The Semantics of Japanese Verbs

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The semantics of Japanese verbs.
Cases, semantic roles and graphic representations

Dr. Simone Dalla Chiesa
The University of Milano, Italy
Department of Contemporary Languages and Cultures

General introduction
In this series of four lectures I am going to discuss the technique I use to teach Japanese verbs and their constructions to my Italian students. During the years I developed a method of teaching Japanese verbs that is founded on two kinds of graphic representations: a funny looking "Balloon Graph" and a grid, which I call "Table Graph". I developed both graphs by myself, but the Balloon Graph comes from some intuition my own teachers had in Japan, many years ago, and the Table Graph is actually very similar to the theta-role grid used in Generative Grammar. I am going to explain how these graphs are composed later. For the time being, let me just show one example of each.

Sample of Balloon Graph
[pic]

Sample of Table Graph

|Predicate pairs of |教える |教える |教わる・習う |教わる・習う | |teaching/learning |oshieru |oshieru |osowaru, narau |osowaru, narau | | |AGENT |nominative が ga |nominative が ga |agentive に ni | | | |SOURCE | | | |ablative から | | |P.LOCATUM |accusative を o | |accusative を o |accusative を o | | |GOAL |dative に ni | | | | | |AGENT | | |nominative が ga |nominative が ga | | |PATIENT | |accusative を o | | |

Both kinds of graph make use of certain terms, like agent, patient or goal. They are the labels of three of the so called semantic roles. I believe that one could grasp the meaning of these terms with little effort, even if she has never heard of them before. But since this is a notion that I use extensively when I teach Japanese verbs, a good understanding of it is crucial. So, during this first introductory lecture I will discuss the notion of semantic role in some detail. My graphs also contain words such as nominative, accusative or dative. These are case labels, and I am absolutely positive that you, as native speakers of the Finnish language, are very familiar with them. What you may not be accustomed to is the use of the notion of case in teaching Japanese grammar. This is why I believe it will be necessary to explain what cases are in my particular approach to Japanese verbs. Therefore, during this lengthy introductory lecture I will spend some time dealing with this notion as well. After this introduction, my lectures will consist in an analysis of a number of Japanese simple clauses, grouped according to the type of predicates[1] that head them. For each of the most important predicates or classes of predicates I am going to project a Balloon and a Table Graphs that display together that predicate, its several phrases and their particles. The graphs are meant to show in an easy way the relation between semantic roles, cases and case markers. Of course I will also discuss each graph in detail. What is important to understand is that what I am going to do during these lectures is not formulating an explanation of why certain verbs are accompanied by certain specific sets of cases and particles. Rather, it is a discussion of how certain typical, recurrent combinations do happen. The "why" is one of the most debated problem of semantics and syntax, and even if...
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