Consider the following sentences in standard Japanese:

  • とても小さな文字を読もうとしました。
  • それを信じようという気は更になかった。
  • なんで外国語を学ぶのに勇気が要るかというと、最初は失敗ばかりするからです。
  • 大人になっても可愛くいたいという意識があるのかも知れません。

Below are the same four sentences, but I have inserted additional quote marks (「...」) that would not be used to render such sentence in printed Japanese text:

  • 「とても小さな文字を読もう」としました。
  • 「それを信じよう」という気は更になかった。
  • 「なんで外国語を学ぶのに勇気が要るか」というと、最初は失敗ばかりするからです。
  • 大人になっても「可愛くいたい」という意識があるのかも知れません。

The phrases between the 「」 strike me as analogous to quoted speech. (Note that all these fragments are followed by と or という, which are standard markers for quoted speech in Japanese.)

More specifically, I think these sentences could be translated to English, very literally and unnaturally, as the following:

  • I did a "Let's read the very small letters."
  • A spirit of "Let's believe that." was still more not there.
  • The "Why does it takes courage to learn a foreign language?" is because at the beginning one makes only mistakes.
  • Even upon becoming an adult maybe there is an "I want to be cute." consciousness.

...where the part of each translation that is in "double-quotes" corresponds to the part in the original that is between the 「」 in the second listing above.

Of course, a more standard translations of these sentence to English would be

  • I tried to read the very small letters.
  • I was even less inclined to believe it.
  • Why does it take courage to learn a foreign language, because at first you make a lot of mistakes.
  • Maybe I am conscious of wanting to be cute even after becoming an adult.

...but here I am not interested in questions of translation per se.

Rather, I am interested in the use of "quoted speech"-like forms in standard Japanese, as illustrated by the four sentences above.

My question is: is there a technical name in linguistics for such a phenomenon? (My hope that I may be able to use such technical terminology to more effectively search for additional "quoted-speech" examples.

1 Answer 1


The phrase introduced by と to are sometimes referred to as quotatives, and the particle itself is referred to either as a quotative particle, or in Shimamura (2018) where these are argued to not strictly be quotative, as a "reporting suffix".

It's known, as your own examples show, that quotatives in Japanese don't distinguish strictly between indirect and direct quotation as in English.

However, the example given in (2) of that dissertation shows why these actually go beyond something translatable by insertion of a direct quotation in English:

きのう    太郎は   二郎に   あす     ぼくの   家に      何時に   行け   と  言ったの 
yesterday Taro-TOP Jiro-IND tomorrow 1sg-GEN  house-IND when-IND go-IMP REP say-PAST-Q 
What time did Taro say to Jiro to go to my house tomorrow?

In this and similar examples, there's no way to turn the embedded sentence into a direct quote, because it contains a wh-word.

Another construction from Japanese involving quotatives is sometimes called the "bare quotative", where と is not dependent on an overt verb. An example would be:

宿題    たくさん   ある   と     ミナは    部屋に    こもってしまった
homework  much       exist    REP       Mina-TOP    room-LOC    enclose-end.up-PST
Mina confined herself to her room saying there was so much homework to do.

As such, bare quotatives are another example of a construction in Japanese where the direct/indirect speech distinction of the embedded clause is underspecified.

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