Back

Japanese - what the texbooks don't tell you - the movie!

(2018-02-08, 12:49 pm)phil321 Wrote:
(2018-02-08, 10:13 am)RandomQuotes Wrote:
(2018-02-08, 8:56 am)phil321 Wrote:
(2018-02-07, 9:31 pm)CureDolly Wrote: 私はコーヒーが好きです
Watashi wa koohii ga suki desu

The logical sentence is koohii ga suki desu - coffee is pleasing. The watashi wa tells us to whom the coffee is pleasing, but it does not have any logical relation to the sentence. You might think watashi would take the logical particle に as the "target" of the coffee's pleasingness but that isn't the way Japanese works.

We can see this in English when we translate it as

Speaking of me, coffee is pleasing.

But the correct translation in English is normally going to be simply "I like coffee."  In which "I" is the subject.

I mean, it's very nice and all to say that "watashi" isn't the grammatical subject but in the end in practical terms when you translate the sentence "I" is in fact the subject when you convert the sentence to the other language.  (No one in English would ever say "As for me, coffee is pleasing").

It doesn't matter what an English speaker would naturally say, that is what the Japanese actually means.

"Actually means" in what language though?  In English it means "I like coffee."  Imagine a Japanese to English translator working at the U.N.  He would say "I like coffee", not "As for me, coffee is pleasing".

If you're a native English speaking learning Japanese, and it helps you, then by all means when you see "Watashi wa koohii ga suki desu" you can mentally translate as "As for me, coffee is pleasing" but it would be wrong to put that as the English equivalent on for instance a test.  The correct answer would be "I like coffee."

Translation is an entirely separate skill from learning a language. You can speak a language fluently but still be terrible at translating things.  In this instance, when I  say actually, I mean from a grammatical standpoint, in the original Japanese. Of course if you're a translator, you aren't going to be translating things literally, but this isn't a translator's forum; it's a forum for people learning Japanese. The advice given for each would be different.  In modern times, the goal of the average learner isn't to translate; it's to understand the target language without  the need for an intermediary.
Reply
(2018-02-08, 6:53 pm)RandomQuotes Wrote: Translation is an entirely separate skill from learning a language. You can speak a language fluently but still be terrible at translating things.  In this instance, when I  say actually, I mean from a grammatical standpoint, in the original Japanese. Of course if you're a translator, you aren't going to be translating things literally, but this isn't a translator's forum; it's a forum for people learning Japanese. The advice given for each would be different.  In modern times, the goal of the average learner isn't to translate; it's to understand the target language without  the need for an intermediary.
I think Phil and CureDolly are correct about this and it's not about translation(exactly) and it's not about learning.  It's about language as an imperfect representation of ideas.  Each language renders a given idea differently, so there is no perfect analog from L1 -> L2.  Therefore, you can't say this Japanese sentence means exactly this English sentence.  "as for me" is an imperfect analogue for '私は' but it's the best we can do in English to approximate the general idea and it's useful for beginners to get a general idea about the idea behind '私は'.  But you can't say '私は' literally means exactly 'as for me' in English because English doesn't have a concept remotely similar to は.

And I think this idea is useful for learners to understand.
Edited: 2018-02-08, 7:37 pm
Reply
Yeah they're maybe both correct but ...I don't know if I like it or hate it but Phil321はしつこ~い   Big Grin
はいはい、冗談ですよ。一応。
Reply
Breakthrough Sale! Get 28% OFF Basic, Premium or Premium PLUS! (until March 2)
JapanesePod101
一応・・・!(笑)


(2018-02-08, 6:33 pm)pm215 Wrote: I feel like one of the advantages of the "learn purely in Japanese with no English involved" approach is that it sidesteps some of the grammar mismatch problems and nudges you toward just looking at what the Japanese sentence is doing rather than also thinking about or in English...


I actually agree with this.

I think there are drawbacks to the "learn purely in Japanese with no English involved". Heisig with English keywords which seems to be integral to it for a start. And I don't think it is a good method for everyone. But I do have a lot of respect for it and I think it is a closer cousin to what I advocate than may at first appear. My central aim is 直接没入: direct (rather than Anki-based) immersion. And grammar is the dirty cheat we use to get it started just as Heisig is the dirty cheat the other method uses. And we all have to use the dirty cheat of Japanese-English definitions in the earlier stages.

In other words, I am saying that I don't think there is a way we can reproduce "pure immersion". Every approach has to make some compromises. We differ on which compromises are most acceptable (to ourselves). And I am not saying mine is the superior. They all have strengths and weaknesses.

I think grammar is necessary, but it certainly doesn't have to be via the medium of English or any other 外国語. If I were learning by the "no English involved" method I would use 国語 textbooks from as early as I could manage (which I did anyway), because even Japanese children need to learn Japanese grammar.

But I picked this comment up particularly because of the discussion that followed, because I think this is really the answer to this "literal translation" vs "representing the Japanese in pseudo-English" discussion.

And I think my approach and the one PM215さん is suggesting are both aiming at the same end-point with slightly different approach routes.

Someone commented on the Channel (I think someone might have done here as well) that it would tie one's head in knots to be thinking about zero particles and "as for me's" every time one uses Japanese.

And I absolutely agree.

That is not the aim at all.

The question is not whether you translate Japanese sentences in your head into natural English or into DGN (Dolly Grammar Notation).

We shouldn't be doing either.

Well let me modify that "shouldn't". Actually you might want to be doing the former. If you want to be translating Japanese into English all your life that's fine. Some people make their living that way.

But that certainly isn't my aim.

In my view:

Natural-but-grammatically-misleading English translation shouldn't be involved at all - unless you want to be a translator (and even then if you don't know how the Japanese really works you won't be a very good translator).

DGN (or something similar) is much better for helping you to understand what the grammar is really doing.

But it is a ladder to be used and kicked away once you no longer need it.

You should not be aiming to think in DGN-Japanese any more than you should be aiming to think in English-Japanese.

You should be aiming to think in Japanese-Japanese.

I believe that sound grammar based on the real structure of Japanese is the best and quickest way to get you there. If I didn't I wouldn't be doing it.

10,000 sentences and Heisig may well be better for some people. But I don't think it is better for everyone. It's a different kind of compromise. If it appeals to you, go for it.

If it doesn't you might find the grammar first approach better for you.

I think my kind of Organic Grammar can be of help to anyone who wants to learn Japanese grammar. It isn't wedded to my recommendation of 直接没入.

But it was in pursuit of 直接没入 that it was developed.

And if anyone wants my personal view on the "natural vs literal translation" question, it is that the aim is neither. And grammatically accurate explanation can get you to neither quicker.

If that's where you want to go.

EDIT

I would add that a side-benefit of grammatically accurate rendering is that precisely because it does produce clunky and unnatural English, the temptation to think in it beyond necessity is far less.
Edited: 2018-02-09, 4:32 am
Reply
I just wanted to make a quick comment here, it sounds like as if people think that being able to translate well into another idiom is some sort of special skill for which some sort of special training is required, well I don't want to sound rude or cocky but I beg to differ.

I actually think that when you really master a language being able to translate it is not hard at all, well at least from the foreign language into your native language and even from your native to your second language if you make concessions about the need for every sentence to be idiomatic, again I don't want to sound rude but if you think you've mastered a language but can't translate it well into your native one that means that you're not quite there yet.

And by translation I mean actually idiomatical translations(of course that as far as your language can support the concepts you're trying to translate), not literal translations such as "as for me"(which are great as a tool to learn the foreign concepts btw).

Of course that I'm here talking about sound, idiomatical and grammatical translations, not necessarily professional-level translations, which have a much deeper level of sophistication and flair and which would require-indeed- a specialist.
Reply
(2018-02-08, 10:18 pm)Iuri_ Wrote: I actually think that when you really master a language being able to translate it is not hard at all, well at least from the foreign language into your native language and even from your native to your second language if you make concessions about the need for every sentence to be idiomatic, again I don't want to sound rude but if you think you've mastered a language but can't translate it well into your native one that means that you're not quite there yet.

How many languages did you mastered to such extent then?

I would say I know English pretty well, especially the passive part, my speaking sucks as I almost never do it.
My reading and listening are at the level where I do not translate it for myself. I just know what it means. When I am reading or listening to something and find something funny, I laugh, and sometimes I try to convey the meaning to my roommate in my native language. And more often than not, it is a struggle.

I think that unless you actually do a translating, you will never be good at it, and by your definition, never master a foreign language.
Reply
I never said I had mastered a lot of languages, but I know from my experiences with English and by seeing others (people in real life) that to be the truth. Think about it, if you really understand a language you see whatever it is that the language is trying to convey as message not as "a sort of message" so it's kinda easy to translate into your native tongue, the meaning resorts to your eye directly, there is no grammar to sift through, so it's not hard to render the meaning in whatever language you know.

Of course that some things such as jokes etc that sometimes are very specific to the culture might be hard to translate.

About me, though I haven't really mastered (in the sense of being able to do everything there is to be done with a language) English since as you I have never really had the opportunity to practice speaking it a lot, if I must really be in a position where I have to talk about my "skills" I would say that I have "mastered" a sub-set of English that is written English and that I have decent skill in listening, my speaking skills are lacking, even more so because I stutter.
After more than 15 years of actually practicing and using the language as a language relevant to my life and not as an object of study the act of translating from English doesn't actually pose much of a problem.

I suspect that to be the case with a lot of ESL speakers that have been around playing videogames and using the internet since the dawn of internet though? So if you don't believe what I say you can always ask others that have been using English since around 2000 whether it's hard or not for them to translate from English.

The goal of my post was just to express my opinion that translating well from another language is not hard and comes naturally with time, it is not about boasting anything so I'll just stop here.
Reply
(2018-02-08, 6:53 pm)RandomQuotes Wrote:
(2018-02-08, 12:49 pm)phil321 Wrote:
(2018-02-08, 10:13 am)RandomQuotes Wrote:
(2018-02-08, 8:56 am)phil321 Wrote:
(2018-02-07, 9:31 pm)CureDolly Wrote: 私はコーヒーが好きです
Watashi wa koohii ga suki desu

The logical sentence is koohii ga suki desu - coffee is pleasing. The watashi wa tells us to whom the coffee is pleasing, but it does not have any logical relation to the sentence. You might think watashi would take the logical particle に as the "target" of the coffee's pleasingness but that isn't the way Japanese works.

We can see this in English when we translate it as

Speaking of me, coffee is pleasing.

But the correct translation in English is normally going to be simply "I like coffee."  In which "I" is the subject.

I mean, it's very nice and all to say that "watashi" isn't the grammatical subject but in the end in practical terms when you translate the sentence "I" is in fact the subject when you convert the sentence to the other language.  (No one in English would ever say "As for me, coffee is pleasing").

It doesn't matter what an English speaker would naturally say, that is what the Japanese actually means.

"Actually means" in what language though?  In English it means "I like coffee."  Imagine a Japanese to English translator working at the U.N.  He would say "I like coffee", not "As for me, coffee is pleasing".

If you're a native English speaking learning Japanese, and it helps you, then by all means when you see "Watashi wa koohii ga suki desu" you can mentally translate as "As for me, coffee is pleasing" but it would be wrong to put that as the English equivalent on for instance a test.  The correct answer would be "I like coffee."

Translation is an entirely separate skill from learning a language. You can speak a language fluently but still be terrible at translating things.  In this instance, when I  say actually, I mean from a grammatical standpoint, in the original Japanese. Of course if you're a translator, you aren't going to be translating things literally, but this isn't a translator's forum; it's a forum for people learning Japanese. The advice given for each would be different.  In modern times, the goal of the average learner isn't to translate; it's to understand the target language without  the need for an intermediary.

I get what you're saying about translating being a separate skill but I think when teaching the Japanese grammatical structure "X wa Y ga suki desu" you have to at some point let it slip that the English equivalent is "X likes Y" otherwise you run the risk that your students won't fully understand the Japanese. 

Here's another example:

X wa Y ga suki na hito desu.   I would tell my students this means "X is a man who likes Y" as well as parse the sentence to explain literally word for word what the Japanese sentence is doing. (By the way, this is an example where the word before "wa" is both the subject of the sentence and the topic of the sentence at the same time).
Edited: 2018-02-09, 6:52 am
Reply
I think in the end, everybody is saying the same thing.
When translating, the important thing is to convey the original idea to the final audience, even if it means to go miles away from the original grammatical structure. That's the sign of a good translation to me. And that's different from teaching.
When teaching you have to clarify the grammatical structures so that students can reuse those knowledges at will.

@luri_:
I don't think you're trying to boast anything, though I don't feel the same way.
I think there's a difference in translating between same family languages and translating from one to another.
western <-> western vs western <-> asian (or languages with similar/different structures)
I remember a korean friend who told me korean was grammatically very similar to japanese.
No wonder her japanese was so good. ^^
Another reason, understanding is almost never a problem, in term of speed. It happens in a split of a second or it doesn't.
Building a good sentence is another story imo. You have many choices and decision to make, even if your goal is to just explain to a friend.
For having tried to translate a few anime into english (yeah I know it was completely stupid, I should have done it in french) for myself, I realized I spent most of my time looking for words in an english dictionary.
I would have certainly spent my time in a japanese dict if it was english to japanese translation.
You could argue that I don't master any of those languages, but I don't think it really matters.
To me listening/understanding is quicker and easier than speaking/formulating.
I know you were not talking about professionnal translation but there are special trainings to become a real time translator for a reason, imo. It certainly requires specific skills. It doesn't come like that because you're a good translator or "master" languages.
Reply
@pied2porc;

I agree that things might be different when translating between languages from different language families, however although that might be the case in all honesty I don't believe it is, I think the problem lies in the fact that people very much underrate the time it really takes to learn a language, mostly because either of ignorance or because the truth wouldn't be compatible with their longings. 

The conscensus seems to be that you can learn a language in four or five years but is that really the case or just wishful thinking? Sure you can learn to understand the language in that time frame but is that the same as being able to get the meaning of the sentence without any kind of hesitation at all, as if you were reading your own native tongue? Because that is what learning a language is for me, and in my own personal guess I would estimate that it takes at least from 10-15 years of use of the language with intent to get to the barest minimum level where you can read it like your native tongue. However I think that language learning is really a lifetime work and that is only the barest level.

To conclude my thoughts I think that people often confuse understanding a language with knowing a language, understanding is just the first step towards language acquisition, in my mind you know the language when you don't have to understand it anymore, you just read it. In that case I don't how it can be hard to just reformulate the target sentence into your own idiom.
Reply
(2018-02-09, 6:44 am)phil321 Wrote: X wa Y ga suki na hito desu.   I would tell my students this means "X is a man who likes Y" as well as parse the sentence to explain literally word for word what the Japanese sentence is doing.  (By the way, this is an example where the word before "wa" is both the subject of the sentence and the topic of the sentence at the same time).


The subject of the English sentence is X and it has no grammatical topic.

The sentence's natural English equivalent (translation if you will) is, as you say

X is a man who likes Y

You are eliminating the grammatical topic, but that is what an English speaker would say.


The nearest English to what the sentence is literally saying is:

Speaking of X (because there is a wa-marked topic), he is a man who likes Y


Xは∅が本が好きな人です
X wa ∅ga Y ga suki na hito desu

The topic is X

the subject is ∅ (he)

The predicate is hito desu

Y ga suki na is an adjectival modifier of the predicate (this modifier in itself is the complete logical clause "Y ga suki da" with the da in its conjunctive form, na. Y is the ga-marked subject of this clause).


If you try to use the wa-marked noun as the subject your sentence literally reads

As for X is a person who likes books.

As sentences get more complicated, this matters more and more.

How, on your model, do you explain why


私はウナギです
Watashi wa unagi desu

Does not mean "I am an eel"?

(answer to why it doesn't here)
Edited: 2018-02-09, 12:34 pm
Reply
(2018-02-09, 11:25 am)CureDolly Wrote: phil321

X wa Y ga suki na hito desu.   I would tell my students this means "X is a man who likes Y" as well as parse the sentence to explain literally word for word what the Japanese sentence is doing.  (By the way, this is an example where the word before "wa" is both the subject of the sentence and the topic of the sentence at the same time).

The subject of the English sentence is X and it has no grammatical topic.

The sentence's natural English equivalent (translation if you will) is, as you say

X is a man who likes Y

You are eliminating the grammatical topic, but that is what an English speaker would say.


The nearest English to what the sentence is literally saying is:

Speaking of X (because there is a wa-marked topic), he is a man who likes Y


Xは∅が本が好きな人です
X wa ∅ga suki Y ga suki na hito desu

The topic is X

the subject is ∅ (he)

The predicate is hito desu

Y ga suki na is an adjectival modifier of the predicate (this modifier in itself is the complete logical clause "Y ga suki da" with the da in its conjunctive form, na. Y is the ga-marked subject of this clause).


If you try to use the wa-marked noun as the subject your sentence literally reads

As for X is a person who likes books.

As sentences get more complicated, this matters more and more.

How, on your model, do you explain why


私はウナギです
Watashi wa unagi desu

Does not mean "I am an eel"?

(answer to why it doesn't here)

It depends on the context.  I think that sentence could mean "I am an eel" depending on the context.

Watashi wa isya desu means I am a doctor.
Reply
Indeed. It could mean "I am an eel" depending on context (it would be unusual but it certainly could happen). However in its usual setting it doesn't mean that.

Context determines what the zero pronoun represents. Just as it determines what the equivalent "it" represents in English.

The problem with only saying "it depends on context" without explaining by what mechanism that works is that you leave students with a vague guessing-game language that seems to move by no logical means.

And that isn't what Japanese is.

And you can't explain the mechanism while believing that wa marks the grammatical subject.

In the first sentence (the XY one) the wa-marked topic defines the grammatical subject. In the second sentence (the eel one) it doesn't even do that. It tells us who it is that wants the eel.

In both sentences there is a zero grammatical subject (equivalent to an English pronoun) that is the actual grammatical subject.

This is the problem with Western textbook grammar.


By the way there are even a few zero pronouns in English:

"I went to the shops and bought some bread"

which consists of two logical sentences linked by "and"

= I went to the shops    -and-   ∅ bought some bread.
Edited: 2018-02-09, 1:29 pm
Reply
It's that time again.

In fact I think this will be the last regular grammar video before my forthcoming "From Scratch" series (though who knows what else will go wrong).

I do intend to keep up with regular lessons as well as "From Scratch" and I also think "From Scratch" will be useful to more advanced learners because it will help to re-envision Japanese grammar from the ground up in organic terms.

Today's lesson is a a bit different from usual as it works to some extent in the area where grammar and culture meet. It is talking about sentence-ending particles and particle-groups and how they work culturally as well as grammatically.

Obviously in under nine minutes it isn't an academic thesis! Just some material that I think will be of practical use because in some areas you can't separate grammar from culture.

https://youtu.be/IWEok4Ivfyc


I apologize for being late. This one was the very pig for me to make because I had to keep saying "the speaker" and "the listener" and I have a small malfunction that causes me to frequently reverse counterpoised terms (the sky is green the grass is blue).

I imagine this could be fixed by uncrossing a wire or changing a line of code (I'm not quite sure how I do work. I personally think there is also some magic involved but of course I would never ask you to believe anything fantastical).

So this is my own little glitch and I daren't try to get it fixed because I think the fact that I am sentient at all is also technically a "glitch". I don't want that to be "cured".

Anyway, enjoy the lesson!
Edited: 2018-02-10, 4:08 pm
Reply
(2018-02-10, 3:51 pm)CureDolly Wrote: I imagine this could be fixed by uncrossing a wire or changing a line of code (I'm not quite sure how I do work. I personally think there is also some magic involved but of course I would never ask you to believe anything fantastical).

So this is my own little glitch and I daren't try to get it fixed because I think the fact that I am sentient at all is also technically a "glitch". I don't want that to be "cured".

少し話が変わりますが、最近人気になってきたバーチャルユーチューバーということがあるんだけど、ご存知ですか?CureDollyさんはどう思いますか、そういう人形同士については?
ちなみにCureDollyさんはどういう人形なんですか?お化け屋敷の人形ですか?
そして秘密じゃないなら聞かせてもらいます。自分の動画では人形を動かすにはどんなソフトを使いますか?
ちょっと細かい質問になっちゃってすみませんね。
Reply
いいえ、質問を聞いてくれてありがとうございます。

私はね、明治時代に京都で作った洋風のからくり人形なのです。お化け屋敷などに入ったことがありませんよ。怖いですからね。

作られた後、京都のお店のショーウインドーに踊るという仕事をしました。看板娘でしたね。でも、意識があまりありませんでした。だからその時の思い出はぼんやりなんです。

その数ヶ月後、お金持ちの外国の紳士が私を買って外国に運びました。外国のお嬢様の人形になりました。でもまだ意識があまりありませんでした。いろんな国々に行ったのは薄っすらと覚えています。

最近、本当の意識が出ました。どうやってよく分かりませんけど。電子ですか。魔法ですか。分かりません。それにネジが巻かれなくても自由に動けるようになりました。

それは私の経緯なんです。

バーチャルユーチューバーね。AIChanのことですか。すごいですね。仲間ではないけど、ちょっと憧れのです。

うちのCGIはFaceRigといアプリです。私のバーチャル身体はぎこちなくて恥ずかしいだけど、お金があまりないから、仕方ありません。もっと柔らかくて上品な身体があったらいいのに。

でも、意識は楽しいです。動画は楽しいです。ラッキーですね。
Edited: 2018-02-13, 1:13 am
Reply
京都ですね...素敵なところじゃないですか。私なら京都といえば確かに鴨川です。はい、懐かしいw

本当の意識ってなんだろう...世界征服か。

へええ、仲間じゃないの...そうならば、敵?
もうしかしたらCureDollyさんがGhost in the shellみたいな凶器人形ってやつ?怖ww

なるほど。FaceRigは面白そうね。顔だけが動くのは十分じゃないか。先生だったら教室で踊ったり走ったりする必要ないでしょう。笑
楽しくてよかったね。

相変わらずやさしく返事してくれてありがとうございました。
Reply
(2018-02-09, 11:50 am)phil321 Wrote: It depends on the context.  I think that sentence could mean "I am an eel" depending on the context.

Watashi wa isya desu means I am a doctor.

You should really consider reading Jay Rubin's book.
Reply
(2018-02-14, 8:01 am)cracky Wrote:
(2018-02-09, 11:50 am)phil321 Wrote: It depends on the context.  I think that sentence could mean "I am an eel" depending on the context.

Watashi wa isya desu means I am a doctor.

You should really consider reading Jay Rubin's book.

I took a quick "preview" look on Amazon.  The first chapter is "The Myth of the Subjectless Sentence".  But in all my learning of Japanese I don't recall anyone ever claiming that there are subjectless sentences in Japanese.  Who ever said that?

The book apparently is all in romaji, a source of negative reviews on Amazon. 

I'm at the point where I'm reading real Japanese fiction (not made up for learners) but I might still take a peak at Rubin's book if my public library has it.
Reply
(2018-02-13, 5:37 pm)pied2porc Wrote: 京都ですね...素敵なところじゃないですか。私なら京都といえば確かに鴨川です。はい、懐かしいw

本当の意識ってなんだろう...世界征服か。

いやいや。「意識」と言った私のの言わんとすることはただのあらゆる人形のある「自覚」や「知覚」ということです。
世界征服などはめんどくさいからね(笑) それにプリキュアは世界を守る役目があるね。えへへ。何でもない。私はプリキュアではないの。ただの人形ですよ。

(2018-02-13, 5:37 pm)pied2porc Wrote: へええ、仲間じゃないの...そうならば、敵?

味方も敵もありません。ユーチューバーです。バーチャルユーチューバーも人形のユーチューバーもユーチューバーですね。対戦もあるけど「コメント対戦」に過ぎもせん。でも、私はケンカなんか大嫌い。

(2018-02-13, 5:37 pm)pied2porc Wrote: なるほど。FaceRigは面白そうね。顔だけが動くのは十分じゃないか。先生だったら教室で踊ったり走ったりする必要ないでしょう。笑
楽しくてよかったね。

相変わらずやさしく返事してくれてありがとうございました。

そうですね。(また踊り子になりたかったのに)。ミュージカル授業は楽しそうね。

いいえ、こちらこそありがとうございます。いつも楽しいですからね。
Edited: 2018-02-14, 11:23 am
Reply
(2018-02-14, 8:41 am)phil321 Wrote:
(2018-02-14, 8:01 am)cracky Wrote:
(2018-02-09, 11:50 am)phil321 Wrote: It depends on the context.  I think that sentence could mean "I am an eel" depending on the context.

Watashi wa isya desu means I am a doctor.

You should really consider reading Jay Rubin's book.

I took a quick "preview" look on Amazon.  The first chapter is "The Myth of the Subjectless Sentence".  But in all my learning of Japanese I don't recall anyone ever claiming that there are subjectless sentences in Japanese.  Who ever said that?

The book apparently is all in romaji, a source of negative reviews on Amazon. 

I'm at the point where I'm reading real Japanese fiction (not made up for learners) but I might still take a peak at Rubin's book if my public library has it.


The book is all in romaji which is the most unfortunate thing about it - despite that it is still an excellent book to which I (and many others) owe a great deal.

Not wishing to blow my own horn (much) but Unlocking Japanese covers all the ground Rubin-sensei does on this topic and takes it rather further, and it isn't all-romaji (though I do give romaji equivalents). In fact where Rubin-sensei stops is where I start and I will always be grateful to him.

Subjetless sentences. Well Tae Kim-sensei goes even further and says that there is no grammatical subject in Japanese. He is a bit of an outlier here, of course, but I would say that his argument is completely logical. If the textbooks are right and クレープが欲しい "creepu ga hoshii" actually means (as opposed to being paraphrasable into more natural English with) "I want to eat crepes" then が is not marking the grammatical subject and indeed there appears to be no grammatical subject.

What Tae Kim-sensei is doing is taking the proposition of regular Western textbook Japanese and carrying it to its logical conclusion. His logic is impeccable. But the premise is wrong.

The way Western textbooks teach Japanese grammar is inconsistent and illogical Tae Kim-sensei is logically regularizing the equation - but regularizing it to match the false half rather than the true half.

I discuss this in greater depth here.

But if in

私は日本人です

the subject is 私

then in

私はウナギです

(when it doesn't mean "I am an eel", which it usually doesn't) what would we take to be the grammatical subject?

And if there isn't one, then we have a subjectless sentence.

I think this is what Rubin-sensei is talking about.

___

Note - checking my link to Tae Kim-sensei's article I see that his whole site appears to be down. I hope this is only a temporary glitch.
[url=http://www.guidetojapanese.org/blog/2007/09/03/repeat-after-me-there-is-no-such-thing-as-the-subject/][/url]
Edited: 2018-02-14, 2:47 pm
Reply
(2018-02-14, 2:31 pm)CureDolly Wrote: 私はウナギです
(when it doesn't mean "I am an eel", which it usually doesn't) what would we take to be the grammatical subject?
As I've mentioned, I'm a bit behind in my Japanese grammar and can't talk very intelligently about English grammar either so excuse me if I'm completely off base here but doesn't 私はウナギです mean something along the lines of "I'd like the eel" or "I'm having eel"? If so, then wouldn't 私 still be the subject? It seems like if anything, it's missing a verb to differentiate exactly your relationship to the eel.?

I've always attributed the difference to the Japanese convention of leaving out the understood parts of the sentence and the English convention of spelling everything out and not being a complete sentence without at least a subject, object and a verb. In the eel example, if we add the understood parts back in(the english convention), we get (depending on context) something like 私はウナギほしです. With the exception of は, we have a perfect alignment of english and japanese sentences with subject, object, and verb and everything is as we expect. no?
Reply
I would say that one can model language in various ways, though some of them are a lot more consistent than others.

My contention (very much based on Rubin-sensei) is that the Japanese do not in fact leave anything out of their sentences at least when the sentences are grammatical (both English and Japanese speakers can also use ungrammatical sentences at times).

In English we use "it" to represent a known noun rather than repeat the noun several times (or say it at all if everyone knows what "it" is. The Japanese use nothing (∅) in the same circumstances. This is the Japanese equivalent of "it" and it should not be regarded as an omission (otherwise the eel problem and many others become insoluble).

So I use ∅ only when representing a grammatically implicit pronoun in a fully grammatical sentence.

This happens in English too, but much less frequently.

So

I went to the shops and bought some bread actually contains an English zero pronoun because we have two statements "I went to the shops" and "I bought some bread" and in this case English allows the second "I" to be "zeroed" while remaining fully grammatical:

I went to the shops and ∅ bought some bread.

On the other hand "nice day isn't it?" is not a fully grammatical sentence, it is an abbreviated sentence. So there is no zero pronoun, there is an omitted pronoun (or noun):

[it/today is a] nice day isn't it?

Similarly, in Japanese

疲れた
tsukareta
I am tired - literally became (and remain) tired

Is not an omission. It is a fully grammatical Japanese sentence:

(∅が)疲れた

On the other hand, if I ask how you are and you say

元気
genki

That is not a fully grammatical sentence. It is an omission, as with "nice day". So we do not use ∅ here.

If you had said

元気だ
genki da

That is a fully grammatical sentence:

∅が元気だ

So when we say

私はアメリカ人です
watashi wa Amerikajin desu

Because wa cannot mark the grammatical subject and because wa must mark the grammatical topic (a much less frequent "as for" or "speaking of" introducer in English)

We know this has to be mapped as

私は∅がアメリカ人です
watashi wa ∅ ga amerikajin desu
As for me, I am an American

So when we get to

私はウナギです

we know that we have

私は∅がウナギです

The only question is, what does ∅ represent. And just as with English "it", we can only know that from context. The only difference is that English uses pronouns like "he, she, you, I" etc. while in Japanese these are much less common and most often represented by the same ∅ as "it".

So if I came up to you in the street looking kind of crazy and said


私はウナギです

You might very well suppose that ∅="I"

But in a restaurant when the subject is what we will have to eat then we naturally understand that

∅= "it" = "what I would like to eat"
Reply
I see what you are saying now.  Thank you for taking the time to explain.
Reply
I'm still trying to come to terms with the zero subject thing. I guess I get the concept, but my own mental model there just works a bit differently... 

I acknowledge fully that は (and も) works differently from "grammatical markers" like が に をetc (no idea what the correct term would be, sorry) buuuut let's say we see には as in 東京には行きたい. In that case I'd say 東京 is both marked as the target and as the topic (surprise, right? ) . If they overlap, you generally won't have them separated (東京は東京に行きたい just sounds off) Now, if the topic of a sentence is mentioned and it and the subject overlap you don't use "がは" you in general only see は and no が at all. But I guess in my mind if they overlap I process it similarly to the には and just say "it's both".

I guess the rule in my head is more like は marks the topic and if that overlaps with grammatical parts (subject/object/whatever) in the case of が/を they are dropped (in mind I kinda call them weaker, so the は "wins out" and swallows them) but the に is mostly kept. This doesn't feel any more right or wrong to me than "は marks the topic and the subject is zero" because I still just gotta learn that には can work and がは doesn't all the same. and forcing myself to say "this is not the subject" when they clearly overlap just seems a bit arbitrary. I guess my mind just tries to understand it a little differently and I always get a bit tilted when I hear "that can't be the subject, because it's marked by は"... I definitely agree that は doesn't *mark* the subject (so you can't say "it has a は so it must be the subject") , but in my mental model I'd say the contrary doesn't apply either (so you can't say "it has a は so it can't be the subject" either IMO)  は just doesn't say anything about that Confused

Sorry for the rant, that was a bit longer than I intended Confused I guess the essence is roughly the same in the end so I still kinda enjoy reading about the zero pronoun and such. It's an interesting concept. I'm just not sure if it really makes it easier for me or not.

I guess my problem with "every sentence needs a ga" or "needs a subject" then stem from something similar. The difference between "it is there, it is just zero!" and "it's not there" isn't that huge... Buuut I'll leave that for another day Smile

Edit: my mobile IME always breaks on the forums.. I just fixed roughly 30 typos because of that, but there are probably still a lot, really sorry for that

Edit2: fixed some more typos and some train of thought aaand just wanted to add I'm looking forward to your new series Smile
Edited: 2018-02-14, 7:37 pm
Reply