to want to start everything with “watashi wa” (or whatever pronoun), but nah. That oneself is being talked about is known. (By the people being talked to.) There’s no need to be constantly reminding. Similarly, “anata (etc.) wa” is often unnecessary when the fact the person being talked to is being talked about is clear.
Furthermore, what was done up there - specifying the topic/subject after a sentence - is sort of done in Japanese too. Usually it’s something like a sentence is said, then it is realized the meaning could be unclear and something is added onto the end. Or sometimes it just sounds cooler that way. Sentence structure is pretty freeform if the right particles are used, so it’s not a big deal.
So what zero-person perspective actually is, then, is this thing of leaving out all words like “I,” “we,” “you” which define first/second/third-person perspective. The other way this can be done in English, aside from the use of passive voice here, is the use of “one” (“One likes!” “Likes who?” “One can’t believe this is happening again.”), but it’s a bit lame and isn’t really the same.
Japanese won’t stop there, though. While it was decided not to attempt doing it in this post for the sake of clarity, if it had gone all the way in trying to mimic Japanese’s omission of words, quite a few “it”s would have been removed. Yes, it may have been guessed: the subject can be left out too. If, again, the context is considered obvious.
Hmm, it is thought this might be going somewhere…
What else is there to leave out? How about the verb? “Sore wo” is just an object and the object particle, but it’s usually going to be understood to mean something like “give me that.”
There are all manner of situations where the verb might be considered omittable, one of which simply being if the verb was previously mentioned in the conversation - if “What do (you) want to buy?” is asked, the reply really need not include “want to buy.”
And it was already totally expected, but the object doesn’t have to be there either. “Tabemasu” is just a verb, but it’s considered a sentence, and it is going to be assumed who is eating what and it is going to be liked. (The assumption, at least - the stuff being eaten might taste gross.)
This all adds up to needing to pay close attention in, say, translation, so it’s known what these “obvious assumptions” are meant to be. There is a state of being welcome.
Wait, this lesson isn’t over yet?! The subject, object, and verb were all removed! Let it be guessed, the only proper way to say “I love you” in Japanese is to stare longingly at someone in silence?! (It might be.)
No, there was just a desire to say that all this potential for ambiguity in the language can make it rather simple for any mention of gender to be avoided. It’s somewhat more of a subject for negavghime’s Japanese Lesson #623, but while there are words for “he” and “she,” a person need not be referred to by those in narration; their name could be used to refer to them all the time and it wouldn’t be considered that weird.
Since the capability to gloss over the topic exists on top of that, there are far less occasions than English where such references “need” to be done. Thus, many pronouns will be added in translation where they were originally absent - and as it may be known, there are situations where care needs to be taken there.
Ways of speaking that are assumed to be more masculine or feminine won’t be gotten into here, but “koitsu” and the like will be talked about. “Koitsu” can be said to mean “this guy/one,” or “aitsu” to mean “that guy/one.” (“Kono ko” and “ano ko” are very similar to these.)
The thing is, it’s usually really awkward to simply translate them as “this one” or “that one,” because they typically appear where he/she/they/etc. would be used in English. Which is usually no big deal. But what if, particularly with “ano ko” or “aitsu,” it’s meant to be very vague who is actually being referred to, gender and all?
Again, there is a state of being welcome. Somewhere. Hopefully.
Finally, the end has been reached. Hope is had that it was understood, and there was something learned…