We had a grammatically interesting poem today in the senryu thread:
「いつ買った」？ 前からあったと シラを切る
I took a stab at diagramming it, and thought it worthwhile to walk through my thought process in gory detail, step by step.
1. How many sentences?
1. How many sentences?
First, we must recognize that there are actually two sentences here that need to be diagrammed independently.
It starts with a quoted question, a complete sentence in its own right: i
One might roughly translate this as “When did you buy it?”
Next is a complex sentence containing two clauses: a main clause and a quoted clause:
白を切る is a set phrase meaning “to feign ignorance”, so this second sentence means something like “‘It’s been there a while’ — I feigned ignorantly”.
So this poem is the author reporting on a dialog. Since none of the subjects are explicitly included, it can be interpreted at least a couple different ways. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume a scenario I, uh, might know something about:
A man’s wife walks into his shop and notices a new machine. “When did you buy that?” she asks.
“Oh, I’ve had that for a while” — I reply, feigning ignorance.
2. Sentence #1
2. Sentence #1
First, lets diagram :
The logical, semantic meaning is “When did [you] buy [it]?”
Note, however, that no words meaning “you” nor “it” are explicitly present in this sentence. English is much more explicit about subjects and objects, so we almost unconsciously add these two pronouns when translating.
Syntactically, the original sentence literally contains only two words:
Yet I’d argue this is still a complete, grammatically correct Japanese sentence (a single clause).
The “core” of this sentence is just the 動詞 買った (“bought”).
To my way of thinking, every clause in any language ALWAYS has both a subject and a predicate. Someone or something performs an action or simply exists. Otherwise, it’s not a standalone thought, it needs something else.
Since I feel every clause must have a subject, I’d diagram it using the zero pronoun to stand in for the logical subject of “you”:
This is still read as just the single word 「買った」since everything else is implied (imagined) and in square brackets. None of the square bracket stuff is actually present in the original sentence, but we include them in the diagram to make all the syntactic parts of the clause expressly visible.
It’s not necessary in this example, but it gives us a place to hang any modifiers that affect the subject.
More importantly it makes it impossible to ignore that this clause could be about me/her/it/they/you/I/whosis/whatsit or any other “stand in” pronoun at all.
In this case, the subject is the zero pronoun: @. They don’t state who’s asking the question, but somebody certainly is.
With our interpretation above, @ is standing in for the personal pronoun “you” here, but it could just as well be standing in for “I” or even “they”, for example. There is no way to know without asking the author which was intended, but “you” is the most likely interpretation.
I’ve also shown か in brackets to indicate that it’s a question (arguably, I should have just included the question mark).
The question isn’t just asking whether I bought, though, it’s asking when:
The word いつ is modifying, or more precisely qualifying the core question. It adds the qualifying concept of “when”.
English pretty much mandates that we provide a subject, but is a little less stringent about objects.
If we were talking about a stock transaction, “When did you buy?” is perfectly grammatical, but in a scenario like this, most of us would append “it” to the end of the question.
I wouldn’t normally diagram an entirely imaginary modifier ([◯を]) to illustrate that there is also an implied object here, but to be completely explicit I’d diagram this entire sentence as follows, even though the imaginary modifier isn’t literally present and showing it doesn’t really add any information:
(I could probably have gotten away with diagramming the implied object as あれ instead of the zero pronoun, but who knows? Maybe this was poem was written by slave owners.)
You’d read this diagram as having a core clause of:「買った？」
Popping down to the next level of specificity, you’d read it as 「いつ買ったか？」
This is a terrible example to introduce someone to diagraming!
But it does make visible just how much is left out and merely implied in the original sentence!
3. Sentence #2
3. Sentence #2
The second sentence is
As will (almost?) always be the case, the “core” is the predicate at the end, in this case the single 動詞 「切る」.
Normally, this word means “cut”, but in this set expression, we can think of the core predicate as the English verb “feign”.
But who’s doing the feigning? Once again, it’s our old friend the zero pronoun (whom I’ve taken to calling “Maru” for short [as a nickname for ◯]):
What is Maru feigning? Maru is feigning ignorance:
The と indicates that the stuff at the beginning is an entirely new clause that’s being quoted.
We need a diagram for this new standalone clause:
The core of this clause is once again the predicate at the end (“existed” in English) with our friend Maru as the subject:
To pop down a level of specificity, it’s existed since before:
How do we show connect these two clauses together? We use the と to show that the entire second clause is quoted and provides further context to the “feigning”:
This structure of the entire second sentence effectively becomes
[＠が] ◯と ◯を 切る
Where the subject is the zero pronoun (and implied), and the first ◯ contains an entire clause, not just a single word.
4. Putting it all together
So, in it’s entirety, we end up with this monstrosity for this senryu:
I recognize that this isn’t the easiest thing in the world to understand at a glance, but I hope that walking through the process of creating the diagram helps to explain why I think these are so useful.
To be fair, this is a very dense poem! There is a lot going on with three clauses and so many implied pronouns.
While the goal is to make Japanese sentences parsable, not to make pretty, visually-simple diagrams, I do admit that sentence diagrams are probably a more “intermediate” than “beginner” topic (and this specific example is probably at the advanced end of that spectrum).
5. Diagramming documentation
My thoughts on this topic have outgrown a thread-oriented forum.
I needed a way to publish more static (but still revisable) documentation. I’d like to show in detail what I’m currently thinking, rather than having a much-too-long thread showing the genesis of these thoughts.
I also need revision control and more formatting abilities than are feasible on a discourse site.
I’ve actually created a static website expressly to document my thoughts on Japanese sentence diagramming. I’ll publish the link here once I’ve cleaned up a few things. It’s coming along surprisingly nicely.