Ignoring Grice for fun and profit

Russell's post about MURAKAMI Ryuu's gag rhetorics (you should probably go read it) reminded me of this joke from Crayon Shin-chan, which is rapidly becoming my prime source of linguistic data, I just realised. Remember, right to left:

Masao: あいちゃんのことを想うあまり眠れない夜が何日も続いたりする…
Kazama: (thinks) 不眠症か…かわいそうに…
Masao: …夢をよく見るよ
Kazama: ぐっすり眠っとんのかい

Masao's first line would be interpreted by any reasonable person as "I'm so hung up on Ai-chan that I go without sleep for nights on end...", and Kazama thinks "Insomnia... poor guy..."

But then Masao's second line (literally "I have dreams about [X] a lot") reveals that his first line was, in fact, only part of a sentence -- the "[X]" in my translation there. In other words, he's saying "I keep dreaming about being so hung up on Ai-chan that I go without sleep for nights on end", a gag which, in English, doesn't work (except maybe as surrealism).

It works in Japanese, though, because (a) Japanese modifiers (including entire clauses) come before the head noun, and (b) the verb forms used in such clauses are the same as the verb forms used in main clauses. (Although this wasn't the case in classical Japanese -- there was a separate form, known as shuushi-kei (終止形), for sentence-final verbs, but that's since been entirely replaced by the rentai-kei (連体形), which was originally the only form for modifying verbs -- although now this new multipurpose shuushi-kei has been renamed rentai-kei just to keep time travellers on their toes.)

On the other hand, the structure of English allows us to make jokes like "I thought it was a great movie... for me to poop on!", so we needn't feel too deprived.

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If said it before, and I'll say it again, I'm so glad I'm not the only one over the age of 8 that uses Shinchan as a tool to learn a language.


Haha, that's great! Yeah, the noun-modifying antics is a great way to "psych" someone out (with about the same slickness as "psyching" implies). Actually, I'm reminded of some weird book, and I can't even remember its general topic, but it had a couple pages devoted to how it's possible to pull someone's chain around in Japanese by seeming to promise one thing, but then adding some word or such at the end of a sentence...multiple times.


Er...wadn't it th'other ways around...that the shuushi supplanted the distinct rentai form? Fewer verbs had the latter, strength in numbers, 皆が同じならば怖くない!


Wyatt: the amount of Japanese I've learnt from Crayon Shin-chan is truly scary, when I think back on it.

Russell: I still occasionally get psyched out by perfectly normal, good-faith Japanese sentences, if they have -kaneru in them.

Ibidairon: D'oh! You are correct.

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