An Abundance of Ending Particles

Every now and again academics who work on similar matters have to get together and decide what the big questions in the field are. Then for the next few years they work to find the answers.

We’re not part of the proverbial Ivory Tower, so what exactly Japanese linguists are fussing over at the moment is unknown to us. But here’s what’s bugging us: the abundance of ending particles.

Ending Particles are equivalents are too many for comfort.

There are a set of lexical items we all agree are ending particles:

よ、ね、か、かい、な、わ、ぞ、ぜ    [Thus far 8]

And they make sense in that they’re monosyllabic and don’t seem to share any meaning with anything else.

But the plot thickens:

Then there are a few items that seems to just show up at the end sometimes:

って、さ、さあ    [Thus far 11]

But these items can actually be elsewhere in the sentence. って is a quotative; and さ and さあ are filler words (so they’re a little bit like “eh?” in some North American English dialects)

We can resolve さ and さあ easily, because they’re filler words and we can consider them interjections and thus we don’t have to pay too much attention to them for syntactic purposes.

But って, we can’t ignore. Essentially if it’s at the end of a sentence then we want to say that the speaker is quoting something and the verb (be it 言う or 聞く or whatever) is being omitted. And that’d be fine… if it was a quote of some sort. But it seems that often when someone does end a sentence in って, it isn’t a quote. So this isn’t a thought, or something one heard or something one said.

So we have to create a work around: we say that って is an expression. We say that Japanese has a Foghorn Leghorn expression. So sometimes the Japanese are just saying “I say, I say” a bit randomly and for the sake of semantics we can ignore it. Fine. So we say we have an Inflexional Phrase, that it’s being quoted, and that the main verb dropped off. That’ll work.

But there is another set of ending particle-esque things that are kind of like って:

の、 なの    [Thus far 13]

So の is that substantivizing suffix we continuously talk about. な is semi-copula that nouns (not all, but many) take. So they’re functionally different and we know what they are. That’s wonderful.

But here’s the problem: just like って, you don’t need it. Nothing “needs” to be a noun phrase. It’s just there as an expression. It seems to be a feminine thing to do.

So we can essentially ignore it for the sake of semantics since nouns and verbs in Japanese inasmuch as they are parts of speech, are more functional than semantic anyway.

But wait, there are verbal expressions too that are ending particle-esque:

でしょう、だろう    [Thus far 15]

These two are equivalent. One is more polite than the other. We have reason to believe they’re contractions of ですよ and であるよ. Okay, so they’re verbs, fine.

But the problem is this: you can actually end your main component of the Inflexional Phrase in a verb and then add だろう or でしょう to the end.

So syntactically you can’t really call it a verb. It won’t work out. It has to be in the position of the ending particle.

But wait, there are even at least one topical-verbal-ending particle-esque lexical item:

じゃない    [Thus far 16]

This is a contraction of ではない. That we know. We also know that では is the topical particle and that ない is the indicative, negative, present conjugation of the copula ある. So we know what it is.

But the problem is this: topical particles follow noun phrases, not verb phrases. So, like with でしょう and だろう, we cannot think of them as topical-verbal in our syntactic analysis.

But wait, there are compound ending particles!

でしょうか、だろうか、じゃないか、よね、よな、なのよ、のよ、かね    [Thus far 24]

And it’s at this point that someone stops us and tells us “Okay, some we don’t have to consider ending particles, and the others don’t exactly have new meanings. They’re just the meaning conveyed by one ending particle along with another. Like か, which just makes everything a question.”

And to that, we say, yes! And this makes us very happy in the sense that one can reason one’s way to the meaning of the compound ending particles.

But here’s the totally insane thing: There’s an order in which the ending particles appear. よ appears before ね. か always appears in the end (except in one or two cases, which seem to be expressions in themselves), and all the expressions appear before ね, よ, and か.

What does this imply? That very possibly, there exist three classes of ending particles that go in a specific order. That idea freaks us out. We need to look at more data before making an assertion, but it is something to look into and consider very seriously.

(Note: We do handle things very differently from conventional Japanese grammar. We are aware of that. Every now and again someone will ask why we make a big deal out of things that the Japanese don’t make a big deal of. It’s part of the job of a linguist. 🙂 )