Japanese Conditionals and Cost of Utterance

  • Ken-Ichiro Shirai
Part of the Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy book series (SLAP, volume 68)


The aim of this chapter is twofold. In the first part (Sections 8.2 to 8.5) I investigate the usage of Japanese conditional constructions, focusing on the issues concerning the interaction of conditional statements with those aspects of utterances that have been called speech acts in the literature. It is my principal claim that Japanese conditional constructions cannot be given proper analyses without paying due attention to the correlation between their information-theoretic content and their aspects of speech acts. In Japanese, there are several patterns for making conditional statements, and these patterns are equally basic and productive. This is the most important point where Japanese differs from English in the construction of conditional statements. Each of Japanese conditional constructions has its own usage, and there are interesting restrictions between their usage and their properties relating to speech acts.


Conditional Statement Antecedent Clause Assertive Statement Nonnative Speaker Nara Construction 
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  1. 1.
    This is a revised and extended version of my report presented for Japan and U.S. joint research on UPSG (see Shirai 1996a). I would like to thank Ivan Sag for his critical but very valuable comments on an earlier version of this paper.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    In English, however, the interaction of this canonical pattern with other factors such as modality seems to be rather complicated in connection with the interpretation of conditional statements. This difference between Japanese and English will correspond to what is called the division of labor in the language system.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    (8.6d) is not natural as an utterance of the nara construction. I will touch on this fact later in the analysis of the nara construction.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    I admit that this is a very strong assumption, and it may turn out to be false. We might well think of possibilities that historically some of the above patterns have developed into the one and same form from more than one different sources. Indeed, this would be very likely with ba conditionals. But based on the synchronic points of view, I maintain this strong assumption.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Here, I only consider the reading of sentence (8.7b) where it represents a specific event in the past. This sentence could be ambiguous, and on the other reading it might be interpreted as showing the speaker’s habitual act in the past. On this reading, it would represent a general statement. But here, for simplicity, I ignore this sort of ambiguity, since it can be detected for Japanese past sentences in general and is not restricted to the case concerned here.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    For the analysis of the ba conditional construction, see Shirai (1996b).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    This example is taken from Akatsuka (1983).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    This summary is borrowed from Akatsuka (1986, p. 347). I am employing it only for the convenience of the discussion here.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    This point will also apply to the analysis of pronouns and anaphora, as Groenendijk, Stokhof, and Veltman have already shown in their studies based on the framework of what they call dynamic semantics (see Groenendijk, Stokhof & Veltman 1994).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    I adopt these schematic formats only for the convenience of the following discussion.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    This is not the only way to mark the cohesive connection of the two Japanese sentences. For instance, we may say, instead of (8.51b), John ga taoreta. Bill ga (kare wo) nagutta karada.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    In Japanese, we employ such incomplete speech in our everyday greetings, say, Sayo-naraGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    This issue is also discussed in Kuno (1973). I think that this work of Kuno is still very useful for all of those studying Japanese. We can find a number of interesting examples and insights that are, in my opinion, waiting for more general and/or formal accounts from the current perspectives of linguistic theory. Incidentally, the above Japanese constructions came under my notice, while I was making a revision of my previous draft, by Atsuro Tsubomoto (see Tsubomoto 1995).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Here, and also when I discussed the temporal usage of Japanese conditional constructions, the expressions of antecedent clause and consequent clause are employed rather loosely—here, only for the sake of convenience but before, together with my claim that the temporal usage of the to and tara constructions should not be separated from their conditional usage.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

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  • Ken-Ichiro Shirai

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