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Sunday, July 02, 2006

& Linguistics - Case - Japanese 1 (UPDATED)

So, last post I discussed Finnish, a language unusual in that it has an overabundance of grammatical cases (far too many, as far as I'm concerned). This time I'm going to discuss an all-around unusual language (at least to us English/romance-language speakers): Japanese.

Japanese does a great many things notably differently than the languages common on this hemisphere. For example, unlike English, where every clause (save for imperative sentences) must have a subject, in Japanese it is perfectly acceptable (if not likely) for a sentence to lack a subject. Nor is it like romance languages, where the subject is implied in the verb, as the verb is inflected (it is written/spoken differently in different circumstances - declension is one type of inflection) for what pronoun the sentence refers to; no, Japanese sentences can totally and completely lack a subject, leaving listeners to deduce the subject from other sentences.

Japanese sentences are usually written/spoken in reverse-Polish (henceforth known as "Japanese") notation. If you picture a sentence as a syntax tree, child nodes are usually written preceding their parents in the tree, with the sentence ending with the verb and any sentence suffix, such as "ka" (indicating a question). For example, "mienai basho made hashiru nara" - "If you run to the unseen place" - literally "[you] not-seen place to run if".

Japanese completely lacks any dedicated personal pronouns. There are no words like "he", "she", etc. Instead, it commandeers a number of common nouns for this purpose, some examples being "watashi" ("selfishness") and "boku" ("servant" - used specifically by males) for the first person, or "kimi" ("prince") and "anata" ("over there" - something of a literal translation of "Hey, you!" although not as rude) for the second person.

Japanese also lacks grammatical gender and number. That is, it does not inflect its nouns, adjectives, or verbs based on the gender or number of the noun. For comparison, romance languages inflect nouns, adjectives, and verbs based on both gender and number; English, however, only inflects its nouns and verbs by number.

Japanese completely lacks articles, like Latin (but unlike English, Spanish, or Portuguese). But perhaps the oddest quality is that adjectives are half-verbs. It's possible to conjugate adjectives like verbs - complete with tense - and they are able to completely take the place of verbs in a sentence.

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