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What do you think this sentence means?

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What do you think this sentence means?

Postby leonl » Sat 05.01.2010 1:23 pm

In class lately we have been studying passives and honorifics and so one of the sentences we were presented with was this

よこい先生はてんぷらを食べられました

with the following three possible translations

1.Professor yokoi ate tempura
2.Professor yokoi could eat tempura
3.Professor yokoi had her tempura eaten


We went over this in class sensei said she would likely choose number one as her answer, So I'm curious as to what answer TJP'ers would chose and why
Last edited by leonl on Sun 05.02.2010 1:35 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What do you think this sentence means?

Postby furrykef » Sat 05.01.2010 8:56 pm

I know the people around here enough to know they're most likely to answer "It depends on the context!" ;)

And, really, that's true. Sentences rarely exist in a vacuum... there's almost always something to give you a hint about the meaning. For instance, if the speaker, for whatever reason, is unlikely to use a passive honorific to refer to Professor Yokoi, then that makes 1 much less likely.

Anyway, here's my take. First, a disclaimer: I'm still a beginner (very slowly crawling to intermediate), and in fact at first I completely forgot about the passive honorific construction because I've yet to encounter it regularly. So my first instinct normally wouldn't have been #1. But upon thinking about it, it does make sense, because "Professor Yokoi could eat tempura" is a bit unusual without context (one would normally assume that she could anyway, unless it was already known that there was a specific reason otherwise, e.g. she had no money), and "she had her tempura eaten" seems oddly phrased here. If you're saying this out of the blue (which seems likely given the よこい先生は at the beginning), I would think -- I could be wrong -- that one would more likely say something like "somebody ate her tempura". Now, if you're already having a discussion about people having their stuff get eaten, then that would be a different story.

On the other hand, "Professor Yokoi ate tempura" has nothing out of the ordinary about it (unless Yokoi rarely eats tempura, but that might be why the speaker feels the need to say it in the first place). Also, since she's a teacher, it's not surprising that an honorific construction would be applied to her.

That's my reasoning, anyway. Thoughts?

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Re: What do you think this sentence means?

Postby kurisuto » Sat 05.01.2010 10:04 pm

I agree -- not that it should mean anything coming from me ;)

When I read the three possibilities, I instinctively thought 1) before reading that it was your teacher's choice. There was a thread not so long ago on 知らない人, where the OP asked whether it meant "a person who doesn't know" or "a stranger". While grammatically speaking it could mean both, without further context it should be interpreted as the latter : in every language, you come across this kind of ambiguous sentence that in fact are not so ambiguous in the sense that there's often a prevailing interpretation. I think that's the case here (although I'm cautious with that, because even fluent speakers -- which I'm not -- can be fooled by their instinct ; the opinion of native speakers is often the only reliable one).

But then, you can also proceed by elimination. As furrykef pointed out, 2) seems odd. You can always come up with a plausible context for pretty much everything, but here it's a bit strange. Also, since you studied it in class (i.e. where you're usually taught the most prescriptive grammar), I would've expected が instead of を.

3), while possible too, well... let's say that for me at least it was not the prevailing interpretation !

And finally, as furrykef said, the fact that it's about a teacher is definitely pointing towards the honorific passive.

A little counter-argument though would be that I would have expected a full-fledged honorific verb instead (召し上がる), but I guess both are fine.
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Re: What do you think this sentence means?

Postby leonl » Sun 05.02.2010 1:34 am

Thanks for the input, I'm really just looking to continue the discussion we had in class. I went with number three, only because it was the one that seemed the least awkward. My reasoning being that in isolation it's the first thing my mind went to. For number one I would expect the regular honorific, and for number two I would have expected taberu koto ga dekimashita, I can't really back up these assertions other than to say for number 3 if u were going to talk about someone's ability to do something as mundane as eat tempura , you are obviously trying to emphasize it and suru koto ga dekiru just seems like it would emphasize it more
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Re: What do you think this sentence means?

Postby NileCat » Sun 05.02.2010 6:22 am

That's very interesting to me too.

横井先生は、天ぷらを食べられました。
sounds slightly odd if you just want to mean "he ate". Some would say "wrong"...
When it comes to the honortific expression, the perfect expression is;
横井先生は、天ぷらを召し上がりました。
which means #1 (Professor Yokoi ate tempura.)
But this "misusage" is frequently used nowadays.

So, some would choose #2 instead.
But still, it sounds confusing (and awkward) WITHOUT THE CONTEXT.
横井先生は、天ぷらを食べることができました。(casual) or
横井先生は、天ぷらを召し上がることができました。(formal)
are the "proper" expressions.
Although 天ぷらを食べられました is very commonly used in reality.

So, some would say #3 is the best.
But in order to avoid the misunderstandings, we usually phrase it like;
横井先生は、天ぷらを(~に)食べられてしまいました。
There is no reason to deliberately phrase it in a confuing way.

Go back to #1...

That's what happened in my brain. :shock:
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