Let’s Talk about IP’s

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Let’s Talk about IP’s

In order to understand Japanese syntax, we need to talk about IP’s.

Just to refresh our minds, syntax is the set of rules that govern the structure of a sentence lest it be ungrammatical. In English, you can’t play around with the order of the words too much because the sentence either takes on another meaning or becomes incomprehensible. When we ask ourselves why that is so, we’re delving into syntax.

Linguists don’t analyze syntax solely on the basis of words, but also on the basis of phrases. A phrase is a collection of words that work as a unit. “The dog” is a noun phrase, which has a determiner “the”. “The very big dog” is also a noun phrase, within which there is an adjectival phrase “very big”. And in the adjectival phrase, there is an adverbial phrase “very”. So what are we getting at? That there are phrases in phrases in language. And when you have a complete idea, one that could pass as a sentence, you have an Inflectional Phrase, or IP.

An IP, which looks like a standalone sentence, can also be placed into a structure that will make it part of a larger IP. The IP within the bigger IP is called a subordinate clause. “Timmy fell down the well.” is an IP. “Lassie said that Timmy fell down the well. Is an IP that contains an IP. And you can keep on adding IP’s to IP’s. “The sheriff said that the officer said that Lassie said…”

In Japanese, there’s a lot embedding IP’s into larger IP’s.

Yesterday, we looked at this sentence:
私は太った方が頭だと思ったよ
(Atashi wa futotta hou ga atama da to omotta yo)

Here we have an IP in an IP.
Futotta hou ga amata da translates to The fat end is the head. That is an IP. And because it is an IP, it looks like a standalone sentence. But it becomes a subordinate clause because it is in a larger IP. Omotta translates to “thought” and we know that Japanese does not require a subject to be always present in a sentence for it to be grammatical. Context tells us that the subject is “I,” though. So we can translate the main part of the larger IP as I thought. But what did she think? The embedded IP: The fat end is the head. Japanese, then, links the two IPs through To, which is Japanese’s main particle for marking subordinate clauses in general in the same way that English uses “that” (he saw that, he thought that, he assumed that, etc.) So we translate this as I thought that the fat end was the head.
The reason why we’re saying “was the head instead” of “is the head” is because of something called a Sequence of Tenses, which are rules in language as to what tenses subordinate clauses take. In Japanese, the tense of the verb will affect the meaning and so each IP is quite independent in this regard.
The Atashi wa is a topical phrase, which is very much like an adjectival or adverbial phrase in that it modifies either the omitted subject or the verb. It translates to as for me. If you remove it from the sentence, the sentence is still grammatical and makes sense. So topical phrases are just to clarify things.

だって部活に入るとさ
(Datte bukatsu ni hairu to sa)

Here we have an IP in a conditional phrase instead of an indirect phrase. The same rule applies.
Bukatsu ni hairu translates to I join sports activities. That can be a standalone sentence and so is an IP. Datte is a conjunction, which is something that links sentences and modifies IP’s in that they say “X complements Y” or “X stands against Y” just as they do nouns or adjectives. So we don’t have to worry about it. Then this IP is followed by To, which encloses the IP as a unit to add it to another IP: ゴールデンタイムのアニメが見れないじゃん (goorudentaimu no anime ga mirenaijan), which translates to I won’t be able to watch prime-time anime, would I? 

Sentences ending in ん (n) and の (no) are preceded by IP’s. What they do is enclose IP’s and, since the main ideas are no longer part of the main (the largest) IP, soften the sentence by syntactically making is identical to これだ (kore da), meaning This is it. And even then, it omits the verb, da, leaving you with just a noun phrase and a verb you will assume for yourself to be the copula.

As we go on in our lessons, I will be pointing out the IPs and when they are subordinate in some way.