Friday, October 19, 2007

Why does English have a need for pronouns?

13th August, 2006
Recently, I was talking with my wife about the differences between her language (Japanese) and mine (English), and she asked me, “Why does English have the need to keep on restating pronouns?” In Japanese, once the referent is established, there is not much need to keep on using the pronouns, ‘watashi’= I, ‘anata’=you, ‘kare’ =he, ‘kanajo’=she and so on... As an English speaker in my L1 and Japanese in L2, I often find that I lose track of who or what the conversation is about when having a conversation in Japanese, because of the lack of pronouns. My wife often says that the English use of pronouns is redundant, as we have already established what is being discussed (or with a little imagination you’d be able to work it out). I was reading that Japanese is a ‘pro-drop’ language (Wikipedia, in that it tends to omit words to make an utterance shorter, if the context is known. I think, that English also drops pronouns sometimes, however, not as much as Japanese. So, why in English do we tend to overuse pronouns?
Japanese is said to be a high context culture and English a Low context culture. That is...
High context culture: many things don’t need to be made explicit because of a close connection and understanding.
Low context: societies that need to explicitly spell out things because connections are not as close. (Culture at work: Communicating across cultures,
Could this explain the need for us to continually check that the listener understands who the referent is? ...And why is necessary for English to paraphrase so often? My wife made a joke and asked, “Don’t people listen the first time?”
Another question that came up was why do some languages (like Romance languages, and even English in some cases) tend to use gender more than others? Why in English, we sometimes refer to a ship as a ‘She’? Why in Italian, Bianca (female) and Bianco (male)? How does culture influence language, and how does language influence culture?
Steven Mondy

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