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Japanese Particle 'で' - Meaning and Structure -

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Japanese Language

Contents

1. What is 'で' in 'みんなで'?

A case particle in Japanese language is one of the most outstanding features which English does not have.

English modified other words, phrases and clauses by putting prepositions in front of the element to describe in detail.
On the other hand, Japanese language puts case particles in rear of the element.
This difference makes it difficult for international leaners to understand grammar of Japanese language.

One day, I got the following question from a student in a high school at which I worked in Sydney.
"'みんな' in '明日空港へあなたをみんなで迎えに行きます。(Someone will pick you up with my peers at the airport.)' seems the subject of '迎えに行きます'.
Why is the case particle 'で' used, not 'が' or 'は'?"

"That is true.. But why?", I wondered.
'みんな' must be the subject of action to pick up someone in this sentence.
But if I were to use 'が' or 'は', the sentence would be unnatural.

After I went home, I looked up usage of the case particle 'で'.
The Japanese Dictionary, 広辞苑第五版, described how to use 'で' as follows.

  1. The place, timing or occasion where or when an action is taken
  2. A Means, way, tool or ingredient
  3. A reason or cause
  4. The place where something is done
  5. A class or quality
  6. An affair or status
  7. A term or range
  8. A norm for distribution

There was no clue for answering the question provided by the student.
After all, I bought it back to my home country as my homework.

After I returned to Japan, I went back to the final year of university, where I took a Japanese linguistics class.
I submitted a term paper with regard to a Japanese case particle 'で'.

I revised the paper to make some terms and expressions more understandable for this entry.
I would be happy if you comprehended 'で' more deeply.

2. Particle 'で' - Cognitive Linguistics -

'で' is a case particle describing a background opposed to a foreground.
This function can be categorised into spatial background and role background.

2-1. Spatial Background

2-1-1. Place → Abstraction of Place → Space

  • Place

2004年のオリンピックはアテネ開かれた。
(The Olympic Game in 2004 was held in Athena.)

It describes a visible and concrete place, Athena.

  • Space

彼は自然に恵まれた環境育った。
(He grew up surrounded by an environment of rich nature.)

It explains 'an environment' as invisible and abstract space.

2-1-2. Place → Focus on Range / Subjectification of Behaviour → Range

彼はこのクラス一番背が高い。
(He is the tallest in this class.)

A concrete place converts into a subjective limited range and expands into scope for searching for a specific student.

2-1-3. Place → Background Place → Actor

その事件は警察調べている。
(The police are inspecting the incident.)

'The police = A group of police officers' is seen as place and awareness switches to actor closely related to the place.

2-1-4. Place → Metaphorical Conversion → Focus on Time Range → Limitation of Term and Time

食事の後勉強する。
(Someone studies after having a meal.)

The time after having a meal refers to space, which expands its scope into place of time.
This usage describe the stage of specific time on which the action is taken, so it means certain meaningful space.

食事の後勉強する。

On the other hand, 'に' also explains time but it mentions only timing 'after having a meal'.

2-2. Role Background

2-2-1. Place → Functioned Background → Internalisation of Means and Tools → Ingredient / Component

[Means / Tools] 日本人は箸食事をする。
(Japanese people have a meal with chopsticks.)

This usage mentions the point of effort for concrete reference.

2-2-2. Tool → Active Background → Cause → Reason / Argument / Purpose / Component

[Cause] 病気学校を休む。
(Someone is absent from school because of illness.)

The cause and effect between absence from school and illness are comparatively highly objective.

[Reason] そういう点面白いと思う。
(Someone thinks it is interesting in terms of such points.)

[Argument] 試験の結果判断する。
(Someone judges it from the result of an examination.)

[Purpose] 出張大阪へ行ってきた。
(Someone went to Osaka prefecture for a business trip.)

These reasons, argument and purposes strongly depends on who recognise them so they are subjective.

[Component] 日本の文化というテーマ論文を書いた。
(Someone composed a thesis whose theme was 'Japanese Culture'.)

It describes elements 'Japanese Culture' composing the thesis so this usage includes the nuances of cause and means / tools.

2-2-3. Tool → Abstraction → Mood

[Mood of Actor] 食事は自分作っている。
(Someone makes one's meals by oneself.)

The recursive pronoun 'oneself' explains who makes the meal.

[Mood of Receiver] 小さい音音楽を聴く。
(Someone listens to music at small volume.)

It shows who is influenced by sound of music as an intrinsic tool.

[Mood of Action] 猛スピード走っている。
(Something is running at extraordinarily high speed.)

The verbal state 'running' consists of speed as as an intrinsic tool

[Limit of Number] この部屋は30人いっぱいになる。
(This room will be full with 30 people.)

An extrinsic tool '30 people' fills the room.


All of the 4 examples above embrace a tool as an attribute, which becomes intrinsic and recursive.

3. True Meaning of 'で' in 'みんなで'

明日空港へあなたをみんな迎えに行きます。
(Someone will pick you up with my peers at the airport.)

The usages of 'で' are likely to be either Actor in Spatial Background or Mood of Actor in Role Background according to what we have seen so far.
Although Actor in Spatial Background and Mood of Actor in Role Background differ in the agreement of the actor, both describe 'みんな' as actor.
We have to make up for the omitted subject of the sentence.

私が(は)明日空港へあなたをみんなで迎えに行きます。
(I will pick you up with my peers at the airport.)

Pronoun '私' and a case particle 'が' or a linking particle 'は' will shows up.
Then, we see that the subject can't be '私' identified with the actor 'みんな'.
That is why we can conclude 'で' in the example plays a role in Actor in Spatial Background.
'One's peers = A group of people' is seen as place and awareness switches to actor closely related to the place.

Provided the sentence was "明日空港へあなたを一人で迎えに行きます", the omitted subject '私' could be identical with the actor '一人'.
So the 'で' would function as Mood of Actor in Role Background.

4. Conclusion

From a viewpoint of cognitive linguistics, 'で' can be classified into the following categories.

  • Spatial Background
    • Place → Abstraction of Place → Space
    • Place → Focus on Range / Subjectification of Behaviour → Range
    • Place → Background Place → Actor
    • Place → Metaphorical Conversion → Focus on Time Range → Limitation of Term and Time
  • Role Background
    • Place → Functioned Background → Internalisation of Means and Tools → Ingredient / Component
    • Tool → Active Background → Cause → Reason / Argument / Purpose / Component
    • Tool → Abstraction → Mood

5. Reference

  • Shin Moriyama, 認知言語学から見た日本語格助詞の意味構造と習得, Hitsuji Shobo Publishing Co.,Ltd., 2008
  • Iwanami Shoten Publishing Co.,Ltd., 広辞苑第五版, 2006