Language: The Devil's Tongue

Misunderstandings can create both obstacles and insulation

The first-person pronoun I is a basic starting point: ego, je, ich, io, ya. In Japanese, where nothing is that simple, the word has two dozen or more forms, depending on who is talking, and to whom, and the social relationship between them. An elderly man might refer to himself as washi, but his wife would say watashi, or, for that matter, atakushi, or atashi; their daughter might say atai and their son boku. Then there is temae, which means both you and I. But the Japanese often...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!