As a linguist, meeting a native speaker of a language you’re studying is a pretty exciting event. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that I often have to do a delicate balancing act between “I’m a freakish nerd of your language, which probably implies I want to be one of you, since I’m clearly not from your ethno-cultural group” and “I know nothing and have a general interest in your language.” If I don’t start with a “power introduction” (wherein I detail my research interests and years of experience with their language), I get the slow-and-loud reception. “how. are. YOU. doing?” Thanks, mate. I’m gonna go over here now.

勉強している言語の母国語話者に会えることは言語学者の私には幸いな行いだ。私だけの意見かもしれないが、そういう場合に、よく、「明らかにあなたと同じ民族人種じゃなくてもあたなの国語オタク」と「全く何も経験したこともないが何故かあたなの文化に興味がある初学者」という二つ極度に見られないように自己紹介しなければならない。強い第一印象で始まらなかったら、遅くて大声の反応をやってくる。「オ・ゲ・ン・キ・デ・ス・カ?」って。いいんだよ、別に。こっちに行くから。

On the other hand, if I start off too strong, my interlocutor won’t be able to relate. After all, what’re the odds that a language learner is also a linguist? So I have to carefully reign it in, to something that the general language learner/speaker can relate to, while still covertly inducting them into certain linguistic aspects.

一方、強すぎて始まったら、我が聞き手はもう愛想できなくなる。だって、語学する者の中に、何割は言語学者?だからといって、そんなに深い言語学論に踏まずに、微かにある言語学点に紹介しならが聞き手も解りやすい話題で始まります。

「A, B や C, D の形は「美しく」「訪ねて」と肯定の判断を一度は確定的に下しています」

One day, I encountered a sentence in a novel that I had trouble parsing, so I tried to work it out in a (PSR/X-bar blend) syntax tree. Note the daughter node to the VP labelled “??”. That constituent was where I was having trouble. Why? Because unlike most other Japanese particles, は has a funny habit of not bearing case, which means it either carries some other function, or semantic content.

或日、ある小説で、私がある文を解析できなくて、樹形図を書き出してみた。ご覧の通り、ある構成素は「??」で付けていた。私は解析できなかった部分はそこだった。何故なら、普通の助詞と違って、「は」は格標識ではない。というわけで、「は」は他の機能か役目を持っていますでしょう。

So keeping this nifty little reference paper with me, I brought it to my local Japanese-English language exchange university club, which I thence presented to my native Japanese speaker. He was floored. Of course, he could follow the basic structure of what I was doing, even without formal training in syntax, but it still took him a while to work out what was going on (since, apparently even for native speakers, this particular sentence is pretty complex).

そして、その樹形図が載った紙を持ちながら、我が大学の和英言語交換の倶楽部に行って、そのテーブルに居た日本語の母国語話者に見せた。びっくりしましたね。もちろん、統語論を勉強したことがなくても、簡単に樹形図の論理を解ったが、それにしても、私は何を表したかったか、数秒間がかかった。後に解ったが、日本語の母国語話者に対しても、上記の例文は複雑だからそうです。

Quite a first impression, wouldn’t you say? Even without the vaguely cthulic doodles in the upper-left corner, such a stratified syntactic parsing is not exactly how most people untangle meanings from complex sentences. …And that was actually the beginning of a very dear friendship. A friendship that, unfortunately, had to be cut short, because my friend had to return to his homeland a few months earlier than expected. But we’ll still be in touch, and we’ll always have this hilarious memory.

何たる第一印象でしょう!? 左上の落書を無視しても、こういう統語論的分析は普通の人間が難しい文の意味を把握する仕業ではないでしょう。…それは実に親しい友情の始まりだった。あの方はもう帰国しましたが、この大笑い記憶は残している。

Now, for those who are either (1) professional linguists, or (2) friends I’ve made from my linguistics courses, it should be noted that the above syntax tree was drafted well before I had any formal training in PSRs or X-bar, or other funky stuff. I had learned some generative grammar, and had attended a guest lecture by a certain syntax celebrity (where, incidentally, he offensively imitated a “Beijing” accent for their merging of /l/ and /ɹ/ in “fried rice” — which, btw, is actually more of a Cantonese thing, but nevermind), and was therefore more comfortable with the idea of binary branching nodes than the backwards PSRs that I later learned when school started.

で、(1) 言語学者や(2) 言語学の授業でできた友達の読者へ、上記の樹形図は結構、句構造規則やX-bar論を私が学んだ前に書いたから、ご理解していただいてありがたい。その時、基本の生成文法がちょっと学んだし、ある有名な統語論師が教えた特別講義に聴講したし(ちなみに、あの方は「北京語」話者の”fried rice”の「L」 と「R」の違いが区別できないことをまねしてみたが、本当は広東語のアクセントだが、いいや)。幸い、残忍な句構造規則と違って、その時、二進分岐ぐらいがもう解った。

Having said that, I still have no idea how to begin making a syntactic representation for something simple, like a Japanese noun phrase containing both an adjectival phrase, and a relative clause.

といって、今でも簡単な日本語の形容詞と修飾詩を含んだ名詞句を樹形図にできない。

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