Hetty Geerdink (May 2008)

A Semiotactic Approach to Modern Japanese


Name      Hetty Geerdink
Title A Semiotactic Approach to Modern Japanese
Date 27 May 2008, 13.45 hrs.
Promotor Prof. Dr F.H.H. Kortlandt


This dissertation is based on the semiotactic theory of C.L. Ebeling, as described in his works Syntax and Semantics (1978), Een Inleiding tot de Syntaxis (1994) and Semiotaxis, over Theoretische en Nederlandse Syntaxis (2006). The most important aspect in Ebeling's theory is the link between form and meaning; furthermore, his methodology of capturing the syntax and semantics of sentences in mathematical descriptions offers a clear and concise method for describing languages. By looking at these formulae, the syntactic and semantic structures of a sentence can immediately be observed from the placing of the words and from the relation symbols connecting them. The position of a word inside the description shows its function and the symbols linking them denote the relations between the meanings of the words in a sentence. Ideally, composing such mathematical descriptions should be possible for all languages alike, because they are focused on the meaning of the words and how these are interrelated, independent of specific structural differences between languages. Ebeling himself applied his theory to various European languages, notably for English and Dutch, but before the start of my research it had not been applied to any other kind of language.  
The aim of this research was to establish if Ebeling's theory and method of semiotactic analysis could be applied to Modern Japanese and to make mathematical descriptions of Japanese sentences that are consistent, clear and easy to understand. For this I analyzed example sentences from various sources and described the most frequently used structures and expressions of Modern Japanese. I soon discovered that Japanese sentences contain elements that, since they are not found in Dutch or English, were not analyzed in Ebeling's work. During my research I came to the conclusion that these elements could be adequately described by making specific adaptations in the descriptions, such as the use of reversed relation symbols. At the end of this project a great number of Japanese words and constructions have been analyzed and described in order to give a good insight in the structure and meaning of Japanese sentences. In doing so, new light has been shed on various aspects of the Japanese language. Firstly, the general assumption that particles, also called postpositions, are similar in meaning and function to the prepositions in English proved to be true only for a number of the particles; for other groups of particles, however, it was concluded that they have a different function, such as the basic case particles nominative ga, accusative wo and genitive no, the topical and restrictive particles, and the sentence final particles. That this method yields a better insight into the structure of the Japanese language is also demonstrated by the fact that, contrary to the classification commonly assumed until now, I came to the conclusion that there are no indirect objects in Japanese. Furthermore it was found that the traditional definitions for transitivity do not apply for Japanese, and the commonly assumed classification of noun phrases marked by the particle ga as direct objects has been rejected, in favor of the view that all noun phrases marked by nominative ga are subjects.

See full dissertation.

Last Modified: 07-06-2013