Linguistik-Klassifikation: Morphologie / Morphology
On the meaning of the Japanese passive
Frederik H. H. Kortlandt
- In her discussion of the Japanese adversative passive, Anna Wierzbicka writes (1988: 260): “The problem is extremely interesting and important both for intrinsic reasons and because of its wider methodological implications. It can be formulated like this: if one form can be used in a number of different ways, are we entitled to postulate for it a number of different meanings or should we rather search for one semantic common denominator (regarded as the MEANING of the form in question) and attribute the variety of uses to the interaction between this meaning and the linguistic or extralinguistic context?” Though it “may seem obvious” that the second stand is “methodologically preferable” (261), she takes the first position and concludes that “the Japanese passive has to be recognized as multiply ambiguous” (286). In the following I intend to show that this view is both wrong and fruitful.
Why swimming is just as difficult as dying for Japanese learners of English
- While both Japanese and English have a grammatic al form denoting the progressive, the two forms (te-iru & be+ing) interact differently with the inherent semantics of the verb to which they attach (Kindaichi, 1950; McClure, 1995; Shirai, 2000). Japanese change of state verbs are incompatible with a progressive interpretation, allowing only a resultative interpretation of V+ te-iru, while a progressive interpretation is preferred for activity predicates. English be+ing denotes a progressive interpretation regardless of the lexical semantics of the verb. The question that arises is how we can account for the fact that change of state verbs like dying can denote a progressive interpretation in English, but not in Japanese. While researchers such as Kageyama (1996) and Ogihara (1998, 1999) propose that the difference lies in the lexical semantics of the verbs themselves, others such as McClure (1995) have argued that the difference lies in the semantics of the grammatical forms, be+ing and te-iru. We present results from an experimental study of Japanese learners’ interpretation of the English progressive which provide support for McClure’s proposal. Results indicate that independent of verb type, learners had significantly more difficulty with the past progressive. We argue that knowledge of L2 semantics-syntax correspondences proceeds not on the basis of L1 lexical semantic knowledge, but on the basis of grammatical forms.