Saturday, December 13, 2008

Japanese has no subject

I found a book about Japanese grammar titled "Japanese needs no subject". I haven't read it but I agree with what the title says, since when I studied Japanese grammer at school I couldn't understand why we had to distinguish subject from others. Many Japanese grammar books say that in spoken Japanese subjects are often omitted. But in my opinion Japanese has no concept of "subject". To explain that I'll modify English slightly (modifying English again, sorry ;). The new English grammar has no subject, but it has additional proposition "sub" which is followed by a noun indicating the subject of the sentence.

Went to school sub me in the morning.
Should see a dentist in the afternoon sub you.
Is hungry sub her.

They are quite weird but all makes perfect sense. These sentences written in new English have all semantic subject but there's no special grammatical subject. And just like other propositional phrases, it is not added to a sentence if you don't need to clarify it. I think it simulates Japanese sense of subject quite correctly.


Jason Scheirer said...

When I was studying Japanese, we often went over the point of subject in Japanese sentences, but there is the concept of topic that allows the subject to be omitted; with a topic being set in sentences before (or implicitly from context) and continually the referent 'subject'.

hohehohe2 [at] said...


I read the wikipedia page. It's very true and the term "topic" is very good to explain its nature. If I try to translate it I would do it like "about", "regarding" or "as for" too but it's much much more frequently and naturally used. I thought about it long time ago but couldn't find a good explanation for it, I can't remember how I studied it when I was 2 years old ;)