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Question Shine some light on the subject....

xminus1

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「先生は私たちの勉強を心配していると思います。」

I've come across this sentence in an audio comprehension exercise. At first I didn't think too much about it, as I thought I'd got the gist pretty easily. But as I re-listened to the audio for more practice I began to think more about its structure. We have a main verb, and a subordinate verbal construction, but we don't have (that I can see) an explicit subject for either. This being so, I wondered how I would be able to justify my interpretation of the sentence versus another interpretation. Was there some "rule" that ensures only one specific meaning to this sentence to the exclusion of any other?

"The teacher thinks he will worry about our study..."
"The teacher thinks we will worry about our study..."
"I think the teacher will worry about our study..."

I had this question in mind late yesterday, but wasn't quite sure about asking it -- until this morning serendipity struck: I happened across a conversation between a translator of classical Japanese poetry, Peter MacMillan, and an NHK presenter, Peter Barakan. MacMillan said Japanese is very different from English in that it doesn't insist upon explicit subjects. Nevertheless, in his earlier English translations, MacMillan would make subjects explicit, "because that's the English way". In his newer translations, however, MacMillan decided not to make any subjects explicit, because he wanted his translations to sound "more Japanese."

At no point, however, did MacMillan say it was impossible to determine the subject, or that he had to decide arbitrarily among contextual possibilities. So, at least in reference to my example sentence above, I would like to know how we can clearly get the "proper sense" intended by the speaker.
 

nice gaijin

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Generally, by listening to the context surrounding the sentence in question.

In isolation, I'd interpret this sentence as "I think the teacher is worrying about our studies," probably because "we" aren't studying well or enough. The と思います at the end makes it an "I think" sentence, because without explicitly or inferring through context who is doing the thinking, it's reasonable to read as a first-person statement
 

Majestic

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This sentence is pretty explicit: it has a clearly defined topic identified by は, and it has an object identified by を. So we know the teacher is worried about our studies. We don't have to intuit anything about the topic and the object. The last bit is the と思います, which can only be said or thought by the speaker of the sentence. No other choice makes sense.

The teacher thinking about being worried at some future point in time would be a different construction (and would be slightly unusual in nature, I think).
The teacher thinking that we are worried about our studies would also require a different construction.

As nice gaijin says above, と思います is by default a first-person phrase.
 

Toritoribe

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That's a good question. Here's a related post.

As nice gaijin-san and Majestic-san explained, and I wrote there, the subject of と思います is always the speaker. You can think that the actual sentence construction is 私は、「先生は私たちの勉強を心配している」と思います。.

If it's 先生は私たちの勉強を心配していると思っています, both the speaker and teacher can be the subject of 思っています. When the teacher is the subject, the subject of 心配している is someone else other than the teacher, i.e., it's 先生は、彼/彼女/あなた/私(including plurals)は(or が)私たちの勉強を心配していると思っています。. (Note that the subject of 心配している can be omitted only when it's obvious from the context. In other words, the subject is usually not omitted in this construction.)

As I wrote in the post linked above, when the subject of 思っています is the speaker, 思っています emphasizes the speaker's opinion, or it shows that the speaker has been thinking it. 私は is usually added at the beginning of the sentence in this case (私は、先生は私たちの勉強を心配していると思っています), though.
 

xminus1

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Thank you so much, Nice gaijin-san, Majestic-san, and (of course) Toritoribe-san; your explanations were incredibly helpful. I wasn't actually aware of the rule (と思います is always the speaker)...

And thank you, Toritoribe-san, for your additional info about 思っています and the subject. It's always a revelation for me when you indicate that there are "elliptical" はs that could be construed as "hiding" in sentence structure...you did that recently with my other question about the sentence with the % (割合は), and that was very useful for me to understand the pattern.
 

Toritoribe

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Just for confirmation, isn't it 先生は私たちの勉強心配していると思います。?
 

Toritoribe

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I see. That's exactly 勉強を心配している. I just felt that 勉強を心配する sounded a bit awkward, comparing to 勉強のことを心配する or 勉強について心配する.😅
 

xminus1

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Hmm...that's interesting. I wonder why it was written that way. スリーエネットワーク seems meticulous in its quality control, but perhaps nobody caught a typo in the script, including the voice actor. :unsure:
 

joadbres

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In some language learning-materials, the creators deliberately alter the content to be easier for beginners to handle, at the expense of sometimes sounding less natural that an expression that would normally be used. Perhaps this is a case of that.
 

xminus1

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That's a good point, joadbres-san; sometimes material creators do make such choices.
 

raikado

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Sorry to revive this. I have a question that I'd like to clarify.

Why is the second は allowed in 私は、「先生私たちの勉強を心配している」と思います。 ? I thought that は isn't allowed in subordinate clauses.
 

OoTmaster

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I think it's because the と acts as quotation here and the sentence isn't a subordinate clause. "先生私たちの勉強を心配している。" . The sentence on it's own isn't dependent on "私は~と思います。". At least that's what I think. I'm not an expert by any means though. :)
 

Toritoribe

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Quotations (引用節) belong to subordinate clauses (従属節) in a broader sense, but actually there is no problem to use は in quotations.

Incidentally, は can be used in some subordinate clauses.
e.g.
週末は休みなので、月曜にいらしてください。(indicating cause/reason)

Note that the ones that are treated as coordinate clauses (等位節) in English also belong to 従属節 in Japanese. は can be used in these clauses, too. は often has a contrasting nuance in these cases.

外は嵐だが、家の中は静かだ。(逆接 "but")
魚は冷蔵庫に入れて、缶詰は外に出しておいてください。(順接 "and")
 

raikado

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I see, I wasn't aware that you can use は in quotations too. Thanks for clarifying it!
 

OoTmaster

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I do have a question on 思っています. In this case if it were the teacher that was the subject of 思っています in your example. In English if you speak of someone's thoughts usually it takes on a narrative tone if it's someone else's thoughts since you can't know their thoughts. Unless clarification comes as to how you became aware of their thoughts. Is that the case if the teacher were the subject of 思っています and the speaker was not? Or could と思います be implied in such a scenario?
 

Toritoribe

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Unless clarification comes as to how you became aware of their thoughts
先生は~と思っています shows that the speaker has strong confidence in their opinion about the teacher's thoughts (they already heard it from the teacher, for instance), comparing to 先生は~と思っていると思います, 思っているようです or 思っているみたいです. So, you can think it's used for those cases, even if clarification is not mentioned.
 
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