Why is the verb "あげる" being used here

皆さん、こんにちは! I was looking at some of Ado’s lyrics from a song in One Piece Film Red and came across a usage of a certain verb that really doesn’t make sense. The verb in question is あげる, and it’s being used in the negative past tense passive/potential form. The lyrics in question come from the song “ウタカタララバイ”, translated as “Fleeting Lullaby” in English, and appear at timestamp 2:08 (Ado’s official video on youtube is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyV1AJiFNyo).

All of the relevant lyrics that tie into this line are here:

この時代は悲鳴を奏で救いを求めていたの
誰も気付いてあげられなかったから
わたしがやらなきゃ だから邪魔しないで お願い…

I would translate these lyrics as follows:

“This age was crying out, pleading for salvation.
No one paid it any heed. That’s why…
I have to do this. So don’t get in my way, I beg of you.”

My confusion here stems from the second line, “誰も気付いてあげられなかったから”; more specifically, it stems from the “あげられなかった”. From what I can tell, this is the negative past tense passive/potential form of the verb “あげる”, which when put after a verb in the te-form means that one is doing a favor. So so far so good, right? No one did the suffering masses the favor of paying them any attention, or if it’s the passive form, “the favor wasn’t done”. But, and this is a big but, this verb has a restriction. According to the book “A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar”:

“sentences with Vte ageru are descriptions from the viewpoint of the benefactor (i.e., the person in subject position); therefore, the indirect object must not be the first person or a person the speaker empathizes with.”

Therefore, the book explains, a sentence such as “Meari wa watashi no musume ni pen o katte ageta” (Mary bought a pen for my daughter) would be gramatically incorrect, since your daughter is in your in-group, and a different verb should be used.

So going back to the song lyric, what am I to make of the fact that “あげる” is being used here? Doesn’t Uta (the anime character who the song is sung through the perspective of) sympathize with the oppressed masses of the world? Then why isn’t she using “くれる”? Indeed one Japanese article I found online analyzing the song said talked about this line by saying “誰も気づいてくれなかった”, using “くれる” instead of “あげる”, which is the auxiliary verb I would expect for when someone does an action for the speaker or someone who is being talked about sympathetically by the speaker.

Currently, the guesses I have in my head are:

– the line doesn’t say what I think it does

– It’s a non-standard choice of language bearing a poetic meaning which I am not aware of

– It’s a grammatically incorrect choice of language which is still accepted in Japanese

– It’s a different meaning relating to the fact that the passive form of the verb was used

– It’s another meaning of “ageru” that doesn’t have to do with doing a favor for someone

I think it might be the case that Uta, the narrator of the song, does empathize with the suffering masses but doesn’t view them as being in her in-group.

If someone does a favor for a member of your family, or for your company, then you definitely don’t use あげる (unless the person doing the favor is also a member of your family or a worker at your company, and then it might get complicated). But in this particular case… (and I don’t know anything about this particular anime, so maybe I’m wrong!)… perhaps Uta sees herself as being more in the in-group of those who could help but don’t.

Like, if Wonder Woman was saving a school bus from falling off a cliff, and Superman was not helping to save the school bus from falling off a cliff, Wonder Woman would certainly empathize more with the children on the school bus, but from an あげる・くれる point of view, Superman is more in her in-group (because they are superheroes, and because they are both in the Justice League) than the children on the school bus. Might it make sense for it to be something like that?

I hate to say that the DOBJ’s explanation is wrong, but I haven’t heard that “must not be a person the speaker empathizes with” explanation before, and I think there may be edge cases where it doesn’t best fit the situation. (And now I’m tempted to try to go down a rabbit hole of linguistic research on あげる・くれる and 内・外, but it’s not going to be right now).

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The text is surrounding her in the video, so it does say that.

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I don’t want to come off as dismissive and genuinely trying to help, but in music a lot of language/cultural conventions are broken to fit a rhythm (ala female singers using 僕 in music which is a male version of I). So I while this rule might be true normally, it is possible to ignore it because its trying to work in a song and not a real setting.

I’ve always thought that 僕 was “masculine” rather than stricly a male pronoun. Like how wearing a dress in Western culture is considered feminine, but it’s not guys never wear dresses, it’s just that it violates gender roles.

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I’m not gonna get into all that, but in the case of music its for musical purposes.

Idol music also generally isn’t a bastion of women expressing their masculinity.

Here’s one article on Japanese social deixis and discourse phenomena, but I think Tofugu’s article on あげる・くれる・もらう is actually a lot more helpful here.

Although your brother is your uchi and your friend is your soto in the above examples, you can consider your friend as uchi in different situations because the concepts of uchi and soto are all relative. For example, say your friend is somehow giving away presents to random people on the street. In this case, you know your friend but not the passersby, so your friend falls into the uchi category. It’s natural for you to take the giver’s perspective and use あげる.

  • 友達が通行人にプレゼントをあげる
  • My friend gives presents to passersby.

Here, you cannot use くれる because it adds a nuance that sounds like, “my friend is giving presents to my fellow passersby.” And that is very odd.

Like in the above examples, you need to judge whether the people involved in the giving action are your uchi or soto, situation by situation. To learn more about uchi and soto, check out our article devoted to the concepts.

(Uchi and soto are equivalent to “inside” and “outside,” or in this case in-group and out-group; くれる is always toward people who are your uchi.)

So… if you want to think of it as “empathy,” it isn’t really empathy in a moral or emotional sense. It’s more in terms of “whose standpoint am I taking when describing what happened?”

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I think you might be over thinking this. てあげる is the giving of an action. They would use あげる because くれる is only used for first person or someone’s immediate family.

In this case what wasn’t given the action is a concept. We screamed for salvation, (those screams) were not given attention. Even in English we use passive voice.

Japanese uses much more passive language than English, so much so that it’s sometimes better not to try to understand it as separate pieces and just absorb it as is.

Translating it would be: (It) by anyone, wasn’t giving the action of being noticed. AKA, they weren’t noticed by anyone.

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