Subjective and intersubjective uses of Japanese verbs of cognition in conversation

Misumi Sadler

Abstract

The present study examines two commonly-used Japanese verbs of cognition, WAKARU and SHIRU, in naturally occurring conversation, and demonstrates that these verbs are expressions of position and attitude that are relevant both to individual speakers (i.e., subjective uses) and to relational activities among participants (i.e., intersubjective uses). My naturally occurring conversation data supports Lee (2006) that there seems to be a general principle that speakers’ lexical choices are governed by information type, but the link between speakers’ lexical choices and information type is not so absolute but fluid. In fact, while 24% of my data are those where only WAKARU is expected to be used or only SHIRU is expected to be used, 74% are those in which both WAKARU and SHIRU are possible regardless of information type. A closer analysis of such ‘fluid’ examples suggests that speakers choose one expression over another to express their personal attitudes and emotions toward the content of information and toward the other conversation participants. More specifically, their choice for WAKARU manifests such features as experiencer perspective and speaker empathy, and in contrast, their choice for SHIRU is characterized as observer perspective. The study is firmly in keeping with a usage-based perspective on language (e.g., Barlow and Kemmer 2000; Bybee 2006), which takes as its starting point the idea that language use shapes language form and meaning, and offers new insights into the interactional and performative nature of language by addressing the two commonly used verbs of cognition in Japanese conversation from a viewpoint of discourse pragmatics.

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