Adnominal Clauses and the "Mermaid" Construction: Grammaticalization of Nouns

Project leader: TSUNODA Tasaku
Professor, Department of Crosslinguistic Studies, NINJAL
Project Period: October 2009 - March 2012
Research field: linguistics
Keywords: adnominal clauses, noun-concluding construction,mermaid construction, grammaticalization of nouns


Japanese has a sentence pattern whose structure can be shown as in (1). Examples include (2) and (3).

(1) Sentence Noun=Copula
(2) Akio=ga Maruzen=de hon=o ka-u yotee=da.
'Akio plans to buy a book at Maruzen's.'
(3) Soto=de=wa ame=ga hut-te i-ru moyoo=da.
'It appears to be raining outside.'

These sentences have a number of distinctive characteristics. As they end in 'Noun=Copula', they resemble noun-predicate sentences like (4).

(4) Akio=wa gakusee=da.
'Akio is a student.'

However, in the pattern in question, once 'Noun=Copula' is deleted, the rest of each sentence can be used as a verb-predicate sentence. Compare (2) and (3) with (5) and (6), respectively.

(5) Akio=ga Shibuya=de hon=o ka-u.
'Akio buys/will buy a book at Shibuya.'
(6) Soto=de=wa ame=ga hut-te i-ru.
'It is raining outside.'

Sentences such as (2) and (3) are 'mermaid construction,’ because their first part resembles a verb-predicate sentence, and the second part a noun-predicate sentence.

The mermaid construction appears to be highly marked among the world’s languages, being found in about only 15 languages of Asia, such as Japanese and Ainu. The present project investigates the meaning, structure and other aspects of the mermaid construction in these languages.

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