[aDoBJG] Characteristics of Japanese Grammar - Section #6-9 💮 A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar

Characteristics of Japanese Grammar - Section #6-9

A Dictionary of Japanese Grammar :white_flower: Home Thread

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#3 Apr 8th Characteristics of Japanese Grammar - #6-9 36 - 60 25
Topics covered this week
  1. Politeness and Formality
  2. Sentence-final Particles
  3. Sound Symbolism—giseigo and gitaigo (for those wondering at the kanji: 擬声語 and 擬態語)
  4. Viewpoint

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Well, I read the “Politeness and Formality” part and all my energy was used up. It isn’t that I find the concepts very hard (nor new), but keeping tracking of humble vs honorable. Those concepts aren’t natural to me yet, so I have to think hard about it every time.


Keigo is one of the bits of basic Japanese that I’ve not really needed, and it’s not something that gets built on by later intermediate/advanced study either. So I can recognise it when I read it, but that’s about it…


I’ve always had more trouble parsing informal speech, maybe learning more about politeness will change that - by making formal Japanese more difficult instead because I know more of the complicated stuff now. :joy:


For me, it isn’t so much reading/understanding the keigo stuff that I have trouble with. ^^ Although if you asked me “humble or honorific?”, I’d probably have to think about that a while :joy:. More like keeping track of which is which and which one should be used when. Mainly, I think the labels doesn’t work so well for me. :woman_shrugging:

But yeah, casual language is a much harder thing to learn to parse since at least honorific/humble language is pretty easy to look up in a dictionary, while casual speech can not just be put in a dictionary (most of the time). :joy:


Very insightful part, I liked to learn the origin of おはようございます and おめでとう!
Also sometimes it’s a very hard read, just to compute what the English sentence mean, so very grateful for this book club. Taking it all in in small chunks is manageable, and on some things I am reading less intensely (hello Keigo), but well, at least I know it’s there


Sentence ending particles: I feel like I’ve kinda been ignoring these for a while. They seem to add more nuance or emphasis and beyond the basics, I feel like I’m not ready to fully understand the nuance yet.

Reading this section confirmed what I had noticed: な seemed to be used a lot more than as a negation. I’d actually thought it was slang/dialect, but this part showed me that actually no one had told me な had multiple meanings. :woman_facepalming:

I hope the actual rules for when it can be a negation are correct because it would make it so much easier if I can just memorize that, rather than needing context to clue me in if someone was negating their sentence or not.

When it comes to かなあ… It seems to be the same as かな, right? And it isn’t usually used by men anymore but pretty equal? Or is it that men say かなあ while women say かな? Or is it actually mostly men who use かな (too) and my memory is faulty?

In any case, I’ll definitely go back to the な part a few times to help myself memorize that.

Sound Symbolism—giseigo and gitaigo or onomatopoeia by even fancier names. xD Well, I guess technically according to this section onomatopoeia only covers giseigo. But I usually see all of them swept under that term for Japanese.

Does anyone know if all these guidelines/trends have any basis in Japanese itself? Like historically? This feels to me like some linguists got together and tried to figure out how they could categorize onomatopoeia and figured something out, especially after they started to split kana in half and distinguish consonant from its vowel.


Tons of great detail in this section, helping me make some connections and tie up some loose ends in my understanding.

The section on 擬声語(ぎせいご) and 擬態語(ぎたいご) was especially informative, as my native language doesn’t feature anything like the latter. Until reading this it had never really dawned on me that there are shared characteristics between entire groups of these based on the vowels and consonants they contain.


This week has been super insightful and quite enjoyable (like others have already mentioned). I really liked the insights into the sentence ending particles and the nuances - it was good to refresh my knowledge on that. But I think my favourite bit was the giseigo and gitaigo, and how the different sounds/letters tend to represent different things. Some of those seemed somewhat logical to me (such as the glottal stop for more emphasis) but I had no idea there were so many nuances and different meanings. I’m really enjoying learning these new points.


When I was in Korea, I was meeting a lot of people and interacting with strangers and acquaintances regularly, so I thought about them a lot but never got totally familiar with them. In Korea, there seem to be more subtleties and rules about when to use certain language. But I left the country and stopped studying the language before I figured it all out…

With Japanese, my main focus is my family (and my students)… so I end up hearing and using casual, informal (Chikugo-ben) Japanese quite a bit. It’s probably resulted in me committing some faux paus in public settings on occasion… but I try to nod to be polite (a habit I picked up in Korea).

The main times I hear humble and honorific language is while on public transportation and while listening to NHK. I’d eventually like to improve in this area, but I’m not at the point yet where it’s a priority…


Hmm, sadly I don’t think 100 % rules exist, there will always be cases where it depends on context and/or intonation (in spoken speech). Especially in casual contexts. Like, when you take the sentence そんな言い方するな. It could be either 確かにそんな言い方はするなぁ or そんな言い方をするな!
But if the な gets combined with other particles, it becomes easier. Like するよな vs するなよ


Thanks! As long as the dictionary was correct that な can only be a negation when paired with nonpast informal/dictionary form, that still cuts down the number of times it could possibly be a negation.

It does? Let’s hope I get/guess this right, because a quick look in that section of the dictionary didn’t say (I didn’t check if な also shows up as a main entry).

するよな = The kinda な that indicates emphasis or such things.
するなよ = This would be the “don’t (do it)” plus emphasizing よ.

Right? :see_no_evil:


You got it :smiley:


Obviously the Politeness section is the longest and densest section I’ve read.
From now on, I’m going to be measuring politeness in millimeters. According to this system, お連れいたします is about 5mm more polite than お持ちします. This is of course an easy to use, and consistent metric. The fact that this turned into an 8mm of difference on my screen just says that my screen is inherently more polite than this book.

“Under normal circumstances the speaker can’t take the viewpoint of a dead person” That’s ominous.


After spending a few minutes looking over hundreds of manga dialogue balloons ending in a single particle な following a situation other than nonpast informal/dictionary form, I didn’t see a single one that was negation. (In other words, the rule held up!)

Just so long as we remember that な with a nonpast informal/dictionary form may not be negation.


Female usage count in manga I've read: very high.









Male usage count in manga I've read: fairly low.





@ChristopherFritz to the rescue! Thank you!

Cool to know that the な rule seems to hold!

And かな seems to have totally flipped, huh? (Aka females/women use it more than men.) I was thinking I saw more female characters using it, but I figured I just didn’t remember the male characters using it, but apparently my memory of only seeing male characters using it occasionally while female characters using it a lot was correct.

I might have to go look at my copy of 耳をすませば that was published around the same time this dictionary was. I wonder what the usage is in that one, if it appears (probably).

You must have looked at so many examples. :bowing_woman:


That matches my experience :+1:

I think we can further narrow this down by considering that the negation-な is not just a negation but it is in fact a negative imperative (i.e. “don’t …!”). So to stick with your example screenshot, we need to think about whether “don’t 違う!” has a useful meaning or not, which should be of enormous help in distinguishing the two cases :laughing:


My wife uses it a lot and her usage sounds to me like the word “maybe” in English.


To be honest, I had the same feeling. I’m not convinced at all that there is sound symbolism on the level of “this vowel means that thing”, mostly because things like that have been said for other languages too, and it’s usually bullshit.

That said, who knows, maybe there is some factual basis in it, but the evidence wasn’t super convincing to me.

However, I don’t think that it’s fair to say that they are “splitting Kana in half”. Phonetically and phonologically, Japanese is made up of consonants and vowels (arranged into particular patterns), and the fact that the language uses a syllabic script to write that down instead of an alphabet is just totally arbitrary.


Okay, from what I’ve seen/read about Japanese that is not my impression (however none of that is academic texts or such on the language). Instead it has been impressed on me that kana is kana, aka か is ka not k + a.

But maybe that was done for some teaching purpose or other. Wouldn’t be the first time something wrong was taught for the purpose of stopping some (early) beginner mistakes. :woman_shrugging: