火曜日, 2月 22, 2005

What counts as 助詞

    I took my first Japanese classes way back in the eighties, so no doubt the teaching methodology has changed a lot since then, but in my experience I distinctly remember the prefixes "o-" and "go-" called "honorific particles" along with direct-object-wo and other nakama of that ilk. It turns out though, and this makes sense if you think about it, they aren't really "particles" if by particles you mean 助詞 (joshi). They're 敬語 keigo, honorific language.
    The grammar pretest in my textbook on 国語の常識 contained a section where you had to identify all the particles in the given sentences. と、が、を、は、の、and に are easy. But did you know that だけ and ばかり are also particles? I thought they were just, you know, words. Maybe I thought that because you can translate them into English, and because they are more than one syllable long.
    You might be surprised also at one of the "particles" in this sentence:

Taro to Jiro dake ga, sono koto wo shitte ita.

   Okay, so we have と、だけ、が、and を so far. Can you find the last one?
   It's the て of 知っていた。 And here is one way that the grammar taught in Japan seems really different from the way Japanese is taught as a second language. It seems counterintuitive to end any word or morpheme with a small っ, a character that is meaningless and unpronouncable without something after it. But according to this, the basic word is 知っ , and て, like た in the sentence 物足りない食事だった, is a 助動詞 - in other words a separate unit, a kind of particle that "helps" verbs. In another part of the test, I was asked to write the adjective in the sentence:

Sono dekigoto ha totemo mezurashikatta.

    I wrote 珍しかった, (mezurashikatta) which I think of as one word.
    The answer was 珍しかっ. (mezurashikat-)
    In other words, they treat 珍しかっ and た as separate morphemes.
    This seems strange to me. I mean, you can't even type 珍しかっ on a computer keyboard without typing the final -ta and then deleting it.

    Some of the things they told me in the chapter on grammar really go without saying, though. I consider the following sentence the finest example I've seen of stating the obvious.

Some languages, like English, have rules about capitalizing the first letter of proper nouns, but Japanese doesn't have that kind of rule.

    Anyone who is reading that sentence and doesn't know that ...

    Lest you say that I don't understand the intention of sentence, I'll state for the record that I do realize it was probably to point out that proper nouns are capitalized in English (something you'll know if you've ever seen English), and not to say that they're not in Japanese, but I still think it's funny to imagine Japanese with capitalization, or anyone needing to be told that it's not there.


  • At 6:55 午後, Blogger Matt said…

    A lot of that is left over from classical Japanese, when all the stuff we think of as inflection (like the -te) really were more like independent particles. Words that end in っ today tended to end in り or ひ or something, and that got turned into the geminate sound somewhere along the line and that obviously can't be independent of the following consonant... by definition! But the classical grammar analysis is still considered the final word. At least, that's what I heard.

  • At 7:05 午後, Blogger Matt said…

    Doh, not grammar, morphology. I was thinking about grammar because the whole situation reminds me of the way people writing about English grammar tend to cling grimly to concepts and theories much more suited to Latin (which is where they originally came from), even though linguists have come up with much better analyses specifically designed for English.

    Oh, yeah, and I think in the specific case of -かった it's from かり+た (renyoukei of the adjective + a shortened form of たり, past-tense carrier)

    Sorry to be so overbearing, but I hardly ever get to talk about classical Japanese ;)



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