Thursday May 6, 2004

Verbing Japanese

In the comments to a post over at Language Hat, Joel asks:

In fact, I suspect that in every case that No-sword cites, the stem ends in -r+u, not -V+ru. Why might that be? I really don't know, except that underlying consonant clusters, which resolve to double consonants, sound a bit more foreign.

It's because they wouldn't form natural-sounding vowel-stem verbs. All Japanese vowel-stem verbs (that I know of...) have stems that end in either /i/ or /e/, so /guguru/, /homoru/, and /rezuru/ must be consonant-stem verbs.

It would have been possible for /rezu/ to become a consonant stem verb /rez-u/, but this would have been rather odd, because no native consonant-stem verbs end in /z/. Such a verb is not completely impossible, though. In his An Introduction to Japanese Phonology, Timothy Vance describes an experiment in which he presented native speakers with made-up verbs, including the similarly-impossible /kapu/ (none ending in /z/, unfortunately), and asked how they should be inflected. The results were fairly regular even for /kapu/, although not perfectly regular. I won't try to summarize the results here—go, read! (pp. 199-208)

Plain /homo/ can't be a verb since it doesn't end in /u/, so some verbalizing suffix must be added. In that case the choice of the consonant is open—you can imagine forming the verb /homou/, /homosu/, or even /homonu/ (!) just as easily as /homoru/. The fact that it ends in /ru/ implies that even for consonant-stem verbs, /-ru/ is somehow the least marked of the verb endings in Japanese.

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No-sword has an entry about the way Japanese conjugates verbs made from borrowed words. My favorites:guguru -- corresponds to the (pace Google's legal department) English verb "to Google", appears in the title of some new books and magazine articles (s... [Read More]

Tracked on May 7, 2004 12:53:07 PM


Another reason /rez-u/ might not be a likely creation is that generally the /-(r)u/ is added on to a foot, not interpreted into the original word.

Also, regarding the vowel-stem thing: several of these new words, like /kopiru/ (to copy), /deniru/ (to go eat at a Denny's), and /famiru/ (to play famicom / video games in general) look potentially like they could be vowel-stem verbs, but they are invariable interpreted as consonant-stem verbs.

Posted by: Russell at May 7, 2004 8:18:48 AM