"Emphasis"

Recently I’ve been going through some online grammar resources, and I noticed a trend among English primary language speakers to use this word, “emphasis,” when explaining certain grammar points. Let me preface this with a couple side notes, firstly, I’ve learned almost all of my grammar through reading (and originally in college a long time ago), and secondly, I already know most of the grammar I’m reviewing. I’m reviewing it to solidify and fill gaps in my understanding of the ‘textbook’ rules for the purpose of passing the N2 examination specifically.

At any rate, I don’t quite understand how emphasis is consequential. In English for example, I could capitalize any word in a sentence or speak it with higher severity, and that would change the emphasis as it were, yet the meaning of the sentence would never actually change in a substantial way. For this reason, I haven’t found the use of the word “emphasis” to convey any useful information to me when learning about a grammar point. I have also seen it used incorrectly at worst. I’ll give a concrete example. The other day I added all the N5 grammar points from bunpro, and when I reviewed ”ので” the website actually suggested that this changes the so-called emphasis of the sentence fragments. That’s not really accurate, because node is used for formal written sentences, not as a replacement for kara to emphasize the cause/effect or whatever.

So my issue is that I’m unable to internalize the formal explanations of English/American natives, because my brain basically shuts down when I hear this word. It feels a little silly. So I thought, maybe I could ask for some help here.

Can someone please explain, in English, how emphasis meaningfully impacts the meaning of a sentence? Especially in such a way that it should be the primary mechanism of explanation for the particle of a foreign language. I really want to be able to think in this other type of perspective when necessary, and I’m finding myself mentally blocked by being unable to accept the meaning of this specific word. Maybe it means something different to me than it does to everyone else. Anyway, please help, and thank you.

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In English, you can change the meaning of the sentence by stressing - that is placing emphasis - on a different word. For example, the sentence “I never said she stole my money” is one example that gets passed around the internet which has seven different meanings depending on where you put the stress (i.e. “I never said she stole my money” = someone else said it, “I never said she stole my money” = how dare you accuse me of saying that, “I never said she stole my money” = but I implied it or somesuch, and so forth).

Japanese, which lacks a stress accent, instead uses grammar to place emphasis on certain parts of the sentence.

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That’s a really amazing example, thanks for that.
I’m still struggling to put this together in Japanese. Maybe the typical example sentences lack too much substance to make their point. I fear that I’ll have to think for hours on each point to figure out what is implied in each case. Err, not that hours is a long time in the grand-scheme of a language, just that it doesn’t click very well for me as it does for others. Thanks again for the concrete example.

Bunpro say から has an “emphasis on cause” and ので an “emphasis on effect” (I’m not sure how much this is true but let’s say it is), it has nothing to do with word emphasis…

It’s this kind of explanation :

Use “so much” or “so many” to place emphasis on the quantity of the object-noun in the cause-clause.

We will learn so much interesting information that it will take years to process it.

Use “such” to place emphasis on the quality of the modifier to the object-noun in the cause-clause.

We will learn such interesting information that we will want to read more.

Or stuff like:

The present perfect tense emphasizes that there is an effect in the present. “The soldiers have withdrawn” emphasizes that they are absent now. “We’ve finished” emphasizes that the job is now done. “The soldiers withdrew” and “we finished” do not necessarily imply any effect or consequence in the present.

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Ok, this doesn’t make any sense to me.
We will learn so much interesting information that it will take years to process it.
We will learn such interesting information that it will take years to process it.
To me these things are the same and I internalize them as meaning the same thing with no difference in nuance, other than the literal amount is changed.

This is not how I think of emphasis and I think that’s part of my problem in being able to process. In my mind, the present tense is not an emphasis but a factual conveyance of time information. To me it is obvious that a past tense job is done. Both of “We’ve finished” and “We finished” mean exactly the same thing to me, with no difference in nuance. Same with withdrawn and withdrew, I didn’t register any difference mentally. I’m sorry, maybe this function of my brain is literally (non-figuratively) retarded, but it doesn’t register that way. I understand the tense and the implications given about time-space perfectly well, but only as factual knowledge from the perspective of the speaker.

Do you have any examples other than ので? The only thing I’m familiar with regarding emphasis in Japanese is particle order. That is, there is a default (= neutral) order for where to place particles in a sentence, and when you break that ordering you change which part is being emphasized. Generally, the information closer to the verb is being emphasized more.

This blog post is about particle order and slightly touches on emphasis:

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Off the top of my head just from bunpro n5 I also remember “yo” standing out. It said to add “yo” to add emphasis, when to me the yo particle suggests that you believe you are informing the listener of something they were previously ignorant about. I would suggest that the statement becomes emphasized as a side-effect, but only in the same way as saying karadesu would emphasize a statement by adding the understanding that you are teaching the listener.

Personally, I do much better with this literal type of explanation.

Maybe it would help make emphasis more tangible to you if you think about it in terms of the way the speaker decides to select and prioritize the factual information they convey.

I can tell you factually: I like to read, I’ve been to Prague, and I’ve never murdered anyone.
But I’m going to emphasize or omit different elements in different situations.

If I were arrested on suspicion of murder in Prague because my library card was found at the scene of the crime, I might say for example:

Sure that’s my library card - I like to read! - but I’ve never murdered anyone!!

I would emphasize that I’m not a murderer because that’s the most relevant information.
I might mention liking to read as a vague explanation for the circumstances.
I would omit having been to Prague because in this hypothetical situation I’m already in Prague so it’s obvious.

Whereas if it were a dating profile, I might say:

Hi, I love to read! Know any good books? Here’s a picture of me in Prague, what a great trip that was.

I would emphasize the thing about reading, to try to break the ice and because it’s a big part of my life.
I would maybe mention having been to Prague to seem vaguely fun and worldly.
I would omit not having murdered anyone. I don’t want them to think that I have murdered someone, but if I opened with “hi, I’m not a murderer!” it’s true, but makes the other person wonder WHY I chose to emphasize that.

This video about a related topic might be useful:

It’s not that different emphasis conveys different factual information,
it’s that emphasis tells us about what the speaker thought was important to say.
And that, combined with the assumptions we make when talking to each other, colors what we take away from the conversation.

If I think you’re extremely invested in making sure I get the point you’re not a murderer… maybe I should be concerned. And that’s what someone emphasizing their non-murdering status to me makes me think that, because I assume by default everyone’s a non-murderer, so it ought to be irrelevant information.
And ultimately emphasis is just a flag that says I, the speaker, think this is relevant information.

The same principle applies to Japanese, the tools and context are just different.
I think what the article was trying to convey is if I lead a sentence with “blah blah blah ので、” I’m emphasizing that part, which signals to you it’s something I want you particularly to pay attention to.

One principle that applies to Japanese but not English is, because Japanese tends to omit context if it’s assumed, even just mentioning a topic that would otherwise be assumed can be emphatic.

Does any of that help at all?

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I suppose it does. Mostly I realize that I do all of this subconsciously and without giving the behavior any particular label or special consideration; maybe everyone does.
Unfortunately I’m still left with this vague feeling of, “I’m never going to understand this.”

So for example,
“I want to go to Japan because I love the colorful and breath-taking landscape I’ve seen.”
How does it matter which side of ‘because’ is emphasized in such a basic statement? I literally draw a blank trying to figure it out. Maybe I’m overthinking but I’m somewhat certain I really haven’t integrated this concept in any kind of sub-vocal way.

Also, I put the video in my watch later queue, I’ll check that out later tonight. :slight_smile:

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The overview on Bunpro say:

[adds emphasis]
:warning: sentence-ending particle
[Used when conveying new information to the listener]

So they are not too far off.

But in any cases, I would say that bunpro grammar explanations are not really their strong suit in general… But they know it, I can’t find it right now, but I remember reading some post of the creator acknowledging that they don’t have the linguistic ability to provide an in-depth, complete and clear explanations for each grammar point (which is really though!), so they prefer to write a very short overview, necessarily lacking, but link to other websites that do so in their “reading” section. Bunpro adds value by organizing all the grammar points, and providing wealth of example sentences with SRS.

Well, keep in mind the specific examples won’t necessarily translate.
I would say using ので for this example in Japanese would be maybe a little more like saying something like:

precisely because I love the colorful and breath-taking landscape I’ve seen, that’s why I want to go to Japan.

That doesn’t make that much of a difference anyway here, because as you said, it’s such a basic statement. It just informs us a little more about your motivations - it feels more like the other reasons you might want to go to Japan are less relevant in contrast. Like maybe you want to tell us, for some reason, your knowing some of the language doesn’t actually inform your decision much at all - you’re all about the scenery.
It’s only when the emphasis is surprising that it makes a big notable difference.

The nuances though will only really get in-grained over time as you naturally come across more communication in the language, so the real answer might be just to not worry about it much for now!

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Let’s compare this to “I love the colorful and breathtaking landscape I’ve seen, so I want to go to Japan”

One could argue that the original sentence puts more emphasis on the desire to visit Japan, while mine puts more emphasis on the love for the landscape. In this case, the order impacts what is emphasized (and “because” is changed to “so” simply because that’s what’s natural in English). You won’t necessarily feel the emphasis in simple and natural statements like the original sentence. But when you look at the two sentences side by side, you may start to see a difference.

Basically I’m saying:

With my example.

Just keep in mind that how things are emphasized doesn’t transfer over directly from English to Japanese.

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For example I would say in English (but as a non native English speaker, I hope I’m not too wrong)

I wenr back to Japan, because I love the colorful and breath-taking landscape I’ve seen.

emphasize a bit more the reason, while

Since I love the colorful and breath-taking landscape I’ve seen, I went back to Japan.

emphasize a bit more the result.

And it’s often the case with “since vs because” that since emphasize a little more the result while because emphasize a little more the reason. Similarly in Japanese, there are so many conjunction that basically boils down to “but”, but with slightly different emphasis.

Edit : but reading the answer of seanblue and Rodan, I wonder if this way of using “emphasis” / “emphasize” is a bit incorrect, stretching the meaning ?

Our slightly different takes on the same sentence confirms that you’re totally right!
In a mundane example like that it’s hard to determine what specific difference emphasis makes at all.

Maybe think of it like a ranked list of information. Emphasizing something is like overtly moving that thing to the top of the list, signaling it’s important. The contents of the list are the same either way, and that action might make no difference. But if the audience expects a different ranking, it might be noticeable, and they’ll subconsciously fill in reasons why you might put that at #1 instead of something else.

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Plus, adding words can sometimes be used to add emphasis where word order wouldn’t be clear enough. In the above example I think the focus is on the desire to go to Japan, because it’s written in a neutral way and by default (in my opinion) the reason is less important. If you wanted to emphasize the reason you could add things like “precisely”, “specifically”, etc.

Original:
“I want to go to Japan because I love the colorful and breath-taking landscape I’ve seen.”

Emphasized:
“I want to go to Japan specifically because I love the colorful and breath-taking landscape I’ve seen.”

Adding “specifically” (especially if you also stress the word) certainly shifts the focus from the desire to the reason. Similarly, there are words in Japanese that would add this kind of emphasis. こそ is the first one that comes to mind.

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That’s ok. It’s not critical to your understanding right now.

I’ve come across concepts like this that I was just never able to wrap my head around until much later in my studies. As long as you keep making progress you will eventually figure it out.

Whenever I run across something like this, I tried to read as many different examples as I can to find one that resonates. If I can’t, then there must be something fundamental that I’m missing.

In your case, I don’t know whether you haven’t seen enough examples or if there’s a fundamental point you missed. You’ll just have to keep at it until you find it.

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This does not really answer your question, but I think the sources you are using for your grammar review are partially at fault here for not being more clear / explicit in their explanations.

I would say don’t worry too much about not understanding one explanation (even if it can seem like a pattern of not understanding), or explanations from one particular source, and instead check out a few different sources until you can reach an understanding by combining them (and what you already know).

For example, I checked 3 different grammar references for ので and よ and found very different explanations:

  1. A Hanbook of Japanese Grammar Patterns for Teachers and Learners
  2. A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar
  3. A Dictionary of Japanese Particles

None of them mentioned emphasis in relation to ので. For よ, the first book does not list it as a grammar point, the second book does not mention emphasis at all, and the third book only uses it in certain circumstances:

  • emphasizes a command, i.e. 早く食べろよ。学校に遅れるぞ。
  • emphasizes a suggestion, i.e. 散歩にでも行こうよ。
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