Purdue University Graduate School

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Japanese Self-Reference Terms: Japanese Native Speaker Use and the Effects of Pragmatics-Focused Instruction on College-Level Learners of Japanese

posted on 2020-07-30, 12:26 authored by Mai TakeuchiMai Takeuchi

This study addressed the use and perception of Japanese self-reference terms for Japanese native speakers and second language (L2) learners of Japanese. Participants completed a Discourse Completion Task (DCT) and a Felicity Judgment Task (FJT) for quantitative analysis. Individual follow-up interviews were also conducted, which provided additional insight into native speakers’ and learners’ understandings of the uses of self-reference terms in Japanese. The results indicated that overall Japanese native speakers employed different self-reference terms depending on gender (of the speaker and listener), power differences, and situational formality. While some of the findings related to Japanese native speakers’ use and perception of self-reference terms align with previous studies, such as the use of the self-reference term watashi when speaking with higher power listeners (e.g., Ide, 1990b), there were new findings regarding the usage of other self-reference terms including ore, jibun, and uchi.

This study also investigated the effect of a pedagogical intervention for L2 learners focused on Japanese self-reference terms. In addition to the DCT and FJT (as pre, post, and delayed post-test) and individual follow-up interviews, L2 learners also participated in a myriad of other classroom intervention activities within a learners-as-researchers framework (e.g., Tanaka, 1997; Ishihara, 2006) about Japanese self-reference terms (e.g., blog entries, interviews with Japanese native speakers). The L2 DCT and FJT results indicated that before the pedagogical intervention, L2 learners relied heavily on watashi while neglecting other self-reference options compared to Japanese native speakers. After the intervention, L2 learners were able to employ a broader range of self-reference terms (e.g., ore, boku, atashi). This indicates that the intervention helped facilitate L2 learners’ pragmatic competence with self-reference terms. The analysis of L2 usage of self-reference terms in blog entries and individual interviews with learners indicated that some learners employed different self-reference terms without resistance, while others displayed a stronger resistance to using new self-reference terms. Some learners overcame this resistance over the course of the semester, while others stayed with watashi until the end of the semester. Collectively, the results indicate development in pragmatic competence and also various developmental trajectories for different learners.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Languages and Cultures

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Lori Czerwionka

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Dr. Kazumi Hatasa

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Mariko Moroishi Wei

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Wayne E. Wright

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