What's new

Welcome to Japan Reference (JREF) - the community for all Things Japanese.

Join Today! It is fast, simple, and FREE!

Learn Japanese with JapanesePod101.com

Semantic Entailment

Joined
7 Jan 2017
Messages
28
Reaction score
1
I read that Japanese verbs do not entail the logical conclusion of a verb, e.g.

太郎は落ち葉を燃やした being true do not mean that 落ち葉が燃えた is also true. Is this the case?

If that's the case, what if the first sentence is 太郎は落ち葉を燃やしてしまった? Would that entail the second sentence?
 

Majestic

先輩
Joined
12 Oct 2013
Messages
2,044
Reaction score
1,027
I don't follow you:

Tarō burned the leaves. therefore The leaves burned.

It is as true in Japanese at it would be in English. It doesn't matter if Tarō burned the leaves, or if he completely burned the leaves. The fact of the leaves burning is not changed, just the possible extent of the burning. Are you talking about some difference between transitive and intransitive verbs? Is there another example that might illustrate what you are trying to find out?
 
Joined
7 Jan 2017
Messages
28
Reaction score
1
Another example I have is this:

冷凍食品を溶かしたけど、溶けなかった。

Is this semantically correct?

My understanding is that the transitive verb only depicts the action, but not the logical consequence of the action on the direct verb. So you can have such a sentence where someone did the action of melting, but that's not the same as saying the food melted, even though that's the logical consequence.
 

Majestic

先輩
Joined
12 Oct 2013
Messages
2,044
Reaction score
1,027
I see. I would think there is no huge difference between English and Japanese in that regard, in that performing the action doesn't necessarily imply a complete and satisfactory outcome to the action:
I defrosted the turkey, but some parts were still frozen.
I burned the leaves, but in the middle of the pile some leaves remained unburned.

Semantically, the phrase 冷凍食品を溶かした by itself obviously indicates that something was defrosted. The reader is not left scratching his head as to whether this phrase just implies intention or action. 
I would think the sentence 冷凍食品を溶かしたけど、溶けなかった would be slightly unusual - as unusual (but not necessarily incorrect) as saying in English
I defrosted the turkey, but it remained frozen.
The meaning is understood, but surely there is a better way to say it.
 
Last edited:

Toritoribe

松葉解禁
Moderator
Joined
22 Feb 2008
Messages
16,774
Reaction score
3,065
I agree with Majestic-san. 冷凍食品を溶かしたけど、溶けなかった is understandable, but other expressions such like 冷凍食品を溶かそうとしたけど (I tried to defrost) or 冷凍食品を溶かしていたけど(I was defrosting) is more natural and common. The reason why 冷凍食品を溶かしたけど is barely acceptable here is because the action 溶かす is not punctual, and 溶かした can be interpreted to express the phase "the action already started but is not completed yet" other than "the action is completed." On the other hand, 財布をなくしたけど、なくならなかった doesn't make sense since なくした always means the action なくす is completed, i.e., "I lost my wallet". In conclusion, the answer is "it differs depending on the type of the verb (or context, needless to say)."
 
Joined
7 Jan 2017
Messages
28
Reaction score
1
It seems many of the phenomenon described in my Japanese Linguistics book don't actually apply, or at least lack the nuances of contextual information...But allow me to have another go. Both of the verbs I used before connote some gradual process. What if I use a verb that connote instantaneous action:

Does 太郎が溺れた。 entail 太郎が死んだ。? In English, John drowned would entail John died.
 

Toritoribe

松葉解禁
Moderator
Joined
22 Feb 2008
Messages
16,774
Reaction score
3,065
Unlike "to drown" in English, 溺れる doesn't imply "to die" from the first. It just means "to be submerged in water in the state of unable-to-swim (e.g., with the subject's hands tied, being drunk or the subject can't swim in the first place)" and "to be saved after all" often happens, thus, it's more likely closer to "to nearly drown", and therefore there is no problem with 子供のころ溺れたことがある "I have experienced '溺れる' when I was a child". Thus, the answer is no.
 
Joined
7 Jan 2017
Messages
28
Reaction score
1
The reference used in my book is that of 池上義彦 -- this, I think. Researching further into this person's work, I think what the overall theme of this difference in interpretation between Japanese and its rough English translation is that, Japanese thinks in discrete pictures, and action is one picture "becoming" another, hence there is a disconnect between action and consequence, while English adheres to a continuous movie view, so action is "going", hence no disconnection between action and consequence.

Of course, globalization may have changed the Japanese worldview on such subtle differences, if they actually exist in the first place.
 

Toritoribe

松葉解禁
Moderator
Joined
22 Feb 2008
Messages
16,774
Reaction score
3,065
His specialty is cognitive linguistics, as I pointed out about 主要部内在型関係節 in your previous post. That's exactly why unnatural sentences are often treated. I don't recommend for learners to use those kind of sentences, especially for beginners who don't even know basic grammar yet.
 

Majestic

先輩
Joined
12 Oct 2013
Messages
2,044
Reaction score
1,027
I think you are wise to be sensitive to the fact that words and thought patterns don't always translate precisely from one language to another (particularly Japanese to English, vice versa). However, if you focus too much on the esoteric nuances, it starts to hinder progress rather than help it. You end up thinking that words don't really have any meaning (e.g. He said he burned the leaves, but did the leaves really burn? He said he defrosted the food, but did the food actually defrost?)
Now you know that the possibility exists that the action was not completed to its logical conclusion, but I would suggest that this possibility isn't unique to Japanese, and it isn't evenly distributed among all verbs.
At this point, just having that doubt alone implanted in your mind is going to be something of a speed bump for you, when in reality the ambiguity (if any) will be clarified by the context, OR, if you are speaking Japanese, the listener will ask for clarification. I think if you start your Japanese studies with the idea that Japanese verbs don't suggest conclusive action, you will end up going around in circles, forever looking for definitive qualifiers.
 
Joined
7 Jan 2017
Messages
28
Reaction score
1
Toritoribe-san, I am not trying to use these sentences in mundane conversations. It's merely a subject that I have some doubt about and have no means to confirm except by asking the questions to fluent speakers.

Mejestic-san, that sort of extreme nihilism is much exaggerated. I will always take the definition in a Japanese dictionary as authoritative in regard to meaning in Japanese. Other languages mentioned with this apparent paradoxical entailment are Chinese, Hindi, Russian, Tamil, and Thai, so it's not uncommon even among other language branches. Now whether these papers are absent of ambiguity I can hardly judge. At least in Japanese it's not universal, it seems.
 
Last edited:

Toritoribe

松葉解禁
Moderator
Joined
22 Feb 2008
Messages
16,774
Reaction score
3,065
Sorry, but I'm not interested in those kinds of experimental expressions. I will probably continue to reply "it sounds uncommon/unnatural/awkward, and other expressions like this are more common and natural" repeatedly.
 
Joined
7 Jan 2017
Messages
28
Reaction score
1
Sorry, but I'm not interested in those kinds of experimental expressions. I will probably continue to reply "it sounds uncommon/unnatural/awkward, and other expressions like this are more common and natural" repeatedly.

It's no problem. In fact, that's exactly the answer I was looking for in this question. Knowing that linguists may not be always correct in their interpretations of their own language, one would be wise to ask a decent number of native speakers before deciding whether certain hypothesis can be deem viable. But, well, you know, linguists in academic settings must produce a certain amount of published work in order to keep their position. When grant money is insufficient, getting decent amount of information that agrees with the pet theory one came up with is an obstacle to overcome.
 
Top Bottom