ISLE 5 Conference Workshops

8. English and Japanese as seen from the three-tier model of language use

Yukio Hirose (University of Tsukuba, Japan) & the English Linguistic Society of Japan


Tuesday 17 July

14:30-14:45  Introduction - Yukio Hirose
14:45-15:15 Yukio Hirose - English as a public-self-centered language and Japanese as a private-self-centered language
15:15-15:45 Hiroaki Konno - English and Japanese constructions without hearer-orientation
15:45-16:15 Masaru Kanetani - Innovation because deviation: Cases of because constructions
16:15-16:35 Coffee Break
16:35-17:05 Naoaki Wada - How to express (indirect) speech acts in English and Japanese: A perspective from the three-tier model of language use
1705-17:30 Discussion
  • To download abstracts, click on the programme titles.
All timings are approximate.


This workshop examines grammatico-pragmatic phenomena in English and Japanese from the perspective of a theory called the three-tier model of language use. This theory, proposed in Hirose (2013, 2015), provides an integrated framework to investigate grammatico-pragmatic phenomena by postulating three tiers that correspond to three main functions of language. The tiers are (i) the situation construal tier, which corresponds to the function of expressing thoughts, (ii) the situation report tier, which corresponds to the function of communicating information to others, and (iii) the interpersonal relationship tier, which corresponds to the function of considering and managing interpersonal and interactive relationships.

The three-tier model is a natural extension of the theory of public/private self and public/private expression, developed in a series of works by Hirose (e.g. Hirose 1995, 2000, 2002; Hasegawa and Hirose 2005). The public self is the speaker as the subject of communicating, i.e. the speaker who faces an addressee or has one in mind, while the private self is the speaker as the subject of thinking or consciousness, i.e. the speaker who has no addressee in mind. The public and private self are the subjects of two different levels of linguistic expression termed public and private expression. Public expression corresponds to the communicative function of language, and private expression to the non-communicative, thought-expressing function of language. Thus public expression requires the presence of an addressee, whereas private expression does not.

One important implication of the distinction between public and private self is that although egocentricity is a universal linguistic property, different languages may exhibit different characteristics, depending on whether their unmarked deictic center is in the public self or the private self. It has been shown in previous studies (e.g. Hirose 2000; Hasegawa and Hirose 2005; Wada 2013) that English is a public-self-centered language in which the unmarked deictic center is in the public self designated by the first-person pronoun I, whereas Japanese is a private-self-centered language in which the unmarked deictic center is in the private self designated by the so-called reflexive pronoun zibun 'self'. One essential criterion for whether a language is public-self-centered or not is whether it has an established system of grammatical person as seen in the distinction between first, second, and third person. English is a language with such a system, in which the speaker and the addressee are first and second persons, grouped together on equal terms as the direct participants in a speech act; in this sense, the relationship between speaker I and addressee you is symmetrical or reciprocal by default (cf. Benveniste 1971). In contrast, Japanese does not have exactly the same type of person system as that of English, but it does have a dedicated term for private self, zibun, which serves to divide persons into self and others; this is why the self-other distinction has more profound and far-reaching effects in Japanese grammar.

The public/private self dichotomy is incorporated into the three-tier model as follows. In the situation construal tier, the speaker as private self construes a situation, forming a thought about it; in the situation report tier, the speaker as public self reports or communicates his/her construed situation to the addressee; and in the interpersonal relationship tier, the speaker as public self construes and considers his/her interpersonal relationship with the addressee. In this model, English and Japanese differ as to how the three tiers are combined. In English, the situation construal tier is normally unified with the situation report tier, to which is added the interpersonal relationship tier; in Japanese, the situation construal tier is normally independent of the situation report tier, which is unified with the interpersonal relationship tier.

This workshop presents papers on the three-tier model to show that it sheds significant new light on contrastive studies of English and Japanese in particular and cross-linguistic studies of the relation between grammar and pragmatics in general.


Benveniste, E. (1971) Problems in General Linguistics, trans. by M. E. Meek, University of Miami Press, Florida.

Hasegawa, Y. and Y. Hirose (2005) What the Japanese language tells us about the alleged Japanese relational self, Australian Journal of Linguisties 25, 219-25 1.

Hirose, Y. (1995) Direct and indirect speech as quotations of public and private expression, Lingua 95, 223-238.

Hirose, Y. (2000) Public and private self as two aspects of the speaker: A contrastive study of Japanese and English, Journal of Pragmatics 32, 1623-1656.

Hirose, Y. (2002) Viewpoint and the nature of the Japanese reflexive zibun,Cognitive Linguistics 13, 357-401.

Hirose, Y. (2013) Deconstruction of the speaker and the three-tier model of language use,Tsukuba English Studies 32, 1-29.

Hirose, Y. (2015) An overview of the three-tier model of language use, English Linguistics 32, 120-138.

Wada, N. (2013) A unified model of tense and modality and the three-tier model of language use, Tsukuba English Studies 32, 29-70.


This workshop is organised in collaboration with the English Linguistic Society of Japan.

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