Japanese and One Word Statements

A friend commented on my previous post on “ureshii” about how one-word statements are hard on early Japanese learners. He blamed his inability to “think in Japanese.” Well, how about I show you a small part of how to do just that?

Abbreviated Sentences

Using the example from my previous post, we start with:

Watashi wa ureshii desu.” (“I am happy.”)

This is a complete sentence.

In fact, let’s do one better.

"Watashi wa ureshii desu!"

The speaker is the context.

So, we don’t actually need a “watashi wa” (1st person pronoun + “topic particle”) at the start of the sentence. We can assume that “watashi wa” is the context, because we can see the speaker; and unless she specifically points out some other person, it obviously refers to her.

So:

Ureshii desu!

"Ureshii desu!"

This, too, is considered a complete sentence.

But wait. We know that she refers to herself here. So why do we need a “desu”? We can tell that she’s using “ureshii” as a noun, describing her state of being as “happy.”

So, we could just as easily write:

Watashi wa ureshii!

"Watashi wa ureshii!"

This is also considered a complete Japanese sentence… and here’s why.

This is one of my golden rules of Japanese grammar:

Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. – Jeremiah Bourque

So, armed with this principle, we can see that dropping these sentence elements is not removing them; it is hiding them!

In English, you basically can’t do this, but in Japanese, you can have an unstated subject. Here, the subject and the topic are one and the same, so we can use a single “wa” and not have to worry about “ga” at all.

So, we can get away with the following:

a) An unstated subject

b) An unstated copula (the “desu” part)

You don’t need a degree to understand copulas. If I ask “Who is happy?” and the reply is, “She is.” then “is” = the copula. That’s all. It’s not a verb in the usual sense.

So since we can drop two elements… hey… is there a rule saying you can’t drop both elements at the same time?

NO. THERE IS NO SUCH RULE.

Ergo:

Ureshii!

"Ureshii!"

Even this is a complete Japanese sentence.

Why? Because the other parts are hidden, not missing. They’re there, we just don’t see them.

This is why people in Japan can listen to a cute girl saying “Ureshii!” in a loud voice, appreciate her cuteness, and not think that she’s somehow breaking the rules of grammar. She’s bending the rules, not breaking them. That’s allowed. That’s OK.

The Real Trick Is…

The speaker is the context of the sentence. That’s the key. So, the real trick is simply this:

When you hear “Ureshii!” or sentences like it, look for the speaker. React accordingly.

It’s not really about “thinking” in Japanese. It’s deprogramming your English biases and teaching you to not think about it. Don’t worry about the lack of a visible subject – your subject is right before your eyes!

Don’t think. React. Be ureshii. – J

J Sensei

About J Sensei

Blogger, writer, linguist, former Japanese> English translator, rusty in French, experienced in Japanese, fluent English native. Writing for Technorati.com and various blogs. Skype: jeremiah.bourque (messages always welcome). E-mail: [email protected]
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