Motion Verbs in Japanese
- Yo MatsumotoYo MatsumotoTheory & Typology Division, Research Department, National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics
Japanese is a language rich in verbs representing Path of motion, but it also has verbs representing Manner and Deixis. Examining how they are used can deepen our understanding of some of the interesting properties of the Japanese language.
In typological literature on motion events descriptions, Japanese has been claimed to be the type of language in which Path is expressed in the main verb position rather than elsewhere in the sentence, with the use of a path verb. However, this view must be qualified in two ways. First, the language exhibits intralinguistic variation, using postpositions and other nonverbal elements to represent Path notions such as FROM, TO, and ALONG. Second, Path is expressed in the main verb position only when Deixis is absent from the sentence.
One feature of manner verbs in Japanese is that they are not used very often, especially concerning walking events. This phenomenon is accounted for by the “cost” of expressing Manner in Japanese. Another property of manner verbs in Japanese is they are incompatible with a goal phrase, which has been previously accounted for in different ways. A close semantic examination of manner verbs suggests that this restriction can be attributed to the nature of goal marking, rather than the semantics of manner verbs.
An examination of corpus and experimental data also reveals how Japanese speakers use deictic verbs. Deictic motion verbs are used very frequently, though this tendency is not observed in descriptions of the motion of inanimate entities. Finally, deictic verbs in Japanese are sensitive to the notion of the speaker’s interactional space or territory, not just restricted by the spatial location of the speaker.