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date: 22 October 2017

Noun-Modifying Clause Construction in Japanese

Summary and Keywords

The noun-modifying clause construction (NMCC) in Japanese is a complex noun phrase in which a prenominal clause is dependent on the head noun. Naturally occurring instances of the construction demonstrate that a single structure, schematized as [[… predicate (finite/adnominal)] Noun], represents a wide range of semantic relations between the head noun and the dependent clause, encompassing some that would be expressed by structurally distinct constructions such as relative clauses, noun complement clauses, and other types of complex noun phrases in other languages, such as English. In that way, the Japanese NMCC demonstrates a clear case of the general noun-modifying construction (GNMCC), that is, an NMCC that has structural uniformity across interpretations that extend beyond the range of relative clauses.

One of the notable properties of the Japanese NMCC is that the modifying clause may consist only of the predicate, reflecting the fact that referential density is moderate in Japanese—arguments of a predicate are not required to be overtly expressed either in the main clause or in the modifying clause. Another property of the Japanese NMCC is that there is no explicit marking in the construction that indicates the grammatical or semantic relation between the head noun and the modifying clause. The two major constituents are simply juxtaposed to each other.

Successful construal of the intended interpretations of instances of such a construction, in the absence of explicit markings, likely relies on an aggregate of structural, semantic, and pragmatic factors, including the semantic content of the linguistic elements, verb valence information, and the interpreter’s real-world knowledge, in addition to the basic structural information.

Researchers with different theoretical approaches have studied Japanese NMCCs or subsets thereof. Syntactic approaches, inspired by generative grammar, have focused mostly on relative clauses and aimed to identify universally recognized syntactic principles. Studies that take the descriptive approach have focused on detailed descriptions and the classification of a wide spectrum of naturally occurring instances of the construction in Japanese. The third and most recent group of studies has emphasized the importance of semantics and pragmatics in accounting for a wide variety of naturally occurring instances.

The examination of Japanese NMCCs provides information about the nature of clausal noun modification and affords insights into languages beyond Japanese, as similar phenomena have reportedly been observed crosslinguistically to varying degrees.

Keywords: Japanese, noun-modifying clauses, relative clauses, noun complement clauses, frame semantics, pragmatics, knowledge of the real world, construal, general noun modifying clause construction

1. Characteristics of Noun-Modifying Clause Constructions in Japanese

1.1 Noun-Modifying Clause Constructions—A Single Structure

The noun-modifying clause construction (NMCC) in Japanese, a head-final language, is a complex noun phrase in which a prenominal clause is structurally dependent on the head noun. In a syntactic account, a relative clause construction (RCC) in general is commonly characterized by a reference-binding relationship between the head noun and the relative pronoun or a syntactic gap in the relative clause. This feature distinguishes the relative clause construction from other types of complex NPs, such as the noun complement construction (NCC). For example, in the English RCC the film {which/that/Ø} my sister directed, the semantic relationship of the head noun to the relative clause is said to be strictly determined by the syntactic gap in the clause. In contrast, the NCC the fact that my sister directed the film has no clause-internal gap. This structural distinction among instances of the NMCC, however, is not necessarily evidenced in a particular language. Naturally occurring instances of Japanese NMCC demonstrate that Japanese has one single construction that covers a range of different interpretations, which include equivalents to what in English would be not only relative clauses and noun complement clauses (or sentential complements of head nouns), but also other modification by infinitival, gerundive, and participial clauses (e.g., things to read, the result of practicing every day, and braided hair).

The use of the Japanese NMCC to express equivalents of RCCs and NCCs, and the existence of instances that cannot plausibly be categorized as RCCs or NCCs, encourage re-examination of the commonly assumed division within clausal noun-modification as well as exploration of alternative analytical and theoretical approaches to the construction. Attention to this property of Japanese NMCCs also affords insights into languages beyond Japanese. In fact, a similar phenomenon has been reportedly observed crosslinguistically to a varied degree in a number of languages in Eurasia (e.g., Matsumoto, Comrie, & Sells, 2017); Mari, a Uralic language (Matsumura, 1983); Gavião, a Tupian language of western Brazil (Moore, 2012); and others. This observation motivates the idea of speaking of a single NMCC that can be found in a variety of languages as the “general noun-modifying clause construction (GNMCC)” (Matsumoto, Comrie, & Sells, 2017).

In the following, the basic structure of the Japanese NMCC and its characteristics are illustrated with a variety of examples, mostly naturally occurring instances of the construction, which demonstrate the wide range of semantic relations that can be observed between the modifying clause and the head noun. Different approaches that have been proposed to analyze Japanese NMCCs are also discussed.

Noun-modifying clauses in Japanese have also been referred to as adnominal clauses (Martin, 1975; Matsumoto, 1988) and attributive clauses (e.g., Comrie, 1998), and are referred to in Japanese as rentaishuushokusetsu (adnominal modifying clauses). These terms, along with the term NMCC, are used to refer to the whole range of instances in which a dependent clause combines with a head noun. In contrast, one of the analytical approaches, generative grammar, traditionally has divided NMCCs into syntactically distinct constructions, but even within this theory, some have suggested recognizing a uniform structure (e.g., Murasugi, 2000). The theory-internal debates will be left to the specialists; the focus here will be on the NMCCs in general.

1.2 The Structure of Japanese Noun-Modifying Clause Constructions

The basic structure of the construction can be schematically illustrated as in 1.

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Noun-Modifying Clause Construction in Japanese

As was mentioned, the clausal modifier precedes the head noun, exhibiting a typical characteristic of head final languages. The form of the predicate in the modifying clause (which may be a verb, an adjective, or a noun + copula) is finite/adnominal, since the finite form in present-day Japanese is virtually identical to the adnominal form, except that nominal adjectives (or adjectival nouns) in the non-past form maintain a separate adnominal form. According to Keenan (1985), in his discussion of relative clauses, it is exceptional among languages with prenominal relatives for the verb in the relative clause to be in finite form. While verbs in Japanese are not marked for person, number, or gender, they are marked for tense and aspect, and can indicate the speaker’s attitudes toward the relevant participants of the described event and the speech context. There are pragmatic particles and other auxiliary elements that also indicate the speaker’s perspective and stance in discourse, but they usually do not appear in the modifying clause unless they are followed by the quasi-quotative (often glossed as complementizer) toiu (also represented as toyuu) or its variants.

One of the important features of the Japanese NMCC is that the predicate can be the only element of the modifying clause, as indicated in 1. Arguments of a predicate are not required to be overtly expressed in the main clause; in other words, the referential density (Bickel, 2003) is moderately low in Japanese (Noonan, 2003). For example, katta ‘bought,’ ‘(I/she/etc.) bought (something)’ is a perfectly natural main clause, and equally natural as a noun-modifying clause. That a modifying clause has the basic argument array of a well-formed main clause suggests that a missing argument in a modifying clause does not necessarily imply structural association (or coreference) with the head noun. This is one of the important properties of the Japanese NMCC.

Another crucial property of noun-modifying constructions in Japanese is that there is no explicit marking in the modifying clause or in the main clause that indicates the grammatical or semantic relation between the head noun and the modifying clause. The simple examples 2–6 represent some common instances of the construction.

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Noun-Modifying Clause Construction in Japanese

As can be observed in 2–6, the two major constituents are simply juxtaposed to each other, and no explicit marking is found in the examples that conveys the differences in semantic relations. How these constructions are construed differently without explicit markings will be discussed in Section 2, but the semantic content of the linguistic elements, including verb valence information and the construer’s encyclopedic knowledge, are crucial factors in addition to the basic structural information.

In 2 and 3, the head noun is interpreted as coreferential with an understood argument of the modifying clause predicate, the subject of verb katta ‘bought’ in 2 and the direct object in 3. Semantically, the head noun is construed in 2 as the buyer and in 3 as the goods. The head noun of 4 mise ‘store’ is interpreted as the location where the event of the sweets buying occurred, an adjunct of the modifying verb. The modifying clauses in these examples are translated as relative clauses in English

Example 5 presents a different kind of relation between the modifying clause and the head noun. The head noun is not interpreted as an argument or an adjunct of the modifying predicate, despite the fact that, structurally, the modifying clause in 5 is exactly the same as in 2 and 4, which would be categorized as relative clauses in the English translation. Since the semantics of the head noun hanasi ‘story’ allows its content to be complemented by a clause, 5 is construed as referring to a story in which the eating of sweets took place. The English translation is given in the form of a noun complement construction, unlike the relative clauses in the translations of 2 and 4.

Example 6 (okasi o katta oturi ‘the change from (someone) buying sweets’) exhibits yet another type of relation between the modifying clause and the head noun. Although the modifying clause is identical to 2, 4, and 5, the head noun oturi ‘change (tender minus price)’ is not interpreted as being coreferent with an argument (or an adjunct) of katta ‘bought,’ and yet the modifying clause okasi o katta ‘bought sweets’ is not the content complement of the head noun oturi ‘change.’ The semantics of oturi ‘change’ requires a source, that is, the preceding condition for the change to come about. In other words, the change came into existence as a consequence of buying sweets. The past form of the modifying predicate also leads to the interpretation that the past event conditioned the result of producing the change. If the predicate were in the non-past form, the most likely interpretation would be that it is the change (that came into existence through some past transaction) that is used for the purpose of buying sweets. In English, this relation between the modifying clause and the head noun is expressed by a participial clause and a preposition.

The above-illustrated fact that one single general structure is used in Japanese to express interpretations including RCCs suggests that, although the concept of “relative clause” can be proposed crosslinguistically as a comparative concept (Haspelmath, 2010, pp. 672–673), that does not necessarily imply that any particular language should have a structurally distinct construction corresponding to the relative clause, and it does not exclude the possibility of a single construction expressing a wider range of meanings than can be expressed by relative clauses. (See also LaPolla, 2016.)

In the following, a variety of instances of the NMCC in Japanese will be discussed. As the construction lacks explicit markings that might guide the wide range of available interpretations, the construal of the construction will be discussed in light of an aggregate of factors, including structural, semantic, and pragmatic information.

2. Possible Relations Between the Head Noun and the Modifying Clause

The examples in this section of naturally occurring instances of the Japanese noun-modifying construction (except for constructed examples 20, 21, 33, and 34) exhibit extensive semantic relations that are observed between the head noun and the clause. Examples are drawn from various spoken and written sources, including newspapers, fiction, advertisements, letters, blogs, natural conversations, transcripts of published dialogues, and titles of books and articles, some of which were drawn from a large number of attested examples provided in Teramura (1975–1978) and Matsumoto (1997).

For organization purposes, the examples below will be presented following the subtypes used to discuss crosslinguistic instances of NMCCs (Matsumoto, Comrie, & Sells, 2017) with no implication of structural distinctions among the types. They are: (1) argument NMCC, (2) adjunct NMCC, and (3) extended NMCC. An argument NMCC is one in which the head noun is interpreted as coreferential with an argument of the dependent (noun-modifying) clause; an adjunct NMCC is one in which the head noun is coreferential with an adjunct of the clause; and an extended NMCC is one with some other relationship between the head noun and the clause. The third subtype, the extended NMCC, can be further divided into three groupings: (i) frame NMCC, in which the head noun instantiates some other frame element within the clause (not covered by argument or adjunct NMCC); (ii) content noun NMCC, in which the clause expresses the content of the head noun; and (iii) relational/perceptional noun NMCC, in which the relational or perceptual head noun is characterized in relation to an event or state described by the clause.

2.1 Argument and Adjunct NMCCs

The head noun can be understood to represent an argument or an adjunct of the modifying clause predicate, as in examples 7–11. Example 7 is a newspaper headline that appeared in two different regional editions and illustrates that an NMCC can be ambiguous. In the interpretation given in 7a, the head noun is understood as the subject of the modifying clause verb yaburu ‘beat,’ whereas in the 7b interpretation, the head noun is understood to play the role of the direct object. The edition published in Tokyo, the home of the Giants, carried an article whose content suggested the reading given in 7a (in which the Giants are “the beater”), whereas the content of an article in the edition in Osaka, the home of the opposing team, conveyed the 7b reading (in which the Giants are “the beaten”).

In the two English translations, the missing elements in the modifying clause are differentially marked in each interpretation, and there is no ambiguity. In 7a, the head noun is coreferent with the missing subject of the modifying clause verb, and, in the 7b reading, the coreference is between the head noun and the gapped direct object. The notations in angle brackets in examples 7–11 show the head nouns’ roles with regard to the modifying clause predicate.

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Noun-Modifying Clause Construction in Japanese

In this vein, it is worth pointing out that the construction in 2, repeated here as 8, can be used to convey different meanings in different contexts, as shown in examples 8a–8c. In a specific context such as Girl Scouts’ cookie sales, the construction may be used with the interpretation in 8c, since children would not otherwise generally be expected to be the seller.

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Noun-Modifying Clause Construction in Japanese

Example 9 is an instance in which what is designated by the head noun mise ‘store’ is construed as referring to a location whose attribute can be given by the event described in the modifying clause. This relationship is expressed in English as a relative clause of an adjunct with a preposition and a relative pronoun.

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Noun-Modifying Clause Construction in Japanese

The semantic relation between a member of the category designated by the head noun and the event described in the clause of examples 10–11 may be more tenuous than those in previous examples. In example 10, presumably assisted by the use of the adverb issyoni ‘together,’ the head noun is interpreted as instantiating a person who accompanied the subject referent of the modifying clause event of taking a practicum (zissyuu o uketa ‘took a practicum’). In example 11, the head noun designates the possessor (the owner) of the referent of the subject (petto ‘pet’), which underwent the change represented by the verb (sinda ‘died’). The roles of the head noun presented in these attested examples place low in the noun phrase accessibility hierarchy (Keenan & Comrie, 1977), yet the same structure of the noun-modifying clause construction is consistently used in Japanese.

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2.2 Extended NMCCs—Frame NMCCs

Even more extended semantic relations between the head noun and the dependent clause can be expressed by the same structure of the noun-modifying clause construction in Japanese, as indicated in the naturally occurring examples 12–17. In these examples, the semantic role of the head noun is not what is regularly recognized as an argument or an adjunct of the predicate in the modifying clause. The English translations are more or less literal in order to deliver the meanings conveyed by the Japanese examples. As such, they may be less than natural, and such awkwardness in turn suggests that relative clauses are not normally used in English to express these meanings, except in some dialects in which a version of relative clauses with where as a linker between the head noun and the modifying clause may be used (e.g., in examples 12, 13, and 14). The construed semantic relation of the head noun to the modifying clause is given in the angle brackets.

In example 12, the title of a longtime best seller, the head noun semantically plays the role of “condition” in relation to the change or the “consequence” expressed in the modifying clause. The condition is for someone to read the book, and the expected consequence is for that person to become smarter. That is, the complex noun phrase is construed as designating a book that helps readers become smarter. The role that the head noun hon ‘book’ takes is interpreted as involving a prototypically associated action with the book (see Pustejovsky, 1993 for the concept of qualia structure), rather than a direct instrument or means for the change described in the clause, which could be understood as one of the regular adjuncts. The * in this and other translations indicates that the NP is not acceptable as is in English (while the corresponding Japanese example is grammatical).

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Noun-Modifying Clause Construction in Japanese

Example 13 is similar to 12, but the condition indicated by the head noun is reversed; namely, the outcome described in the modifying clause (i.e., (one/I/you/etc.) doesn’t gain weight) is despite (not because of) eating ‘sweets,’ the referent of the head noun. In example 14, the referent of the head noun oyatu ‘snack’ is interpreted with the prototypically associated action of ‘eating’ (as in 13) and is construed as the purpose for what is described in the modifying clause, that is (one/I/you/etc.) doesn’t have to wash hands. On the other hand, in 15 the purpose is expressed in the modifying clause, while the head noun (which is already modified by an adjective hayai ‘fast’) expresses the requisite for the purpose.

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Instances such as 16 and 17 present further examples for which simple relative clause equivalents in English are difficult to provide. In the complex NP in 16, the head noun o-kane ‘money’ is construed as the “consequence” of the condition expressed by the modifying clause hon’yakusita ‘translated.’ This interpretation is supported by construers’ understanding that a work of translation can be traded for money just as in a commercial transaction. The semantic relationship between the modifying clause and the head noun in 16 and in 12 similarly involve the condition and the consequence of an action, but in 12 the head noun is construed to convey the “condition,” while in 16 it is the “consequence.” Another difference between the two instances is that example 12 (like many others) has the possibility of representing the connection of the head noun to the modifying clause by incorporating the head noun in the modifying clause to create a sentence. For example, (kono) hon o yomeba atama ga yoku-naru ‘this book acc read.cond (one’s) head gets better’ ‘If (one) reads this book, (one’s) head gets better’ can be a sentence based on 12 with an additional adverbial phrase consisting of the verb expressing the associated action in the conditional form. In contrast, although the complex noun in 16 is just as semantically coherent as 12, no possible corresponding sentence can be postulated, since the “consequence” role instantiated by the head noun o-kane ‘money’ cannot be incorporated into a main clause with the predicate hon’yakusita ‘translated,’ even by adding an adverbial clause similarly to what was illustrated in regard to 12.

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Noun-Modifying Clause Construction in Japanese

The example in 17 also does not allow a sentence based on the modifying clause in which te ‘hand’ can be incorporated. The hand designated by the head noun is “part” of the person who is sewing, that is, the unmentioned subject referent of the verb phrase nuimono o suru ‘(she) is sewing’ in the modifying clause. The part-whole relationship presented here is the opposite of the relation in which the head noun is the possessor (the whole) and an element in the clause is the possessed (the part), as in example 8. It should be noted that (??) te ga nuimono o suru ‘the hand is sewing’ is not a natural sentence in Japanese, and therefore 17 is not an instance of a clausal modifying of the head noun that can instantiate an argument of the modifying predicate.

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Noun-Modifying Clause Construction in Japanese

It should be clearly noted that an extensive range of semantic relations observable between the head noun and the modifying clause in Japanese by no means implies that any relation is possible. For example, instances in which the two major constituents of the construction express events that happened simultaneously or events of simple temporal sequence without a further connection were not found in the study reported in Matsumoto (1997). 18 and 19 present such constructed examples, which are marked as pragmatically unacceptable for the lack of clear semantic coherence between the constituents.

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Noun-Modifying Clause Construction in Japanese

Further, instances of noun-modifying constructions tend not to be comprehended if they do not appear to “make sense.” In other words, a construction is not possible to the construer if there is no interpretation available that is compatible with the construer’s understanding of the world. That construal needs to rely on the semantic and pragmatic plausibility seems to be in accord with the fact that there is no explicit marking that leads to a specific interpretation. For example, native speakers largely judge the construction in 20 to be impossible (Matsumoto, 1997, p. 83), while the English counterpart given in the translation provides one undisputable reading in which the tomato is the agent and Tokyo is the patient of eating, regardless of the oddity of the described situation. If the head noun is gozira ‘Godzilla (a giant monster)’ as in example 20, the construction becomes possible.

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Noun-Modifying Clause Construction in Japanese

Subsections 2.3 and 2.4 provide some more attested examples of the noun-modifying clause construction, in which the semantics of the head nouns can license certain kinds of semantic relations between what is denoted by the head noun and the modifying clause. They are further subdivided into groups depending on the meanings of the head nouns and the relationship between the head noun and the clause.

2.3 Extended NMCCs—Content Noun NMCCs

Examples 22–26 are some representative instances of the NMCC in which the head noun is semantically content-taking. They are listed according to the meanings of the head nouns. In these examples, the modifying clause describes the content of what is denoted by the head noun, such as communication, thoughts, and other concepts whose content can be complemented by a clause.

Nouns of Communication as Head

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Noun-Modifying Clause Construction in Japanese

Nouns of Thoughts and Feeling as Head

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Nouns of Abstract Concept as Head

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Noun-Modifying Clause Construction in Japanese

Examples 22–26 can be interpreted as NCCs, as the English translations suggest, but the kinds of nouns that can be the head noun in the Japanese constructions, such as denwa ‘telephone’ and kekka ‘result,’ are more extensive than the English counterparts. Unlike the English counterparts, the Japanese construction has the same structure as the instances that we observed in the previous section.

A note should be made regarding the use of toiu, glossed as ‘QT.say’ in examples 23 and 26. The expression toiu is composed of the quotative marker to ‘that’ and the verb iu ‘say,’ and has generally been treated as a complementizer, an equivalent to English that. The use or non-use of toiu has been a topic of interest mostly in the studies of complementation (e.g., Terakura, 1984). Rather than presenting the history of the arguments made in the previous research, three descriptive points are noted. First, the form of (main clause) speech or direct quote, including fragments, can be used when it is followed by toiu in the modifying clause. Second, unlike a regular complementizer that has a single form such as that in English, toiu has variations: toiu itself is in the adnominal (non-past finite) form, but the quotative marker to and the verb iu can be varied to yield such forms as toittaqt.said,’ (t)teiuqt(informal).say,’ teittaqt(informal).said,’ and tte, the shortest and most colloquial form. These forms can also be used in the main clause when some utterances are quoted. That is, all the toiu variations are in the finite/adnominal form, satisfying the exact specification of the noun-modifying clause of the construction at issue in Japanese. Third, toiu is used selectively, as is apparent from the above examples. It is used only when the content of the modifying clause is a representation of specific speech (quotation) or a verbal representation of subjective thoughts (Maynard, 1992; Matsumoto, 1998). Therefore, a head noun that generally refers to a verbal communication or its product is compatible with the use of toiu in the modifying clause, as in 23 and 26. In 23, toiu precedes the abbreviated (fragmented) content of the announcement by banks, and in 24, the verbal description of the formula is given before toiu. In this sense, examples 22 and 24 potentially cooccur with a modifying clause with toiu, especially when the specificity of the verbal representation given in the clause is emphasized.

2.4 Extended NMCCs—The Relational (/Perceptional) Noun NMCC

Examples 27–28 present cases in which the head noun is semantically specific, as with the above examples 22–26, but the semantic relationship observed between the two main constituents differs from what is presented by 22–26. If the head noun denotes some relational concept or an instantiation of such a concept that is dependent on some event or state, it is likely that what is described in the modifying clause provides such an event or state. On the one hand, the relational concept denoted by the head noun calls for propositional content on which it is relationally dependent; on the other, it participates in a frame evoked by the modifying clause predicate. The head noun of the construction 27, gen’in ‘cause,’ is a general relational term, while the head noun of 29, oturi ‘change,’ is a concept more specific to a commercial event frame.

The cause and the result are relational concepts in that the cause generates the result. In 27, the content of the cause (gen’in) designated by the head noun is not described by the clause, unlike in the examples in section 2.2, but the resulting situation sippai-sita ‘failed’ is given by the clause. The content of the ‘cause’ (head noun) is to be described by the main clause following the construction. The meaning of kaeri ‘return, one’s way home’ implies that there was an outbound trip. This trip is described in the clause as kaimono ni deta ‘went shopping.’

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Example 29 is similar to 6 (okasi o katta oturi ‘the change from buying sweets’), in that the modifying clause kodomotati ga dagasi o katta ‘children bought candy’ does not describe the content of oturi ‘change’ (i.e., the balance of money that the seller returns to the buyer from the tender), but it depicts the event of buying that gives rise to the change. The ‘change’ is also part of the commercial event described in the clause. By the same token, in 30, the meaning of the head noun ato ‘mark, scar’ implies that there was a prior event that caused its existence, and such a prior event is described in the clause.

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Similarly, the perception denoted by the head noun nioi ‘smell’ in example 31 cannot exist independently, and it requires the source. The event expressed in the clause sakana o yaku ‘(I/you/she/etc.) grill fish’ gives the accompanying condition by which the smell is created. Nioi ‘smell’ may not be a prototypical relational noun, but perceptional nouns such as nioi ‘smell,’ oto ‘sound,’ and yoosu ‘appearance,’ which are found as head nouns, can be interpreted in a broader sense as relational to their source. Example 32 presents an instance with yoosu ‘appearance’ as the head noun.

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It is important to note that the same noun, e.g. kekka ‘result’ in 33 and 34, can be used in constructions of the type given in 2.3 (content noun NMCC) and of the type given in this section. The modifying clause in 33 represents the content of the head noun kekka ‘result,’ whereas the modifying clause in 34 describes the relational condition that brought about the result, which is provided in the main clause.

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3. Approaches to Analyzing NMCC in Japanese

There have been several approaches to the study of Japanese adnominal clauses in the last forty to fifty years. It is probably fair to say that the approaches can be classified into three general groups: syntactic, descriptive, and semantic/pragmatic approaches. Syntactic approaches, following the various theoretical strands inspired by generative grammar, often aim to identify preassumed universal syntactic principles that govern the behavior of noun-modifying clause constructions in Japanese. Relative clauses, in particular, have received the most attention. As the emphasis of the studies is more theoretical than descriptive, the examinations often focus on grammaticality judgments of constructed instances that are important for specific theoretical points, such as island constraints. Studies that take the descriptive approach focus on detailed descriptions and classifications of a wide spectrum of naturally occurring constructions in Japanese. The range of data that the descriptive studies have examined is comparable to the instances exemplified in the previous sections here. The third group of studies emphasizes the important role that semantics and pragmatics play in accounting for a wide variety of naturally occurring instances. An aggregate of factors, such as the form, the meaning of the elements in the clause and the head noun, and the construer’s general knowledge associated with such elements, are important to explaining the construal of the constructions in use.

3.1 Syntactic Approaches—Generative Grammar and Functional Syntax

There was a surge of syntactic studies of Japanese relative clauses and noun complementation from the 1970s to the early 1990s, inspired by the developments of generative grammar. As generative grammar employs introspective data for the examination of linguistic phenomena contributing to theoretical development, the type and scope of data for the syntactic approach are much more narrowly focused than the data used in the descriptive approach.

The majority of studies have examined the behavior of relative clause and noun complement constructions separately and have treated them as structurally distinct constructions: relative clauses, which contain a syntactic gap (said to be created by movement or deletion) corresponding to the head noun, and noun complements, which have no gaps. Some of the notable studies on complementation (Kuno, 1973; Josephs, 1976), followed on Kiparsky and Kiparsky’s (1968) work on factive complements. Many studies focused on discussions of whether Japanese relative clauses were generated by a movement rule, comparable to English relative clauses (Hasegawa, 1981; Saito, 1985; Kuroda, 1992), or by deletion of the embedded target noun (along with its case marker) under coreference with the head noun (Nakau, 1973; Okutsu, 1974; Inoue, 1976; Shibatani, 1978). Okutsu (1974) and Inoue (1976) discussed the deletability of an embedded target depending on its case marker. From the point of view of studies advocating movement rules, island constraints (Ross, 1967), that is, syntactic constraints on the extractability of an embedded noun, were (and still are) claimed as one of the crucial criteria for the existence of syntactically governed relative clauses, as movement rules are considered particularly sensitive to the constraints. Japanese, unlike English, is largely understood as not following island constraints in general. There are, however, situations in which the extractability of a noun from a complex NP has been argued to illustrate such features as subject/non-subject asymmetry; that is, the extraction out of an NP in subject position is allowed, while the extraction out of an NP in non-subject position is not (Hasegawa, 1981). Shimojo (2002), on the other hand, offers a view that island effects are not controlled by syntax but by cognitive and functional factors. Whether relative clauses (or some subset of the more general noun-modifying clause construction) involve syntactic movement is still a debated issue even within the generative grammar tradition. While the extraction-based analysis is maintained by some (Whitman, 2013), others—Hoji (1985) and Murasugi (2000), for example—argue against a movement analysis. Murasugi, in particular, applying Kayne’s antisymmetry analysis (Kayne, 1994), states that Japanese does not have relative clauses, because the claimed relative clauses are virtually indistinguishable from sentential modifiers in pure complex NPs.

From the perspective of functional syntax, Kuno (1973) argued in his influential analysis of Japanese relative clauses that relativization involved theme (or topic) deletion rather than simply the deletion of a coreferential noun phrase. In other words, what is relativized in his formulation is a thematic noun phrase (i.e., NP + topic marker wa), not NP + case marker. This observation was based on four points of parallelism claimed between relativization and thematization: (1) when a case marker attached to the noun can be replaced by the topic marker wa (i.e., thematization of a noun without an attendant case marker), the noun can be the target of thematization; (2) both constructions (under appropriate conditions) allow resumptive pronouns; (3) a target in adverbial clauses, complex noun phrases, and sentential subjects can undergo thematization and relativization; and (4) topic constructions with no corresponding themeless sentences have corresponding relative clauses. Despite the plausibility of the association between the two constructions, based on the common intuition that the content of the relative clause describes something about the head noun, Kuno’s proposal was not free of counterexamples that presented a challenge to his specific analysis (Muraki, 1970, based on Kuno’s manuscript; McCawley, 1976; Matsumoto, 1991). The basic concept, nonetheless, was adopted by some movement-based syntactic analyses as an “aboutness condition” on relativization (Saito, 1985; Kameshima, 1990).

3.2 Descriptive Approach

Martin (1975) and Teramura (1975–1978) are particularly notable in the descriptive category. Martin’s work on noun-modifying clause constructions, being part of his reference grammar of Japanese, provides ample natural Japanese data that are accessible to readers, including those who are not familiar with Japanese. Teramura’s influential work, the majority of which is written in Japanese, presents detailed analyses of naturally occurring instances from various written sources. His work has become widely known in the last two decades among specialists in Japan of Japanese as a second language.

Teramura, emphasizing the need to be aware of characteristics of Japanese that are not in conformity with frameworks developed to treat European languages, examined a wide range of instances of NMCCs in terms of the relations between the head noun (soko no meisi, “base noun” in his terminology) and the modifying clause. The bipartite categories are: uti no kankei ‘inner relation’ and soto no kankei ‘outer relation.’ In a construction with the inner relation, Teramura stated that the relationship between the head noun and the modifying clause is solely structural, that it is constructed by a noun being extracted out of the sentence to become the head noun (i.e., the constituents would form a sentence with the appropriate case marker for the head noun), and that such constructions are comparable with RCCs in English. On the other hand, in an outer relation, the clause supplements the content of the meaning designated by the head, and the head noun is required to be of a semantically special type. Depending of the meaning of the head noun, the instances of the outer relation noun-modifying clause construction are further categorized by Teramura into types expressing (1) the content of speech or thought; (2) the content of facts and abstract concepts; (3) the content of general and abstract actions, events, or states; (4) the content of perception; and (5) relational concepts. The examples given in sections 2.3 and 2.4 would be classified as instances of the outer relation construction, while the subdivisions among them are different. These instances can be compared to NCCs in English, but the types of nouns that can be the head noun are much broader than for the English counterparts.

A minimum pair of the two types provided by Teramura is given; the example of the outer relation noun-modification, 35b, is of the fourth type in his classification, that is, content of perception, and a similar example 31 is given in 2.4.

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Noun-Modifying Clause Construction in Japanese

Teramura also noted problems of his bipartite classification into inner and outer relations; he found that some instances fit into neither type, and others fit into both. The first such case is given as example 12 in section 2.2 [[atama no yoku naru] hon] ‘the book where you become smarter; the book (by reading) which (one’s) head gets better.’ The major constituents in 12 neither form a sentence by a simple “insertion” of the head noun with the appropriate case marker to the clause, nor do they form the outer relation construction, as the head noun is not of the right semantic type. Teramura refers to these examples as “truncated” inner relation constructions.

The second problem that Teramura pointed out is illustrated by 36, which is from a transcribed conversation containing the head noun dooki ‘motive,’ Teramura classified the head noun as an outer relation noun (relational), but also noted that constructions with nouns such as dooki as the head noun could be converted to sentences with the case marker de (e.g., sono dookide kimuchi o hajimeta ‘I started kimchee with that motive’) and therefore they could also be classified as inner relation instances.

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Noun-Modifying Clause Construction in Japanese

Martin’s work in his chapter on “Adnominalizations” in the reference grammar (1975) has not received as much attention as Teramura’s work, but offers a comparable classification of noun-modifying clause constructions. Martin categorized nouns that become epithemes (head nouns) into two major groups: those that are “extruded” from the sentence and those that are “intruded,” which he names post-adnominals. With regard to the first group, he stated that “a noun phrase referring to the time (when), the place (where), the agent (who or by whom), the object (that or which is affected), the beneficiary (for whom), the reciprocal (with/against whom), the instrumental (with which), the ablative (from what/whom), etc., is pulled out to be embedded as an adjunct to a new predicate” (1975, p. 619). The idea is comparable to Teramura’s inner relationship type.

The “intruded” epithemes, which “come from outside the adnominalized sentence,” are classified into three subtypes: summational (or synoptic), resultative (or creational), and transitional (or relational, or conjunctive). According to Martin, the summational epithemes refer to a situation, a fact, a report, an experience, a similarity, a hope, a thought, a sense, etc., and the situation or fact is elaborated in the adnominalized sentence. The resultative epithemes refer to a resultant thing or state, a product, a percept, etc., and the adnominalized sentence is the creative (or perceptive) process from which the result stems. The transitional epithemes refer to relative time or place, to a cause or reason, a purpose, or a degree, etc. These three subtypes occupy approximately the domain of Teramura’s soto no kankei (outer relationship) type.

Martin and Teramura share the view that the extruded or the inner relation type are formed structurally by the extraction of a case-marked noun from a sentence to function as the head noun of the noun-modifying construction. In contrast, the intruded or outer-relation types are completely characterized by the semantics of the head noun. These analyses provide tangible guidelines to understanding NMCCs as two categories, while leaving certain issues unaccounted for. These issues are addressed by an alternative approach that integrates the semantics and pragmatics of the construction into the analysis (see section 3.3).

3.3 Approach Integrating Semantics and Pragmatics

The theoretical foundation for the investigation of Japanese NMCCs from the semantic and pragmatic perspectives was inspired by the pragmatic turn in linguistics that began in the late 1970s to 1980s and by frame semantics (e.g., Fillmore, 1982, 1985). Both theoretical trends investigated meaning beyond the truth value of a proposition by incorporating contextual and encyclopedic knowledge in interpreting texts and other human communication. The development of pragmatics made it possible to approach language with a recognition of its complexity in terms of cognition, speech context, and sociocultural background. In such a general perspective, the relationship between the two main constituents of a Japanese NMCC can be described by directly appealing to the semantic and pragmatic information available in the text and context without resorting to assistance or deletion of hypothesized linguistic materials, just as the speech act of making a statement does not need to be represented as being embedded under the main clause of I say to you …, as it was once conceived (Ross, 1970).

The concept of frame semantics advocated by Fillmore (e.g., 1982, 1985) enables a richer understanding of a linguistic item by associating it with a larger context represented by a frame, or a prototypical instance of the scene. For example, as a valence description of the verb risk, Fillmore and Atkins (1992) proposed such extended categories as chance, harm, victim, valued object, situation, deed, actor, gain, purpose, beneficiary and motivation. Frame semantics, being an influential concept in the analysis of the construction of meaning and grammar, allows analyses that reference frame elements that may not be expressed as the arguments of, say, a verb, but that reflect various components of the lexical meaning that are part of the frame evoked by the verb.

Under the influence of these theoretical developments, a grammatical analysis of adnominal clauses in Japanese that significantly incorporated semantic and pragmatic factors was proposed by Matsumoto (1988) and was further developed in Matsumoto (1997). In this framework, the coherence of an instance of the NMCC that is morphosyntactically well-formed is construed through the integration of frames and frame elements evoked by the linguistic items in the construction with the support of the construer’s knowledge of the real world. For example, 12 atama no yoku-naru hon ‘the book where you become smarter’ is coherent, even though the head noun is not coreferent with the subject or a case-marked adjunct of the modifying clause predicate, because the predicate yoku-naru ‘gets better’ evokes a change-of-state frame, and in that frame the role of condition that brings about the change can be identified. In order for this interpretation to be obtained, the interpreter’s world view needs to support the situation given in the construction, that is, (reading) books is understood to assist people’s intellectual capacity. The importance of compatibility with the construer’s understanding of the world was also illustrated in example 20 tookyoo o tabeta tomato ‘the tomato which ate Tokyo,’ in which the possible coreference of the head noun tomato with the unexpressed direct object of the modifying clause predicate tabeta ‘ate.’

Possible patterns in which the single structure of NMCC may be construed were presented according to which constituent plays the role of anchor (or host) in the semantic integration of the construction (Matsumoto, 1988, 1997) to illustrate that there is a system to the construal and that it is not based on a random association. The patterns were the “Clause Host” (CH) type, the “Noun Host” (NH) type, and the “Clause and Noun Host” (CNH) type. It was important to the analysis that the patterns were given for exposition purposes only, since they are of the same construction. The examples that have been given here under the headings of argument, adjunct, and frame NMCCs (sections 2.1 and 2.2) are instances of the CH type. The NH type corresponds to instances of content noun NMCCs (section 2.3), and the CNH type (section 2.4) corresponds to those of relational (perceptional) NMCCs.

The integration of frame-semantic and pragmatic principles into the grammatical analysis of Japanese NMCCs made it possible to discuss a wide range of instances that share one structure under one rubric without discounting some non-prototypical instances and without forced categorization boundaries. The semantic and pragmatic focused approach to Japanese NMCCs is also found in more recent studies by researchers such as Kato (2003, pp. 2207–2297), who argues against Teramura’s bipartite categorization and proposes a pragmatic-based construal process; Masuoka (1997, pp. 25–46, 167–180), who advocates a conceptual schema analysis in order to account for the extensive semantic relationships observed between the head noun and the modifying clause of the structurally undifferentiated NMCC; and Nakayasu (1999), who investigates further construability conditions of Japanese NMCCs by considering multiple factors of the language user’s cognition and worldview. Matsumoto (2007) provides a more cognitively based analysis of NMCCs, inspired by the idea of conceptual blending (e.g., Fauconnier & Turner, 2002).

4. Suggestions for Further Studies of the General Noun-Modifying Construction

We have observed that the Japanese NMCC exhibits a single structure that covers extensive semantic relations between the modifying clause and the head noun. If we employ the term general noun-modifying construction (GNMCC) to refer to NMCCs that have structural uniformity across interpretations that extend beyond relative clauses to some degree, then the Japanese NMCC is coterminous with GNMCC.

This article has focused on the notable features of the Japanese NMCC. Needless to say, however, there are many other issues associated with the construction that have been studied. One is the form of the modifying clause predicate. While, as subordinate to the main clause, the modifying clause does not normally include elements associated with the main clause (e.g., markings of the speaker’s stance), instances with such markings have been observed in certain communicative contexts, suggesting an interesting direction of innovation (Maynard, 2008; Matsumoto, 2010; Horie, 2017). Another topic, more structural in nature, is NMCCs with head nouns that are semantically abstract or light, such as toki ‘time,’ tame ‘purpose,’ koto ‘matter,’ and many others. Because of the semantic lightness of the head noun, these modifying clauses function similarly to adverbial clauses (e.g., itta toki ‘went time,’ ‘when I went’) or complement clauses (e.g., itta koto ‘went matter,’ ‘that I went’). Teramura (1975–1978) noted, however, that these expressions are structurally NMCCs and drew attention to the structural importance of NMCCs in the formation of complex structures in Japanese. The ubiquity of NMCCs in Japanese and their frequent use in conversational data (Takara, 2012) are likely to be associated with such a general tendency.

Further investigation in crosslinguistic studies would also provide more information about the nature of noun-modification and would allow for a more complete account of the linguistic properties that favor GNMCCs such as those found in Japanese.

Further Reading

Comrie, B. (1998a). Attributive clauses in Asian languages: Towards an areal typology. In W. Boeder, C. Schroeder, K.-H. Wagner, & W. Wildgen (Eds.), Sprache in Raum und Zeit: In memoriam Johannes Bechert, Band 2 (pp. 51–60). Tübingen: Günter Narr.Find this resource:

Comrie, B. (1998b). Rethinking the typology of relative clauses. Language Design: Journal of Theoretical and Experimental Linguistics, 1, 59–85.Find this resource:

Horie, K. (2017). The attributive-final distinction and the manifestation of “main clause phenomena” in Japanese and Korean NMCs. In Y. Matsumoto, B. Comrie, & P. Sells (Eds.), Noun-modifying clause constructions in languages of Eurasia: Rethinking theoretical and geographical boundaries (pp. 45–57). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Find this resource:

Keenan, E., & Comrie, B. (1977). Noun phrase accessibility and universal grammar. Language Inquiry, 5, 117–136.Find this resource:

Kuno, S. (1973). The structure of the Japanese language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Find this resource:

Martin, S. E. (1975). A reference grammar of Japanese. New Haven: Yale University Press.Find this resource:

Matsumoto, Y. (1991). Is it really a topic that is relativized?: Arguments from Japanese. In L. M. Dobrin, L. Nichols, & R. M. Rodriguez (Eds.), Papers from the 27th regional meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society. Part One: The general session (pp. 388–402). Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.Find this resource:

Matsumoto, Y. (1997). Noun-modifying constructions in Japanese: A frame-semantic approach. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Find this resource:

Matsumoto, Y. (1998). The complementizer toyuu in Japanese. In N. Akatsuka (Ed.), Japanese/Korean Linguistics Volume 7 (pp. 243–255). Stanford: Center for the Study of Language and Information.Find this resource:

Matsumoto, Y. (2007). Integrating frames: Complex noun phrase constructions in Japanese. In S. Kuno, S. Makino, & S. Strauss (Eds.), Aspects of linguistics: In honor of Noriko Akatsuka (pp. 131–154). Tokyo: Kurosio Syuppan.Find this resource:

Matsumoto, Y. (2010). Interactional frames and grammatical descriptions: The case of Japanese noun-modifying constructions. Constructions and Frames, 2(2), 136–157.Find this resource:

Matsumoto, Y., Comrie, B., & Sells, P. (Eds.). (2017). Noun-modifying clause constructions in languages of Eurasia: Rethinking theoretical and geographical boundaries. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Find this resource:

Maynard, S. K. (1992). Where textual voices proliferate: The toyuu clause-noun combination in Japanese. Poetics, 21, 169–189.Find this resource:

Murasugi, K. (2000). An antisymmetry analysis of Japanese relative clauses. In A. Alexiadou, P. Law, A. Meinunger, & C. Wilder (Eds.), The syntax of relative clauses (pp. 231–263). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Find this resource:

Shimojo, M. (2002). Functional theories of island phenomena: The case of Japanese. Studies in Language, 26(1), 67–123.Find this resource:

Takara, N. (2012). The weight of head nouns in noun-modifying constructions in conversational Japanese. Studies in Language, 36, 33–72.Find this resource:

Teramura, H. (1975–1978). Rentai-shūshoku no shintakusu to imi Nos. 1–4. Nihongo Nihonbunka, 4–7, 71–119, 29–78, 1–35, 1–24. Osaka: Osaka University of Foreign Studies.Find this resource:

Reprinted in Teramura Hideo ronbunshū (pp. 157–320). Tokyo: Kurosio Syuppan, 1992.Find this resource:

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