East Asian Writing Systems

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Ore/boku/kimi etc.

Japanese has a variety of personal pronouns, rather more than are found in English. For 'I', for instance, Japanese has pronouns like watakushi, watashi, atashi, washi, boku, ore, and uchi, each with a distinctive usage.

Watakushi is quite formal
Watashi is less formal and feminine in feeling
Atashi is feminine
Atai is feminine, juvenile, and more stereotyped than actually used
Washi is typical of old men in regional areas
Boku is an informal term broadly used by men from childhood right through to old age
Ore is a rough male usage,
Uchi means 'inside' or 'home'. It was originally used where a person was talking on behalf of their family, company, etc.

These can be made plural by the addition of -domo or -tachi for more formal terms and -ra for more informal terms, thus watakushi-domo or watakushi-tachi, washi-ra, boku-ra, ore-ra, etc.

The same goes for the second person ('you') and third person ('he / she / it / they') pronouns.

Many of these pronouns are supposed to be written in Chinese characters. Watashi is , boku is , ore is , kimi is .

Thus it is interesting to find that many signs and advertisements in public places use katakana for such pronouns, as can be seen from the following examples.

Yoku tobu boku wa, JAL kaado
I who fly often, [use] JAL card

Ore, Nibea de sōkai sheebu
I get a refreshing shave with Nivea

Chotto waru na ore
Just a little bit bad ol' me

Nanako-san natsu-yasumi-chū no tame, uchi-ra Nama-Cha Pandaazu ga kōkoku shimasu.
Because Nanako is on summer holidays, we the Nama-cha Pandas will do the advertising.
Kimi wa Ajia saidai-kyū no kyōryū wo hakken dekiru?
Can you discover the largest dinosaurs in Asia?

Kono natsu, 83-shurui no Pokemon-tachi ga kimi o matte iru!!
This summer, 83 types of Pokemon are waiting for you!!

It is interesting to speculate on the reason for this practice. It may be related to the Japanese tendency to use hiragana rather than Chinese characters (kanji) for function words. This is especially the case since the characters in question have particular meanings. The character means 'servant', the character means 'master', etc. Using kana leaves these specific meanings behind. For advertising, in particular, such meanings may be intrusive and avoiding characters gives an up-to-date image.

Of course, some pronouns still use kanji, especially watashi, as in the following advertisement.

Watashi wa, kirei na keetai
I like an attractive/pretty/clean mobile phone.

The following are the results of a Google search on the Internet (August 2003).


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Note that can also be read kun, which distorts the results.


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