17 May 2018

Personality, Japanese and the Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis attaches importance to the importance of language, and especially vocabulary, to what people can and do think about.

In furtherance of that hotly disputed hypothesis, I offer up two Japanese words that describe personality types, which don't have close, well recognized, single word or very short phrase equivalents in the English language. Yet, with each single word, the Japanese can instantly evoke an personality archetype (for what it is worth, I am fairly certain that there is a word that is a fairly close equivalent to Tsundere in German, although I don't recall any longer what it is). And, I have to say that in my personal experience, I have encountered people whose personalities are a pretty good fit to each of these two terms.

I welcome anyone who disagrees and can identify a close English language equivalent to do so in the comments. Pronunciation guidance is also welcome in the comments.

These terms are used primarily in discussions of character tropes in Japanese fiction, but can be used more generally as well. They are:

Tsundere (ツンデレ)
A personality which is usually stern, cold or hostile to the person they like, while occasionally letting slip the warm and loving feelings hidden inside due to being shy, nervous, insecure or simply unable to help acting badly in front of the person they like. It is an portmanteau of the Japanese terms tsuntsun (ツンツン), meaning to be stern or hostile, and deredere (でれでれ), meaning to be "lovey dovey".

Yandere (ヤンデレ)
A term for a person who is initially loving and caring to someone they like a lot until their romantic loveadmiration and devotion becomes feisty and mentally destructive in nature through either overprotectiveness, violence, brutality or all three. The term is a portmanteau of the words yanderu (病んでる), meaning (mentally or emotionally) ill, and deredere (でれでれ "lovey dovey"), meaning to show genuinely strong romantic affection. Yandere people are mentally unstable, incredibly deranged and use extreme violence or brutality as an outlet for their emotions.  In Japanese fiction,Yandere characters are usually, but not always, female.

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