October 07, 2008

Grammar Puns

Japanese as a language has a couple of cases of what, for lack of a better term, one could call "grammar puns". One of those is "Yo!"

yo is a particle, and as a sentence terminator it indicates emphasis. Just as "ka" as a sentence terminator is the verbal equivalent of a question mark, "yo" as a terminator is the verbal equivalent of an exclamation point.

Japanese allows you to leave out sentence parts which can be deduced from context, so when someone calls you by name and you respond "Yo!" it means the entire reply was omitted, leaving behind only the emphasis.

Or at least that's what I think is going on. Am I right about that?

The other case I noticed recently, which I'm also not quite sure about, is in the first episode of Kirameki Project. Kana is skipping school in order to work on her robots (which is something she does quite a lot) and Rincle is nagging her about it (which is something she does a lot). Rincle starts grumbling, and says, "Kana-sama, tara!"

Kana is one of the three princesses of Genes, so the -sama honorific is appropriate. "tara" isn't a word, so what did Rincle mean?

It occurred to me that "-tara" is the verb conjugation ending for the provisional tense. So Rincle is grumbling about how things might come out, without specifying either a subject or an actual verb to make more specific just what she's grumbling about.

Does that make sense?

As such, I think she's rather abusing the "you can leave things out" aspect of the language by taking it to ridiculous extremes. It's possible that like "Yo!" this is something in moderately common use, but I bet it was intended to be witty the first time someone did it.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Japanese at 12:42 PM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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1 When I hear that it sounds to me like "-ttara", but otherwise I think you're right about the meaning of it.

In Cat Girl Nuku Nuku OVA 1, Nuku-nuku is waking everyone up in the morning, and Papa-san is chest-deep in a programming project, so after calling him several times she says, "Papa-san, ttara!"  It's about the same usage, I think, as the example you cite.

Posted by: atomic_fungus at October 07, 2008 03:17 PM (n7Wqe)

2 It could well be ttara but that doesn't change anything. It still isn't a word.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 07, 2008 03:25 PM (+rSRq)

3 They're using ttara the way you sometimes hear girls use tteba but tteba is an emphasizer particle, not the rear half of a verb.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 07, 2008 04:06 PM (+rSRq)

4 Is it possible the Japanese picked up that usage of "yo" from the USA? I grew up in northwest Louisiana and this usage was quite common there. The character Boomhauer in the cartoon "King of the Hill" (which is set in northeast Texas) also says this.

Posted by: mparker762 at October 08, 2008 04:03 PM (DZ6ma)

5 I'm virtually certain that Americans picked it up from the Japanese, during the occupation and later during the Korean War. American soldiers brought it home with them.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 08, 2008 04:35 PM (+rSRq)

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