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Terminology problem : "conjugation"

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Terminology problem : "conjugation"

Postby kurisuto » Fri 09.18.2009 8:13 pm

I recently started to contribute to the French Wikipedia, more precisely on the WikiProject Japan. While correcting a few minor mistakes in the "Verbs in Japanese" article, I noticed there weren't any references to the katsuyou-kei, or rather, a somewhat obscure one (including the famous めいれいけん and みせんけい [sic] :( ). So I was thinking about restructuring the article, with a "real" section about this subject, but I have a little terminology problem.

My question is simple : how do you distinguish, say, 分から- and 分からない ? Would you call the two of them "conjugation/conjugated forms" ? I thought about calling 分から-, 分かり-, etc. "conjugation", and 分からない, 分かっている, etc. simply "verbal forms", but it makes me feel like I'm cheating. Are there more appropriate denominations ? (of course, I'll write in French, but I'm pretty sure that if there's an English solution, there will be a very similar French one)
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Re: Terminology problem : "conjugation"

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Fri 09.18.2009 8:38 pm

That's a very insightful, and difficult, question. The way Japanese works is that you have base conjugations to which suffixes are added. There are six classical forms, including the two you mentioned. 分からない is grammatically the 未然形 of 分かる, which is 分から, plus the -i adjective ない. わかって is the 連用形 分かり, plus the suffix て; in the modern language 分かりて has contracted to わかって.

Now, in most textbooks, they will simply present 分からない as the "negative" of 分かる without getting into any of the further complications, but terminology differs a lot and I'm not sure there's any standard.
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Re: Terminology problem : "conjugation"

Postby kurisuto » Fri 09.18.2009 8:54 pm

Thank you for your answer ! So basically, you think I should use this lame "conjugation/verbal form" distinction, or should I just go with a broad "conjugation" ?
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Re: Terminology problem : "conjugation"

Postby Sairana » Sat 09.19.2009 4:53 am

When I took Latin at university (for a whole semester! haha), the terminology was "stem" and "conjugation". Maybe it doesn't apply to Japanese because there's tons of stems? ^_^
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Re: Terminology problem : "conjugation"

Postby kurisuto » Sat 09.19.2009 11:01 am

Sairana wrote:I took Latin at university (for a whole semester! haha)


Then that makes two of us :lol:


As for stem, it's true that it's often used when speaking of Japanese (as in "masu stem"), but I'm not sure it's correct. Normally, there's a single stem per each word ; the stem of 食べる is 食べ- and the stem of 帰る is 帰r- (but sure there are conflicting definitions, so I don't pretend I know the truth).

The problem is that the 6 conjugated forms (mizen-kei, etc.) are indeed called 活用形, but when you look at the article on 活用, it's clear that the more complex verbal forms (分からない, 分かった, etc.) are not included.

Then you have another problem : the history of the language, and its agglutinative nature. As Yudan explained, pretty much all what we would call "conjugations" are in fact conjugations+suffixes. But from a synchronic point of view, I'm not sure you can call the た in した a suffix. That's even less clear in the case of 分かった, due to phonetic changes (I may be wrong but I think the contraction shows that 分かった wasn't seen as a conjugation+suffix anymore, but rather it became a single unit, and that that's how we should consider it. As I don't know the subject at all, these are just random opinions).

But I still don't want to name both 分から and 分かった "conjugations", not because it wouldn't be appropriate, but because it would seem as though they're of equal nature. I want to restructure this wikipedia article, not Japanese grammar itself.

After all, maybe I should go with "base conjugation" vs "verbal form", or even, in place of the latter, simply "tense", "mood", "aspect", etc. It still makes me feel like I'm cheating, but this time I would only be "omitting" :wink: I'm still open to any suggestions, though. :)
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Re: Terminology problem : "conjugation"

Postby dimitri_can » Mon 09.21.2009 8:37 am

kurisuto wrote:I recently started to contribute to the French Wikipedia, more precisely on the WikiProject Japan. While correcting a few minor mistakes in the "Verbs in Japanese" article, I noticed there weren't any references to the katsuyou-kei, or rather, a somewhat obscure one (including the famous めいれいけん and みせんけい [sic] :( ). So I was thinking about restructuring the article, with a "real" section about this subject, but I have a little terminology problem.

My question is simple : how do you distinguish, say, 分から- and 分からない ? Would you call the two of them "conjugation/conjugated forms" ? I thought about calling 分から-, 分かり-, etc. "conjugation", and 分からない, 分かっている, etc. simply "verbal forms", but it makes me feel like I'm cheating. Are there more appropriate denominations ? (of course, I'll write in French, but I'm pretty sure that if there's an English solution, there will be a very similar French one)


Let me try

わから: imperfective form (未然形)
わからない: plain denial form
わかっている: plain continuous form (~ing)

Not sure if it's ok...
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Re: Terminology problem : "conjugation"

Postby clay » Mon 09.21.2009 11:14 am

Yudan Taiteki wrote:That's a very insightful, and difficult, question. The way Japanese works is that you have base conjugations to which suffixes are added. There are six classical forms, including the two you mentioned. 分からない is grammatically the 未然形 of 分かる, which is 分から, plus the -i adjective ない. わかって is the 連用形 分かり, plus the suffix て; in the modern language 分かりて has contracted to わかって.


Sometimes, Chris, your posts make me think I should start over with Japanese. :shock:
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Re: Terminology problem : "conjugation"

Postby kurisuto » Mon 09.21.2009 4:45 pm

dimitri_can wrote:
Let me try

わから: imperfective form (未然形)
わからない: plain denial form
わかっている: plain continuous form (~ing)

Not sure if it's ok...


"Negative" would be more appropriate than "denial". But frankly, while I think I understand how 分かっている, as opposed to simply 分かる, is used, I don't know what the exact value of the ている part is here. I tend to think it's closer to the "resulting state of an action" than to a "continuous action", though. Anyways, my question was a bit different : as far as I know all individual verbal forms already have accepted Japanese names ; the real problem is to find a name for the category they belong to.
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Re: Terminology problem : "conjugation"

Postby spin13 » Mon 09.21.2009 11:05 pm

I would describe there being two classes or conjugations of Japanese verbs (五段 and 一段) plus irregulars. Each class has 5 modern bases (未然形、連用形、連体形、已然形、命令形), which in turn inflect through affixation of auxiliary verbs (助動詞, e.g., , , , etc.) or auxiliary adjectives (ない). All regular verbs have a stem (語幹) that remains unchanged regardless of agglutination.

kurisuto wrote:But frankly, while I think I understand how 分かっている, as opposed to simply 分かる, is used, I don't know what the exact value of the ている part is here. I tend to think it's closer to the "resulting state of an action" than to a "continuous action", though. Anyways, my question was a bit different : as far as I know all individual verbal forms already have accepted Japanese names ; the real problem is to find a name for the category they belong to.

~ている can be both the resulting state of an action and a continuous action, depending on the nature (meaning) of the verb.
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Re: Terminology problem : "conjugation"

Postby Cillranchello » Tue 09.22.2009 8:51 am

ている is probably better defined as an "enduring state of action" rather than "resulting ..." or "continuous ..." due to the fact it implies "did X and still X." Like a short-hand version of "I began X and persisted in X"

Also, think of ている not as a new verb in of itself, but more a grammatical necessity to conform with Grammar, where multiple actions are linked by て form.

If we examine the nature of the beast a little closer, we see that this stance holds some ground, because we are combining the verb いる with another verb which can be understood on it's own.

分かっている:understand exist (has comprehension)

While "resultant state" somewhat fits the bill, "enduring state" seems to portray the correct image, "I did X and continue to do so." While Enduring could be interchangable with "continuous," the word "enduring" implies origin + continuity vs. continuous where that merely imples continuity without origin.
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Re: Terminology problem : "conjugation"

Postby kurisuto » Tue 09.22.2009 3:20 pm

Thank you both for taking the time to answer !

spin13 wrote:I would describe there being two classes or conjugations of Japanese verbs (五段 and 一段) plus irregulars.


That's precisely the issue : if you present godan and ichidan as different "conjugations" (in the sense of "paradigm"), then you're implicitly naming the different basic forms "conjugations" (in the sense of "conjugated forms"), which is the origin of my problem. Again, based on the Japanese terminology, I'm inclined to call the ren'you-kei etc. "conjugation", but how would you call the other verbal forms (past, passive etc.) ?

spin13 wrote:~ている can be both the resulting state of an action and a continuous action, depending on the nature (meaning) of the verb.


Sure : I was talking about the ている in 分かっている.



Cillranchello wrote:ている is probably better defined as an "enduring state of action" rather than "resulting ..." or "continuous ..." due to the fact it implies "did X and still X." Like a short-hand version of "I began X and persisted in X"

Also, think of ている not as a new verb in of itself, but more a grammatical necessity to conform with Grammar, where multiple actions are linked by て form.

If we examine the nature of the beast a little closer, we see that this stance holds some ground, because we are combining the verb いる with another verb which can be understood on it's own.

分かっている:understand exist (has comprehension)

While "resultant state" somewhat fits the bill, "enduring state" seems to portray the correct image, "I did X and continue to do so." While Enduring could be interchangable with "continuous," the word "enduring" implies origin + continuity vs. continuous where that merely imples continuity without origin.


Interesting, but I'm not sure I understand your whole message. Are you suggesting 来ている for instance could be described as a "did X and still X" pattern ? If that's what you meant, we can't really say it's appropriate.

Indeed, there's a fundamental difference between 食べている and 来ている : while in the former the main verb still holds true ("I am currently eating"), in the latter, the action expressed by the main verb has already been accomplished ("I came, and as a result, I'm here"). Thus, in my opinion, they can be described respectively as "continuous action" and "resulting state of an action".




Now, I'm not claiming I know everything about ている, it would be ludicrous. In fact, that's one of the biggest problems I'm facing in my studies. So I'm really thankful for your replies, because it gives me a chance to stop and further think about it. Needless to say, I'm not done with the thinking :lol:
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Re: Terminology problem : "conjugation"

Postby Cillranchello » Tue 09.22.2009 8:35 pm

来ている still fits the pattern of "Began X and is still doing X" if you think a little around a corner. Since 来ている is commonly refered to as a "resultant state" because it's easier to understand as "Came and now here." If we understand what exactly the word "come" denotes, that is, an action of moving towards the speaker then the pattern fits.

If we think of 来ているas "continually moving toward and within the speaker's proximity" then my proposed pattern still fits, it merely requires a deeper look at the verb "to come" and "coming." It merely requires an extension of what the verbs actually mean. "I come" is "I move toward the speaker's perspective." and "coming" is "I continue to move toward the speaker's perspective."

In the end, 来る is an irregular verb, and tends to follow slightly different rules in comparison to other verbs. You may want to add notes concerning 来る's classification when describing the various conjugations.

When you think of tenses and conjugations as linguistic shortcuts, classification tends to become a little easier.
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Re: Terminology problem : "conjugation"

Postby kurisuto » Tue 09.22.2009 10:03 pm

Cillranchello wrote:If we think of 来ているas "continually moving toward and within the speaker's proximity" then my proposed pattern still fits, it merely requires a deeper look at the verb "to come" and "coming." It merely requires an extension of what the verbs actually mean. "I come" is "I move toward the speaker's perspective." and "coming" is "I continue to move toward the speaker's perspective."


I would take a simplstic approach : "come" is a verb of motion ; a person who 来ている isn't moving (in the strict sense that he doesn't move towards nor away from the place in question ; it seems like that's where we disagree) ; hence he's not still "coming" anymore. Your pattern fits in the case of the English "he's coming", not in the case of 来ている. Unless I'm missing something. :oops:

And that's not the only example where ている has this value. I think the most surprising example of that (amongst the ones I remember at least), can be seen in one of Yudan's messages : 飲んでいません. (Yeah, it's 5 months old, but I'm kinda obsessed with this :lol: )

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Re: Terminology problem : "conjugation"

Postby Cillranchello » Wed 09.23.2009 12:42 am

I think our difference stems from the fact I see the speaker's position in constant action, instead of "move toward and stay still." I interpret 来ている as "motion toward the speaker with indefinate pauses but without cessation."

However, I do think we're beating a dead horse that doesn't need to be beaten. By the Japanese's own admission, 来る is in a special class of verbs, and needs to be treated as such. Trying to make it fit in with the crowd is an exercise in futility, that's trying to remake the language.

Admittedly, there's no excuse for having special meanings for irregular motion verbs. That's tackling a whole other question, and there's no Language Stork we can walk up and ask about the life story of Nihongo and how it grew up.

In the end, in regards to your article, I'd merely list the ている conjugation as "enduring" and have a subsection specifically for irregular motion verbs like 来ている and 行っている, and be sure to note that these are special(irregular even? :D) cases, and we just have to suck it up and deal with it.
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Re: Terminology problem : "conjugation"

Postby furrykef » Wed 09.23.2009 12:54 am

Cillranchello wrote:By the Japanese's own admission, 来る is in a special class of verbs, and needs to be treated as such.


I'm not sure how it's "in a special class" other than how it conjugates differently, and how the verb conjugates has nothing at all to do with the meaning of 来ている.
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