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Can I...? (permissional or potential)

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Can I...? (permissional or potential)

Postby coco » Fri 12.28.2007 1:35 am

I've read these on shoutbox.

theshadowtaker on December 26 2007 - 17:35:14
Does "anata ga daikirai koro ga dekimasu?" mean Can I hate you?

Mike Cash
No, it wouldn't. And we need to know if the "Can I...." is asking potential or asking permission before we can proceed.


theshadowtaker
Permissional, in the context of something like "Can I have a drink?" It's a sarcastic saying.. lol

two_heads_talking
sarcasm doesn't translate very well into Japanese. (well, at least not that sarcasm)


It's confusing but interesting to me.

If a shop keeper says "Can I help you?" to me when I enter the shop, is she asking permission or asking her potential?

Thanks in advance.
Last edited by coco on Fri 12.28.2007 2:24 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Can I...? (permissional or potential)

Postby saraLynne » Fri 12.28.2007 2:24 am

It's asking permission, coco-san. I think it should be "May I help you?" though. Most English speakers don't use "may" correctly.

Interesting note: I worked teleservice for American Airlines, and we were required to greet with, "American Airlines, my name is _____. How may I help you?" Which I find to be grammatically incorrect, because it should be expressing my ability to help, shouldn't it? "How can I help you?"

Unless, of course, it implies both the ability and permission to assist by using 'may'... English is irritating sometimes.
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RE: Can I...? (permissional or potential)

Postby Oyaji » Fri 12.28.2007 4:50 am

When I was a small boy there was a diving tower at the local swimming pool. My friends and I liked to see if we could jump far enough out and make a big enough splash that we could get the lifeguards, sitting in their raised seats at the edge of the pool, wet. Of course, that was a good way to get kicked out, so we always shouted out first "Can I get you wet?" They were sitting in the hot sun, and the water felt good, so most of the time they said "Sure", but there was this one smart aleck who always answered "You MAY get me wet -- I doubt if you CAN get me wet." Needless to say, that always inspired us to jump out a little farther, and make a bigger splash than usual. :)

Technically:

"May I help you?" has the meaning, "With your permission, I would like to help you."

"Can I help you?" has the meaning, "Do I have the ability to help you?"

Grammatically the former is correct in most situations, but lately many (most?) people seem to use the latter.

Perhaps because of my experience as a boy at the pool, whenever someone asks me "Can I help you?" I feel the urge to say, "I don't know, can you?"
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RE: Can I...? (permissional or potential)

Postby spin13 » Fri 12.28.2007 5:03 am

Despite a host of bad jokes* perpetuated by the Old Guard, the word 'can' has broadened its functions as an auxiliary verb. In addition to its meaning of potential or ability, it effectively communicates both requests for action and permission. By the nature of such a meaning, it must be used in question form.

*E.g., Can I go to the bathroom? answered with "I don't know, can you?" or "I sure hope so!"

Merriam Webster Online
auxiliary verb, 2: have permission to 「sed interchangeably with may<you can go now if you like>

usage Can and may are most frequently interchangeable in senses denoting possibility; because the possibility of one's doing something may depend on another's acquiescence, they have also become interchangeable in the sense denoting permission. The use of can to ask or grant permission has been common since the 19th century and is well established, although some commentators feel may is more appropriate in formal contexts. May is relatively rare in negative constructions (mayn't is not common); cannot and can't are usual in such contexts.


American Heritage via Dictionary.com
auxiliary verb, 5. may; have permission to: Can I speak to you for a moment?

Usage Note: Generations of grammarians and teachers have insisted that can should be used only to express the capacity to do something, and that may must be used to express permission. But children do not use can to ask permission out of a desire to be stubbornly perverse. They have learned it as an idiomatic expression from adults: After you clean your room, you can go outside and play. As part of the spoken language, this use of can is perfectly acceptable. This is especially true for negative questions, such as Can't I have the car tonight? probably because using mayn't instead of can't sounds unnatural. Nevertheless, in more formal usage the distinction between can and may still has many adherents. Only 21 percent of the Usage Panel accepts can instead of may in the sentence Can I take another week to submit the application? The heightened formality of may sometimes highlights the speaker's role in giving permission. You may leave the room when you are finished implies that permission is given by the speaker. You can leave the room when you are finished implies that permission is part of a rule or policy rather than a decision on the speaker's part. For this reason, may sees considerable use in official announcements: Students may pick up the application forms tomorrow.


Edit: In the time it took me to post, Oyaji simultaneously confirmed his handle and landed himself in the stagnant pool known as the "Old Guard."

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Last edited by spin13 on Fri 12.28.2007 5:09 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Can I...? (permissional or potential)

Postby Oyaji » Fri 12.28.2007 5:13 am

Was I just accused of being an "old guard" perpetuating a bad joke? :o

Oh well, I guess if the shoe fits..... ;)

(I admit, I use "can" just as much as the next guy.)


It should be pointed out that this change in the usage of "can" can sometimes be a little confusing, thus Mike's question which inspired this thread.
Last edited by Oyaji on Fri 12.28.2007 5:18 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Can I...? (permissional or potential)

Postby spin13 » Fri 12.28.2007 5:47 am

Oyaji wrote:
Was I just accused of being an "old guard" perpetuating a bad joke? :o

Oh well, I guess if the shoe fits..... ;)


I really just wanted to make a pun about jumping into pools.
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RE: Can I...? (permissional or potential)

Postby Shirasagi » Fri 12.28.2007 6:28 am

When the grammar police get on their "may/can" high horses, I always enjoy whipping out my knowledge of Old English.

In Old English, the verb "can" referred to knowledge. Thus, "Ic cann hors ridan" (I can ride a horse) meant, "I know how to ride a horse." The verb "may", OTOH, referred to ability. Thus, "Ic mæg hors ridan" meant "I can/am able to ride a horse." These connotations remained in English through the time of Shakespeare and the King James Bible (considered Modern English), although of course there was semantic shift at that time.

One can see this in the language of Lord of the Rings, written by an Oxford professor of English. In the climatic moment when Eowyn faces the Nazgul, she says, "Do what you will, but I will hinder it, if I may." And the Nazgul replies, "No living man may hinder me." They are not talking about permission here, but rather physical ability.

It is my personal belief that "May I help you?" is a relic of this earlier meaning of "May", and as that has now all but vanished from the word in today's English, it has been replaced with "Can I help you?"

In Old English, incidently, permission was asked via the verb "*motan" - thus, "Mote ic hors ridan?" "May I ride a horse?" Mote eventually merged with the past tense of "may": "might". So really, if people want to be sticklers, the correct way of asking permission is neither "may I?" nor "can I?", but rather, "might I?" The past tense of "motan", "moste" was the precursor of modern English "must".

The sense of "may" meaning permission (hence, ability) also goes back to Old English. So perhaps way back then, someone might have asked, "Mæg ic tó þone earsgang gán?", only to be snarkily answered by, "Ic ne wát, MEAHT þú?"
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RE: Can I...? (permissional or potential)

Postby coco » Fri 12.28.2007 8:32 pm

saraLynne-san, Oyaji-san,spin13-san,Shirasagi-san, thank you very much for the explanations. :)
I couldn't understand them thoroughly because of my poor knowledge, but I think I understand 65% of them.

After reading your posts, this came to my mind.

Hostage1 : Can we live longer?
Hostage2 : How can we live long?
Terrorist : Eat vegetables, do exercise everyday.

( I'm not sure if this makes sense or not, though.)
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RE: Can I...? (permissional or potential)

Postby Gundaetiapo » Fri 12.28.2007 10:13 pm

Oyaji: "Can I help you?" has the meaning, "Do I have the ability to help you?"


This is both true and false. It's true according to "grammar police" but false in the reality of English usage. "Can I help you?" always means "May I help you?" short of a contrived context.

Hostage1 : Can we live longer?
Hostage2 : How can we live long?
Terrorist : Eat vegetables, do exercise everyday.

( I'm not sure if this makes sense or not, though.)


I'm not certain of your question. :) I interpret Hostage1's line as permission usage. If Hostage1 were conveying potential usage, I think something like these are possible.

"Are we able to live longer?"
"Is it possible to live longer?"

To confuse matters, "Is it possible" can be used for requests too.

Waitress: "Is there anything else I can get for you?"
Customer: "Is it possible to get another glass of water?"

I'm starting to think the two usages are blended somewhat.
Last edited by Gundaetiapo on Sat 12.29.2007 3:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Can I...? (permissional or potential)

Postby ss » Fri 12.28.2007 10:43 pm

Seems “Can” and “May” are not easy to tell apart even for native English speakers.

When we were kids, in school, we always asked permission using “May”, eg
Teacher, may I go to the toilet?
Teacher, may I go to the bookshop to buy one exercise book?
Serina, may I borrow your colour pencils?

To me, using May in these situations sound more polite and respectful.

At times, when my boss was in a hurry, he used to say “Can I have the report right now?”
Otherwise in normal circumstances, he would usually say “May I have the report, you may just leave it on my table once you’ve finished.”

But I think for some reasons it does not sound quite right if you say
May things really be that bad? (x)
Can things really be that bad? (v)

May you smell something burning? (x)
Can you smell something burning? (v)

During winter, it may be very cold here at night.
During winter, it can be very cold here at night. (Which one is more appropriate?)

After reading your posts, this came to my mind.

Hostage1 : Can we live longer?
Hostage2 : How can we live long?
Terrorist : Eat vegetables, do exercise everyday.


Personally, I think this is an exceptional case, seems this is a kind terrorist …..
Maybe “May” is more appropriate? (>_<)''

Sorry, I can’t help much. Hopefully Papa and Uncle Mike Cash could enlighten us.
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RE: Can I...? (permissional or potential)

Postby Wakannai » Sat 12.29.2007 12:16 am

saraLynne wrote:
It's asking permission, coco-san. I think it should be "May I help you?" though. Most English speakers don't use "may" correctly.
.


Some English speakers don't use "Help" correctly.

I actually had a customer try to tell me once that customer service is not "help" the appropriate word was serve. He actually got irate when I asked him "How can I help you?"

After the guy walked out, I specifically looked up the word help in the dictionary. When it confirmed my usage, I wanted to slam it on the guy's head. The dictionary we have is one of those 2 volume almost unabridged, but not quite dictionaries.
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RE: Can I...? (permissional or potential)

Postby coco » Sun 12.30.2007 1:41 am

Gundaetiapo-san.
In addition to its meaning of potential or ability, it effectively communicates both requests for action and permission.

because the possibility of one's doing something may depend on another's acquiescence, they have also become interchangeable in the sense denoting permission.

I thought that "Can I live longer?" could be used like "Allow us to live, so that we are able to live longer."
But now I find I failed to use it correctly. Thank you for pointing it out. :)


Thank you for your explanation, SS-san.
To me, using May in these situations sound more polite and respectful.

I remember that most text books I read, when I was a student, explained so. I feel it's not easy to correctly grab concepts of each word. At the same time, I feel it's interesting to learn various usages which a word has. :)


Wakannai-san, should I say はじめまして? :)
Do you think he wouldn't have gotten irate if you had asked him "How can I serve you?" ? I assume whatever you had said, he would have got irate after all.
Last edited by coco on Sun 12.30.2007 3:01 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Can I...? (permissional or potential)

Postby Gundaetiapo » Sun 12.30.2007 2:17 am

I thought that " Can I live longer?" could be used like " Allow us to live, so that we are able to live longer."
But now I find I failed to use it correctly. Thank you for pointing it out.


No, I think you're right there.
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RE: Can I...? (permissional or potential)

Postby ss » Sun 12.30.2007 6:19 am

I feel it's not easy to correctly grab concepts of each word. At the same time, I feel it's interesting to learn various usages which a word has. :)


As a learner of Japanese, exactly what I'm feeling too. :)
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RE: Can I...? (permissional or potential)

Postby Wakannai » Sun 12.30.2007 5:00 pm

coco wrote:

Wakannai-san, should I say はじめまして? :)
Do you think he wouldn't have gotten irate if you had asked him "How can I serve you?" ? I assume whatever you had said, he would have got irate after all.


また、はじめましてね

多分

I hate not having an avatar, it's so much easier to scroll up and down until I see my pic.

edit- much better.
Last edited by Wakannai on Sun 12.30.2007 5:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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