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Pronoun compression

So, you'd think languages would tend to shorten the length of commonly used words. And in English, all pronouns are short. 'our' is arguably two syllables. 'theirs' is one syllable though a lot of phonemes. But I, you, though, we, your, ... all short.

Spanish too, mostly: yo, tu, el, ella. (But, nosotros). Even though inflections mean you often don't need them.

In Japanese, not so much. Of the truly excessive list of pronouns, I think all are 2+ syllables. Of the standard ones, watashi (I) and anata (you) are both three. Some informal ones are two (ore, boku). A standard really formal one is four (watakushi, I). And if you want to indicate possession, that needs another syllable, e.g. 'watashi no' for 'my'.

But, apparently, pronouns aren't used as much in Japanese. Raising a chicken and egg question: are they dropped because they're long, or are they long because they're easily dropped? At any rate, all I read says Japanese is good at dropping parts of its syntax in favor of context (more so than other languages?) so don't need to say 'I' if you're obviously talking about yourself.

Also, simply using 'anata' is often rude, and it's more proper to use people's names. And some girls trying to be cutesy will instead of using watashi, or the cutesy variant atashi, use their own names, like "Mariko-chan is hungry" instead of "I am hungry".

Which seems like a lot of work! Except... the pronouns *are* long, I realize, so the opportunity cost is a lot less. Personal names are typically 2-3 syllables, family names commonly 3-4 syllables, add a standard honorific and we're talking 3-5 syllables. Given that the alternatives are generally three syllables themselves, using the name might not take any more time. Or it might take 5 syllables to 3 -- Nakajima-san vs. anata -- but I don't know how our brains process that. Is it just as bad as using 3 for 1, two extra syllables, or is it "only 67% longer" vs. "three times longer"?

And for the cutesy usage, well, not only are personal names shorter than family names on average, they can be further truncated, especially if you're being cutesy. One manga Mariko I know of is Mari-chan (or -tan, or -chin) to her friends, and presumably if she were the sort of girl to refer to herself in the third person she'd use those forms too. No longer than atashi, then.

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Damien Sullivan
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