Unlocking Japanese – a breakthrough in how we learn the language

unlocking-japanese-cover800: Unlocking Japanese isn’t just another book about Japanese. It is a breakthrough in how people can learn the language.

Cure Dolly: Thank you. It’s kind of hard to say that sort of thing about your own work. Everyone thinks her book is important, after all.

But I do think that objectively we have done something here that badly needed to be done and has never been done before.

Cut to the chase! Buy Unlocking Japanese now!

And that is, simply to explain what Japanese sentences mean, rather than what they would mean if they were English sentences.

By doing this we can cut out endless confusions and false complications. We can cut out all kinds of apparent “exceptions” and things you “just have to learn”.

Japanese is very, very regular and fundamentally a surprisingly simple language. But you do need to look at it through its own “Japanese” eyes, not through the eyes of English.

Cure Tadashiku: And that is where all the standard textbooks go wrong.

Cure Dolly: That’s right.

Cure Tadashiku: Because they are trying to make things simpler for their readers in the early stages?

Cure Dolly: Partly that, but mainly because up to now there has been no model for understanding Japanese that doesn’t lean heavily on English and European grammatical concepts. These concepts don’t fit Japanese well, so they create all kinds of unnecessary complications. By looking at Japanese as Japanese we can cut through most of them quickly and easily.

I suspect that not only does European grammar not fit Japanese, but the fact that early interpreters of Japanese grammar to Europeans were using methods related to European languages also created an expectation of and tolerance for a lot of irrational exceptions that you “just have to learn”. Because European languages really are full of them. Japanese isn’t.

European languages really do have pages and pages of irregular verbs that don’t work the same as other verbs. Japanese famously has just two irregular verbs – kuru and suru – actually a few more if you count minor irregularities, but very few. And that regularity continues throughout Japanese even in places where Europeans have been unable to see it up till now.

Most European languages other than English have “grammatical gender” which calls every object in the world masculine or feminine (some languages, like German, have more than two genders). These genders add nothing whatever to our understanding of the word, but every one “just has to be learned”.

So  when Europeans tried to explain Japanese in terms of European grammar and found places that don’t fit or that are plain irrational, they said “Oh, these must be arbitrary rules you need to learn. All languages are full of those.” But all languages aren’t full of them. Japanese isn’t.

If we understand Japanese as Japanese, it is very, very regular. The problem is that there has been no model up to now for explaining Japanese as Japanese.

Cure Tadashiku: The model wasn’t entirely your doing, was it?

Cure Dolly: No. I owe a huge debt to Dr. Jay Rubin whose work introduced me to some key concepts on which this book is built. What we have done is to take the implications of what he taught and expand them much further.

Rubin-sensei showed how every Japanese sentence has a grammatical subject, whether you can see it or not, how the wa particle never marks the grammatical subject (even when it might appear to), and how the invisible subject works. All this is explained in I Am Not an Eel.

Progressing from I Am Not an Eel, we can draw many other conclusions that follow logically. For example, the fact that there is not only always a subject (which may be invisible) but also that it is always marked by the ga-particle (though obviously that may be invisible too).

From here we are in a position to solve many of the apparently exceptional problems of Japanese. We can see things like what a logical particle is, why the so-called “passive” isn’t actually passive at all and works just like the rest, and why “conjugation” isn’t actually the right word for much of what gets called “conjugation” in the West.

This, for example, solves the problems contained in sentences like

Creepu ga tabetai
usually translated as “I want to eat crepes”

Which have led one very prominent writer to state that there is no grammatical subject in Japanese, which essentially destroys our ability to understand the language.

Even without going so far as this writer, I would say that most learners are confused about how particles work by these apparent illogicalities. And particles are the lynchpins of the language. Misunderstanding them gives the whole language a foggy “voodoo” feeling – essentially because it is being explained as if it were a European language when it isn’t.

In fact there is nothing illogical at all about these sentences – or much else in Japanese – once you can actually see how it works. It all runs in a beautifully understandable and predictable way, all the time.

I know these issues sound a bit complicated when I try to put them briefly here…

Cure Tadashiku: But it isn’t complicated. That’s the whole point. It is the European approach that gets complicated. In the book you explain it very simply, step by step, with very little special terminology. I think anyone can pick up the basis of Unlocking Japanese in an evening, and that evening will be paying off for the rest of one’s Japanese life.

Cure Dolly: Thank you.

Cure Tadashiku: But to ask a tougher question: what would you say to someone who asks, “But how can you say you’ve got Japanese right when everyone else has gotten it wrong?”

Cure Dolly: Put simply, I don’t think there is any such thing as “right” or “wrong” in grammar. Grammar isn’t a set of rules by which people speak. It is an attempt to describe what is happening when they use (a particular) language.

European grammar isn’t “wrong” when applied to Japanese. It is just not the most efficient way to describe it and it creates artificial exceptions.

So the test of any model for describing Japanese is “how well does it work?” What we have done in Unlocking Japanese is provide a model that works very regularly and throws up almost no exceptions as compared to the “Europeanized” model.

That is because we were looking at Japanese on its own terms and not as if it were “English gone a bit wrong”. Whether this is the “correct” model is,  I think, a meaningless question. The point is that it works more efficiently and leads us to seeing Japanese as far as possible from within, rather than through foreign glasses.

It’s a bit like riding one of the first bicycles that had no gearing (that is why the front wheel was so huge) and then a geared bicycle. It isn’t that one is right and one is wrong. It is that one has looked at the other one, seen where it was inefficient, and found a way to do the job better.

That’s what is meant by a breakthrough and why I think we really can call this book a breakthrough.

Cure Tadashiku: So do you think Unlocking Japanese will eventually revolutionize Japanese learning and teaching in schools and elsewhere?

Cure Dolly: I don’t know. Dr. Rubin’s work has been quite influential, but I don’t think it has actually revolutionized teaching. The textbooks don’t, for the most part, take his ground-breaking insights into account. We have gone a lot further in Unlocking Japanese, so perhaps we have even less chance of being taken up on a general basis.

I do think, because what we do in Unlocking Japanese actually, and quite unarguably, works, that it will become more widespread over the next decade or so. Whether it will force open the ironbound doors of academia, I don’t know. That wasn’t really my aim (though it would be nice).

My aim was to provide a clear and easy path for self-learners (and others) into the beauty and simplicity of Japanese grammar.

I am not trying to replace grammar textbooks (though I have my own views on how to use them) but to give the “walkthrough” that makes real sense of them.

Cure Tadashiku: And that you have done.

Cure Dolly: Thank you.


18 thoughts on “Unlocking Japanese – a breakthrough in how we learn the language

  1. Cure-Dolly sensei, Unlocking Japanese is a great book! I got it on Kindle & have submitted Amazon review (twice actually – 1st was rejected by Amazon filtering presumably due to my inclusion of this website url – the 2nd is still awaiting approval)
    Even at full price, this was a worthwhile investment for me 🙂
    Your humble student,

    P.S. Appreciation also to Cure Tadashiku in this online interview – is (her) name by any chance spelled as 正しく meaning ‘Correct’ ?

    1. Thank you so much for your kind appreciation. And especially thank you for reviewing the book. Amazon is such a pain isn’t it?

      So far the book is relatively little known and I really want it to become better known because it actually contains material that people really need and can’t get anywhere else.

      Actually that is not completely true because a small portion of the information is in Rubin-sensei’s book and most of the rest can be found if you read obscure academic papers and grammar textbooks for native Japanese learners.

      Interestingly quite a few things that I thought out for myself and thought were original I have later discovered in native Japanese textbooks. For example my distinction between logical and non-logical particles, which is obviously an actuality but I thought no one had noticed (and it is very important) is actually a commonplace distinction in Japan. Logical particles are called 格助詞 or case-marking particles (exactly what I had deduced myself in the chapter on the King and Queen of Japanese – they are in fact case-markers, but that isn’t terribly useful to people who aren’t familiar with grammatical case. So “Logical Particles is a more helpful term I think).

      So it isn’t that nobody knows all this, but that nobody bothers to teach it at a level accessible to the people who really need it. Ordinary Japanese learners. Why? Well I have some theories on that but they don’t really matter.

      Anyway this was huge and rambling digression from thanking you for reviewing, because I really value reviews as part of the long slow grind toward getting this ridiculously important and ridiculously hidden information into the public eye.

      Yes you are perfectly correct (笑) about Cure Tadashiku’s name. Actually for any really geeky types, the original Cures were named for the motto of Takarazuka Revue, which is kiyoku, tadashiku, utsukushiku – pure, righteous, beautiful.

      As well as Cure Kiyoku, Cure Tadashiku and Cure Utsukushiku, there is also Cure Yasashiku, who sometimes writes for this site. I was the exception in having an English based katakana name (it is a legitimate Japanese loan-word though). This was a deliberate imitation of the Precure tradition of having katakana-English names. Also because I do have a Japanese name this seemed appropriate for marking my English-using public persona.

      1. Truly fascinating!
        I have been merely wading in the tranquil shallow waters of language, only to discover the precipice of an ocean shelf, challenging me to dive in to endless discovery, even as I risk being lost in the unseen depths.
        Take 笑 for example, I found numerous references to the modern [slang] parenthetical usage (笑) as (LOL) of course, as with wwww, but in a way it was reassuring that the kanji for ‘laugh/smile’ roots in pinyin/oracle bone date as far back as 1600BCE/Shang Dynasty (ref: kanjiportraits).
        Additionally, the most basic lookups on origins of precure, specifically ふたりはプリキュア led to one of my favourite memes of transformative strength from togetherness, or gestalt – the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
        I have become a bit wearied from net forum comments deriding ‘nakama power’ as being an illegitmate form of deus ex machina…
        Western kids today just don’t get it. Perhaps they never understood the moral lessons in Sesame Street either…
        Perhaps that is how the U.S. and other western countries now sit, each internally divided in bitter opposition seeing values in conflict rather than values in common.
        While the work you are performing here in education on language (& linguistics) is not quite a physical battle-based existential threat,
        certainly it is indeed valid & crucial work.
        As far as linguistics go, Noam Chomsky would certainly have things to say about the state of the world today – I don’t mean to turn this political, though education & politics are inextricably linked.
        Education (& to a greater extent, teaching people how to learn & why they need to learn) is vital in the face of growing apathy, ignorance, & successive generations of TL;DR attention deficit sufferers with barely enough free time to digest 140 characters.
        It must be extremely soul-wearying at times for you to encounter continual self-interested academic opposition, if my reading of some posts & subtexts of your excellent book are anything to go by.
        With that in mind, I wish you the best & encourage you & the entire KawaJapa Cure team to carry on the good fight.
        頑張って, Cure Dolly!

        1. Thank you so much.

          At last! A western person who “gets it” about Precure! Actually the last few series have been disappointing but the run from Heart Catch to Doki Doki was just wonderful. I mean from a philosophical point of view. You might especially like Suite, which is music-themed (though there is also a pun on ‘sweet’) and is fundamentally about harmony as opposed to chaos – which is really what you were talking about.

          I hate saying “from a philosophical point of view” but there really aren’t words in modern English to say it any better. Philosophy, wisdom, the fundamental universal Intellectual Intuition of humanity, is not something divorced from narrative and our emotive participation in it: it is not something abstract and verbal because Truth cannot in any case be expressed in words (Cure Tadashiku wrote about this from a linguistic perspective some time back).

          I don’t agree with everything Chomsky-sensei says but at the very least his “universe of discourse” is essentially one with the human tradition that leads through Plato and Confucius, unlike the majority of academia.

          Really reading the Western internet about Precure (or anything else that matters) is too depressing for – uh – words. It isn’t that they oppose truth. It is more that they have long, long forgotten that there is any truth to oppose.

          Just recently I took part in a discussion in, of all places, a YouTube comments section. The issue was a contentious one and as it happened (the video was in Japanese) there were commenters in both Japanese and English. I don’t generally read English comments (or English anything else unless I really need to) but just glancing over them they were the usual thing. A hopeless mess of people swearing and screaming at each other. A dialog of the deaf who imagine that shouting loud enough will make the rest of the deaf hear. A clash of two sets of off-the shelf opinions of equal and only-quasi-opposite worthlessness.

          I gave that long, long section ten seconds because there was about ten seconds worth of material in it.

          I then went to the Japanese thread (they were self-segregated for reasons that in themselves are interesting but that’s another topic) where I was able to participate in a genuinely worthwhile discussion with people who were genuinely thinking about things and listening to each other. You know, kind of like how human beings used to be. At least some of the time.

          One person actually did start a tirade against someone. I commented (funnily enough)

          Waruguchi wa tadashii giron desu ka?
          Is bad-mouth (literally) a proper (form of) argument?

          That was the end of that. I am not trying to say that I cleverly silenced the unpleasantness. In fact if anything I was amiss in saying too much. No one else responded at all and if I hadn’t been there the little explosion of foolishness would probably have been quelled by simple silence and carrying on with the grown-up conversation. It is notable though that the offender didn’t try to come back at me as the Western equivalent almost certainly would have.

          Nor is my point that Japanese people are politer and more serious (about serious matters) than Western people (though on the whole they are). There are silly brush wars and trolls in Japanese too and some Japanese people complain strongly about the decline of discourse. But even though I cannot say it isn’t shameful, I can say that compared to the West it is negligible. That of course is small comfort to my Japanese aite, but it is true.

          So in helping Western people to understand Japanese as Japanese will we bring them closer to understanding concepts like nakama and wa? It seems to me that the results of human action can never be predicted, which is why I don’t find politics of much interest.

          So what am I doing and why? I don’t know. My heart left the English-speaking universe some time ago. It seems my fate or duty to leave a parting gift of some of the things I found on the way out.

          In any case, ganbari is a fundamental virtue. Therefore いつも頑張ります!

  2. First let me say that I was very happy to find your book and, after getting it, I read it entirely in just a couple of hours. I had previously read, and greatly enjoyed, Jay Rubin’s “Making sense of Japanese” and the present book nicely complements some of the issues.
    I suspect that some of the ideas you develop might sound familiar to scholars or linguists but, as you correctly write, the standard textbooks for studying Japanese rely heavily on a western-oriented presentation of grammar (akin to that I was taught for Latin or classical Greek as a high-school student), which is not readily applicable to a Japanese sentence.
    Now I have a specific question about your description of how the “-tai” form of verbs can be used either with the ga or the wo case-marking particle to specify the object that is desired.
    From an English speaker’s point of view, the ga particle seems illogical at first sight but, after one realizes that the -tai form is grammatically a -i adjective, and that the meaning can be approximated as “making me want to…”, then it is the wo form that becomes problematic.
    I suppose that the answer lies in what you write, namely that the “-tai” form, being an -i adjective, has dual (i.e. both adjectival and verbal character).
    However, does this not seem to imply that -i adjectives more generally could, at least in some cases, take direct objects marked by the wo particle?
    So my question is: are there examples of this besides the -tai form of verbs? And then, what would be the general condition for an -i adjective to assume such transitive verbal character?
    I am sorry if this question is trivial. I am only at an intermediate level in my study of Japanese and there are still mani things that I am not even aware of regarding its grammar.

    1. Thank you for your kind appreciation and for your thoughtful question.

      You write:

      However, does this not seem to imply that -i adjectives more generally could, at least in some cases, take direct objects marked by the wo particle?

      I take it you are thinking of i-adjectives with a similar “voluntive” nature such as 欲しい. You may find this page of value. There is some debate but as you see, the most favored opinion is that を欲しい is simply wrong.

      On this page we can see that this sort of thing is sometimes done in with both i-and na adjectives but it is not standard Japanese. It appears to be recent Tokyo dialect and not accepted as hyoujungo (standard language). Whether it is called “new dialect” or simply incorrect I think depends on the commenter! I would certainly say that is not accepted nationwide, nor in written Japanese.

      One commenter places を食べたい and をできる in the same questionable class, but I do believe they have wider currency and are generally accepted although mostly not preferred.

      I strongly suspect that the new usage (を欲しい etc) is heavily influenced by Western usage and the western way of thinking. It may some day become standard but it also may disappear.

      However with certain verbs and verb-like tai (as well as the potential form) the flexibility is (I would say, though even native Japanese speakers have arguments in this area) part of standard grammar.

      Even words like wakaru (which English loves to translate as “understand” but the Sanseido dictionary’s primary definition is 明白になる meihaku ni naru (become clear) can be used with a direct object taking wo. It just normally isn’t.

      Which form is used depends, naturally, on where the speaker wishes to place agency. Or rather, whether she wishes to stress personal agency rather than use the standard construction.

      Interestingly, I came across a very instructive example of this in a Japanese school textbook recently. It was not in fact talking about this point at all, but it happened to have two sample sentences that illustrate the usage very well.

      Watashi wa keeki ga tabetai
      In relation to me cake is making-me-want-to-eat

      Otouto wa keeki wo tabetagaru
      In relation to my younger brother, he wants to eat cake (but more literally shows signs of wanting to eat cake).

      So why does keeki take ga with oneself but wo with one’s brother?

      I think in this case it is for the same reason that we have to say tagaru and not tai for another person. Japanese is very strict about reporting experience. If we haven’t experienced something we can’t report it as experience.

      Keeki ga tabetai is one’s experience. We are experiencing the cake’s beguiling power.

      Keeki wo tabetagaru is not our experience, it is our reporting of what we suppose someone else’s experience to be. Thus we are reporting our brother’s action in seeming to want to eat the cake, not the actual experience of the cake’s eat-want-making.

      We can of course use the keeki wo form for ourselves also, and if we choose this I think it makes our desire-to-eat seem more willed. And therefore, perhaps, in Japanese eyes, somewhat less restrained and civilized.

      This is by no means a complete explanation of all the cases in which such a choice is made but perhaps it gives some clarification.

      In all these cases Japanese has a preference for non-voluntive forms, but allows voluntive forms (though even there some Japanese grammar purists seem to object). In some cases English does too, but in many cases it finds the non-voluntive forms completely incomprehensible and therefore can’t understand what the ga is doing.

      1. Thank you very much for taking the time to write this long detailed explanation. It contains a lot of interesting information.
        However, I must say that I am still confused about the sentence:

        I understand that this is not the most common type of “volunting” construction, but still it is considered grammatically correct.

        I cannot see how this sentence can make sense if one retains the meaning previously ascribed to 食べたい, namely ” making-me-want-to-eat” (in the case of the が construction).
        Or, put another way, what should be the “zero pronoun” subject of the above sentence?
        [the cake?]-が is making-me-want-to-eat the cake-を?
        This sounds weird.
        Or should one consider that, in this construction, 食べたい takes a different meaning, more like “eager to eat”, and therefore the subject can be “I” and the direct object “the cake”?
        Since you often claim that Japanese appears to be imprecise only because the approach used to analyse its construction is not appropriate, I would like to understand the logic of this sentence without relying on the “well, this is how it is, you just need to get used to it” kind of cop-out!

        1. Yes I hate the “just have to get used to it” cop-out too. I am going to tell you my thoughts on this.

          But once I have, please give maximum attention to the second half of this reply. Because for practical purposes that is the part that really matters to the Japanese learner.

          To start with it does seem that there are Japanese people who consider


          to be either neo-dialectical or sub-standard Japanese – as you saw in the discussions I linked in my last reply. I believe it is pretty widely accepted as a less-common variant, but it is not universally accepted, it seems. So if you want to discount it altogether you won’t be losing much and will actually be in line with some Japanese thinking. I mean rather than “you just have to get used to it” you might be better thinking “young people these days!”ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ

          Let me give you what might be considered an English equivalent

          “I tried hard but got zero results”

          A lot of conservative speakers wince when they hear this. You can say “I got no results” or you can say “the results amounted to zero” but you can’t say “zero results” that just isn’t correct grammar. However you will see things like this pretty often.

          You will also see ” I got it for free” (did they mean “I got it free” or “I got it for nothing”?) Etc.

          In other words, this could be an improper colloquial construction and there are clearly some Japanese speakers who see it as one. Japanese people aren’t superhuman. You see sub-standard English all over the web (including the mainstream media). The Japanese aren’t as bad, but they aren’t immune. And as in English there are disputes over what is and isn’t legitimate “new usage”.

          However let’s try to treat ケーキを食べたい as a legitimate construction, because I think it can be defended as one. Bear in mind that this is just my opinion.

          If it is, it works like

          撮りが聞こえる vs 鳥を聞こえる
          Tori ga kikoeru vs Tori wo kikoeru

          Which I don’t think anyone disputes, and means “a bird is audible/can be heard” vs “(I) can hear a bird”.

          This is not so much an ambiguity as a flexibility in the potential form. You can shift agency by changing the logical (case) particle.

          The reason for allowing this flexibility with -tai forms is that they are a kind of hybrid. A tai-formed ex-verb is something of an amphibian part-verb and part-adjective. It is usually treated as an adjective but it is legitimate (though some would say not) to treat it as a verb.

          So at this point people might be thinking “it’s a mare’s nest! How can I manage all this Japanese that even the Japanese can’t agree on??”

          So let me say what is most important here. The thing to fix your mind on because it makes everything as clear as it can be (which is in fact pretty clear):

          The important thing to recall is that all these usages, regardless of whether we call them legitimate or not, are predicated on one unchanging fact of Japanese that the texbooks obscure:

          The fact that ga never, never changes its function.

          When people say ケーキを食べたい or 理論を分かる there are people who say they are using sub-standard Japanese. And others who say they aren’t.

          But neither they, nor their critics, nor anyone else is in the least doubt of the meaning of what they are doing.

          What they are doing is taking the agency of the sentence away from the “thing” and putting it onto the person. This may be Western influence. In some cases I am sure it is. It may also be a wish to stress personal agency in a particular case.

          But there is no doubt about what is going on. Ga marks the agent (the shugo, the grammatical subject) if we move the ga to ourself (either by placing a visible ga, or by giving wo to the former ga-bearer, which throws the necessary ga onto the zero pronoun) we are strongly affirming personal agency.

          Whether this is legitimate or not, no one is in any doubt about what is happening.

          In potential sentences, like the bird one, this is, I believe an undisputed technique. If we want to stress that I am hearing the bird rather than that the bird is audible (ie anyone can hear it), I throw the ga onto myself by giving the bird wo.

          If I want to stress my own volition in desiring to eat the cake I throw the ga onto myself by giving the cake wo. And even if some Japanese think I am a barbarian for doing so, they still know what I am doing.

          Some Japanese speakers even go so far as to say ケーキを好き. I won’t for a minute try to defend this. It is baby-talk and most Japanese would think so, I imagine. But it happens sometimes and I think the users consider it “cool” (probably because it is so Westernizing). But again, there is no doubt about what they are doing. Throwing that heavy Western-style agency (along with the zero-ga) onto the self.

          The ga always does the same thing, and even disputed usages confirm this.

          I hope this clarifies the matter.

          1. Thanks so much. I can hardly believe that you are spending so much time in answering my byzantine questions!
            Anyway, your very clear explanation confirms what I suspected: grammatically speaking, the sentence can be analyzed as
            which, to me, seems to imply a semantic shift of 食べたい from “making-me-want-to-eat” to “eager to eat” in order to take 私 as its subject.

          2. どういたしまして。 Yes, that’s right. And you can see how Japanese thinking which considers non-personal constructions as politer – eg こちら (this direction) for “me” and 方 (simply direction) for “person” in polite/formal use – can find this rather brash.

          3. キュアドリー先生,
            you have clarified a key point for me in this single post, w.r.t. two recent video threads combined, Japanese Particles Wa vs Ga, & Ninja Japanese! -How to spot the Japanese Zero Pronoun,
            where I was agonising over how to clearly characterise ga vs wa. in a simplified memorable form.
            I believe you have nailed it here with ‘personal agency’ for ga, naming the logical particle as a marker for the ‘agent’, even when it is a zero particle. (‘secret agent’).
            To continue the analogy, distinguishing ‘topic’ from ‘subject/agent’, this seems to make the wo verb/object particle (or wa topic particle) the marker for the ‘target’ of the agent.
            Perhaps the term ‘topic’ is best & I am hasty in using the term ‘target’, as I have seen ni specifically described as ‘The target particle’ [of a verb]… (ref:guidetojapanese.org)
            Being new to the term “mare’s nest” I wonder if you meant it as ‘muddle’ or ‘a seemingly remarkable discovery which is actually worthless’ in this case?
            I feel both meanings apply to what I’m assuming are great self-discoveries in my understanding of japanese language, which for all I know, are worthless.. 🙂

            A few posts above this, you very kindly elaborated on your experience with cultural dissonance between Western & Japanese in online forums, which I have been also agonising over the most appropriate place to reply lest I take this thread off topic –
            I preface by stating my belief that educators like yourself, fill a far more valuable role in teaching practical use of content (or substance), than such value one may find in learning ephemeral forms of that content, (especially when colloquial use crops up to muddy the waters). Teaching language is admittedly difficult here because form & content intermingle when one is not paying attention. 🙂
            Similarly, the substance of culture and upbringing (making parents & early childhood peer groups the most influential educators) far outweighs the form of language in terms of how a given society functions,
            and in that regard, cultural memes dominate the behaviour of a group as a lowest common denominator during emotionally charged events or ‘tension in a group dynamic’, where normally we would expect to see logical ordered behaviour as taught in higher orders / later stages of education.
            The Japanese meme of ‘do not cause trouble for others’ sounds ok in theory but collectively weakens the group when aberrant members behave selfishly, emboldened by repeated success as the group ignores their behaviour to its own detriment & escalated suffering. Even the meme of ‘the nail which stands up shall be hammered down’ is not effective to eradicate this behaviour when the typical method of groups to achieve this is to merely ostracise aberrant individuals.
            Having said that, the ‘self’ oriented Western behaviour of standing out & being noticed above the group in order to create ‘celebrity’ is much worse for society, as it weakens bonds, promotes distrust, and leads to escalation of tension & conflict until one side dominates through bullying force, rather than by logical reasoning.
            It is likely the already multi-millenia-old Japanese society found more in common with Britain during early cultural exchanges, than it did with Perry’s American ideals and concepts (the common theme of imperialism between English Empire & American ‘Manifest Destiny’ notwithstanding), purely from the English stance of personal humility & modesty being virtuous, compared to America’s brash individualism & somewhat boastful ‘winner takes all’ approach.
            The largely Anglo-European Australian society in its first 150 years of settlement initially held that ‘modesty as a virtue’ belief while still somewhat thumbing their nose at imperial rule by collectively taking pride in being ‘different’ than the countries of their migrant ancestry, but in post-WW2 Australia, we have succumbed largely to western consumer culture and the corporate advertising which comes with it, influencing successive generations of impressionable children into believing that society has to be segregated into winners and losers, and you have to stand out and put yourself first to be noticed and be a winner, leaving worthless losers behind. (And all you need to win is buy xxx, available in 12 easy payments, finance available on application).
            Incidentally, Australia retains a similar ‘nail that stands up shall be hammered down’ culture with our ‘tall poppy syndrome’.
            That divergence in collective behaviours stemming from early childhood indoctrination of values & belief systems is what now dominates western societies politically, bitterly dividing whole nations at the largest scale, right down to individuals in immediate family units, making online forums (with the dehumanising pseudo anonymity it creates) rife with purposefully offensive content, and disregard for civility.

            If only the meme had been a more humanist ‘do what is best for the group’ rather than ‘do not cause trouble for others’, society might now be in a better place, as that tenet does not encourage bad behaviour to be ignored by restricting individuals in a group from potentially disturbing others with active behaviour to quell bad behaviour…
            Memes of course, only go so far, because they simply generalise behavioural frameworks. Society still requires educators to teach specifically what actions are best to take in a given situation.
            Without educators taking a dominant role, (including parents needing to be taught how to raise a child), society quickly regresses to lowest common denominator behaviour, and the integrity of language is only one of the things which suffer…
            Apologies for tangential ranting,

          4. To continue the analogy, distinguishing ‘topic’ from ‘subject/agent’, this seems to make the wo verb/object particle (or wa topic particle) the marker for the ‘target’ of the agent.
            Perhaps the term ‘topic’ is best & I am hasty in using the term ‘target’, as I have seen ni specifically described as ‘The target particle’ [of a verb]…

            Wo marks the target in the sense of being the receiver of the action (object) and ni marks the target in the sense of being the indirect object.

            “Mearii wo kisu shita”
            “I kissed Mary, Mary is the target of the kiss.

            “Booru wo Mearii ni nageta”

            “I threw a ball at Mary” the ball is the target of the action and Mary is the target of the ball.

            Which is why “target” is a bit confusing.

            However wa does not mark a target in any sense. Wa does not convey any logical relation of the noun it marks to the rest of the sentence. Wa merely marks the topic , on which the rest of the sentence (which must be a complete sentence in itself) is a comment. Which is why I speak of “appending a topic”.

            The sentence must be able to stand alone without any topic.

            It only becomes a comment when a topic is appended. So

            “booru wo Mearii ni nageta”

            can be made into a topic-comment sentence by changing wo to wa, but note that the whole sentence is still there in addition to the topic.

            “Booru wa Mearii ni nageta” = “booru wa ∅ wo Mearii ni nageta”

            As for the ball, I threw it at Mary. In fact we have two zero pronouns in this sentence

            “booru wa, ∅ga ∅wo Mearii ni nageta”

            As for the ball, ∅I threw ∅it at Mary.

            The wa-marked topic has no logical relation to the sentence. It is simply the topic.

            In this case it defines the wo-marked zero pronoun. But the wo-marked pronoun only needs to be defined because the wa-marked subject is there, otherwise it would be named directly. So you see wa does nothing to the logic of the sentence.

            This doesn’t mean that wa isn’t important. It is very important and I will be going into that more in the next video class. But its function is not concerned with “logical” (ie case) grammar.

          5. キュアドリー先生,

            I confused topic and target, & also did not appreciate that a sentence must be able to stand without a topic.
            I have a long way to go in Japanese grammar study…

            Thank you again for your tireless effort in these well-thought-out responses –

            I will keep re-reading it and your other lessons & posts until the distinction becomes clear & I get a better grasp on structural basics.

  3. If I may ask one more question, this time about “relative clauses” and adjectives: in most textbooks, these are treated as two distinct subjects. However, as you point out in your book, in “ご飯を食べている女の子”, ご飯を食べている (which would normally be termed a “relative clause”) can be considered to work like an adjective. Conversely, if one prefers to restrict the use of “adjective” to a single word, as is typically done in western grammar, then 美しい in “美しい女の子” could be argued to be a “minimal” (single-word) relative clause. And even more so since i-adjectives actually contain the meaning of “to be”, and the だ copula (in the -な form) would be required for a na-adjective.
    The problem seems to be that “relative clause” perfectly makes sense in languages where a relative pronoun is used. In English, it is clear that “a happy child” and “a child who is happy” are two distinct grammar structure, whereas 嬉しい子供 seems to be the only option in Japanese.
    I think that this is another example where applying western grammar concepts falls short of properly representing what happens in Japanese.
    Perhaps a topic for further discussion in a future version of your book!

    1. In Japanese anything that modifies either the shugo (subject) or the jutsugo (predicate) is called a shuushokugo (modifier). Of course it will be called something else as well since there are various kinds of shuushokugo.

      I think the point I was making in the book was that any verb can work as an adjective either in its plain past or present forms (futsuukei or kakkokei). I wasn’t really proposing to reclassify them as adjectives in this case, but noting that when they are used that way, that is essentially what they become. I think they are sometimes called “adjectival clauses” in English when they consist of more than one word.

      The important things about them are (as you will know already) a) that they are much more structurally important to Japanese than English. b) That they don’t move from behind what they are modifying. In English an adjectival moves from before the noun to after the noun depending essentially on how long it is and how complex it is. So we can say

      The bright red mushroom

      We can even say

      The bright red and white spotted mushroom

      But we can’t say

      The had white spots on the top and red ones on the bottom mushroom.

      But in Japanese we can and must. We never move that adjectival to the other side of the noun.

      As usual, Japanese is more consistent!

      And the same goes for modifiers (shuushokugo) in general. This is hugely important to get used to, because in complex sentences, whole passages that we could take to be the sentence itself turn out to be shuushokugo modifying the shugo.

      Slight near-digression, but not entirely, because starting to get this structure firmly in our heads starts (in my opinion) with recognizing the flexibility of verbs in becoming adjectival modifiers, then with how short clauses do the same. ご飯を食べた犬 etc.

      Anyway, the thing is that I really wasn’t meaning to re-classify modifying verbs as adjectives. I was simply (I believe in that passage) trying to indicate the flexibility of the “verb/adjective continuum”. Not only does 食べる become an “adjective” when we add たい but it was perfectly capable of working as an adjective even before that.

      1. “I think the point I was making in the book was that any verb can work as an adjective either in its plain past or present forms (futsuukei or kakkokei). I wasn’t really proposing to reclassify them as adjectives in this case, but noting that when they are used that way, that is essentially what they become. I think they are sometimes called “adjectival clauses” in English when they consist of more than one word.”

        I was rather thinking the opposite way: considering an adjective alone as an “adjectival clause” when it is used in a pre-nominal position (phrases such as 明るい子供 ou きれいな家), somehow assuming a “zero pronoun” here too: [女の子が]美しい子供 / [家が]きれいな家, just as one could write 子供が明るい学校 ou 屋根がきれいな家。 (sorry, I am not sure whether these phrases sound natural in Japanese, they is just for explicative purposes)

        Since Japanese has no way to distinguish grammatically between “a beautiful house” and “a house which is beautiful”, considering even single adjectives, when used attributively, as (minimal) adjectival clauses makes the whole picture more consistent, in my view.

  4. Actually this is pretty much what happens when (as I wrote above) you recognize any modifier of the shugo (or the jutsugo come to that) as shuushokugo, modifiers. This is precisely what native textbook Japanese grammar does.

    A shuushokugo can be anything from a single word to something that would work as complex stand-alone sentence in itself.

    So, as you say, a single word adjectival and an adjectival clause are functionally the same thing – shuushokugo modifying the shugo (grammatical subject). And of course you can have shuushokugo within shuushokugo, which makes for the apparently complex but quite easily deconstructed “lego-like” nature of Japanese.

    My point in this particular case was simply to stress the flexibility of verbs and the “verb/adjective continuum”.

  5. Many thanks again for your comments. Long live Kawajapa! and good luck with your projects in relation with a more rational teaching of Japanese.

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