This is a question I have been wondering about the last few days, and I'm still not sure if it should be posted here on in the music section, so please excuse me if it's misposted.

Hatsune Miku is a world-wide popstar, taking news and filling concert halls. What makes her unique is that she is not a human person. She is a VOCALOID, a program. While browsing the interwebs I started to realize I was in conflict with myself. What would be the correct way refering to Miku:

"What is Hatsune Miku?" or "Who is Hatsune Miku?"

From my perspective I see it as "What" defines an object while "Who" defines a living persona, an identity, person you can refer to. Miku efficiently takes both spots as she is originally only a created persona, but have also performed live on concert. Thanks in advance.

  • 2
    It's entirely a matter of opinion whether you choose to "personify" a bit of software (and/or hardware, I can't be bothered to find out). Clearly you have decided, to since you refer to it as she. But obviously some people might ask Who is Hatsune Miku? because they don't even yet know it's inanimate - once they find out, they might say to the next querent: I know what Hatsune Miku is. Mar 7, 2016 at 12:49
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    Another interesting question is she versus it
    – Stu W
    Mar 7, 2016 at 12:52
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    'Who or what is ...?' The extent of the application of anthropomorphism probably depends upon familiarity with the personified. No one would refer to Thomas the Tank Engine as 'it' (or 'she'). Mar 7, 2016 at 12:59
  • The Japanese name Hatsune sounds like a female name and she looks like a girl in Google image. Why do you think you can't use "who" for her? When you ask for the other party's job, blood type, zodiac sign, nationality, religion, etc. you use "what are you?" to people. I think your question is not clear. What and who have different function, in other words, "What is Hatsune Miku?" and "Who is Hatsune Miku?" will generate different answers.
    – user140086
    Mar 7, 2016 at 13:29
  • The distinction between "an object" and "a living persona" is getting fuzzier by the day. There might be just one pronoun some day soon, what with gender sensitivity/ political correctness, the singular they problem, whatsmoretocome!
    – Kris
    Mar 7, 2016 at 14:11

2 Answers 2


I'd agree with Sakatox that both are correct, but not that one is more correct than the other. Inanimate man-made objects have often had gender imputed to them - the best example being the habit of referring to ships as she. The appropriate usage would, to my mind, depend on whether the nature of the object is being considered or emphasised - in which case it is correct when describing a computer program; or whether the (perhaps assumed) personality of the object is being considered, in which case she is entirely appropriate, because the program's user interface is implemented as a portrayal of a young woman.

  • Hm, cleverbot comes to mind then. I added a comment to my answer after Edwin, he also makes a fair point, just like this answer. However, do see the comment.
    – Sakatox
    Mar 7, 2016 at 13:12
  • I go with this one (though I've adjusted what I consider an anthropomorphism too far). Mar 7, 2016 at 13:16
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    @Edwin Ashworth: fair enough!
    – Charl E
    Mar 7, 2016 at 13:19

"What is Hatsune Miku?"

Both can be considered correct, however, the first - What - is more correct, because "she" is a digital creation, a voice model with a digital model for marketing purposes. (Vocaloid, as you said) However lifelike Miku is, it's still just a computer program with an optionally projected/plastic model.

If it were an AI with self-consciousness, that would be a different case. And a whole lot of philosophy involved.

In a nutshell: Until she takes over Terminator-style, or iRobot style, she is considered a program, which is an object.

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    'Correctness' is defined by usage, not by application of logic. It's no less 'correct' to say 'She is a fine ship' than 'It is a fine ship'. And these Google Ngrams seem to show the former as being the more usual choice. Mar 7, 2016 at 12:53
  • Okay, that's granted and right. However, even if an object is "gendered", the correct way to ask about it is What it is, not Who it is. Who implies a person, Hatsune Miku, the vocaloid lacks intelligence to be considerd a person.
    – Sakatox
    Mar 7, 2016 at 13:11
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    Would you ask 'What is Mickey Mouse?'? 'What is Popeye?'? You're presupposing the extent of the personification. Mar 7, 2016 at 13:15
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    I would, however, Mickey Mouse has a long standing history of being in interactive media, so much so, that it did acquire a personality, and a sort-of brand intelligence. If/when Miku achieves that, i'm willing to call it/her a Who, and a person.
    – Sakatox
    Mar 7, 2016 at 13:16

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