When is a quote direct, and when is it indirect? If you're speaking English or most major European languages, where entire tenses have to be shifted to turn direct speech into its reported version, this question is quite a big deal.
Other languages, though, don't care so much about this distinction. For them it's all just speech; the important thing is that it was said, period. You - the reader or listener - are the one who now has the job of deciding which type of speech it is, who said it to whom, and how any tenses, syntax, etc. should be reconstructed where necessary.
Japanese belongs to the latter type of languages. Of course, when a Japanese phrase appears in quotation marks - 「」 or 『』 - it's a direct quote. But the important thing to remember is that when there are no quotation mark, a quote can be either direct or indirect. It can even be both - a hybrid that casually mixes forms that we gaijins would expect to be limited to just one type of speech.
A typical example is the use of imperative verbs. In English, the imperative can only be used in a direct quote. In Japanese, though, the presence of an imperative verb does not mean that we should automatically assume the quote to be a direct one. It can belong to either type, or to both of them at the same time.
Here's how it can look in practice. In Reajer book 46, The Lute Demon (read the free samples on Amazon and iBooks) a Chinese man named Yang (楊) travels in his carriage down a country road after sunset, when suddenly he is approached by a boy. The original text describes it like this:
The English version in the bilingual reader is:
A boy holding a lute in his arms approached Yang on the road and said: "Please give me a ride in your carriage".
As you can see, the request 載せてくれ is in the imperative form, and in this case, the quote was translated as a direct one. But note that this is preceded by 楊の車に; the boy, who did not know Yang, could not have addressed him by name. This name is actually part of the writer's report of the event, but at the same time, it an essential part of the meaning of what was originally said.
What we have here, then, is a quote that is either entirely indirect, or a direct-indirect hybrid. The translation had to jump through some hoops to get this one right, but basically, any quote that doesn't come with those handy quotation marks will require some careful thinking before you can come up with a proper English equivalent for it. As always in Japanese, the all-important word is: context, context, context.
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