The Temporal Interpretation of Japanese Subordinate Clauses

  • Yoshiyuki Igarashi
Part of the Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy book series (SLAP, volume 68)


Tense is one of the fundamental grammatical systems of language, and there has been a lot of controversy over it. Sometimes it displays quite a complicated picture, even for subordinate clauses.


Relative Clause Reference Time Tense Form Main Clause Subordinate Clause 
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  1. 1.
    In fact, it has been controversial whether Japanese has the tense system—in other words, whether the Japanese (r)u/ta forms are tense markers or aspect markers. But in this chapter I regard them as tense markers though they cannot only express the so-called absolute tense but also the relative tense. This is actually the analysis given in Chapter 4, but I believe the crucial point would not be affected even if we regard them as aspect.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Although, strictly speaking, the (r)u form can also denote a present event, the chart is treating it as denoting the future for a typographical reason. But this does not change the argument below.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Many of the examples below are from Mihara (1992), even if not explicitly acknowledged so.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Annotations such as (MC < SC) in some of the following examples are employing Mihara’s notation, where MC represents the event (time) of the main clause, SC that of the subordinate clause, and the (in)equality sign the temporal relation of the two events: = means that the two events occur simultaneously and x < y means that x precedes y. In the case of xy, y follows but shares a certain point in time with x.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Following Mihara’s notation, SC* below means that SC can be at either position in the tense form combination scheme.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Precisely speaking, Mihara’s principle per se could not treat this case correctly; it is necessary to add an extra assumption that the (r)u form of a stative verb only expresses the simultaneity of the event time with the reference time (what may be called (relative) present tense) while that of a dynamic verb can also express subsequence (what may be called (relative) future tense).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    The ability of the (r)u form of the stative verb to express a future event (an event occurring later than the reference time) is not confined in a SC but is a general property; thus it can exhibit this property in a MC, as the following example illustrates: Asita kono kaizyoo-de gaikoku-no yoozin-ga resseki-suru sikiten-ga aru. this The ceremony that foreign VIPs are attending is going to be held at this place tomorrow.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    If we took asita and kesa into consideration seriously, it might be concluded that the example took the ST perspective, since these words are deictic expressions on the temporal scale with ST as the point of reference.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

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  • Yoshiyuki Igarashi

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