Itsu wa

A couple of weeks ago, in the course of translating Kokin shū poem #189, L.N. Hammer noted that itsu wa to wa toki wa wakanedo ("Even though we can [feel this way] at any time", in his translation) is, as constructions go, hard to get your head around.

This is true. From the modern Japanese perspective, it can't be parsed from first principles at all: the particle wa isn't supposed to attach to interrogatives like itsu, presumably because, since they don't double as relative pronouns, they make no sense as topics. So you know it has to be some older, fossilized construction that must simply be remembered as it is, like bekarazu.

And, indeed, if you look it up in a big-enough-ass dictionary, there is often a definition. The Nihon kokugo daijiten 日本国語大辞典 offers two, in fact: one likening it to itsu to itte (which sort of means "at (some/any) particular time" but usually combines with a negative form to mean something like "there is no particular time when...") and another to itsumo wa ("usually", "normally"). However, the latter is only attested from the Edo period, while the former goes back to the Man'yō shū; it also seems closer to what we are looking for in terms of understanding poem #189 (remember poem #189?).

What this suggests to me is that itsu wa is a case where an interrogative is functioning to represent a non-specified but specific member of the class of things it refers to (in this case, times). Here's an example of the sort of thing I'm thinking of, in modern Japanese:


If you use precise expressions like 'salt, so-and-so many grams; sugar, so-and-so many monme' when teaching cooking, don't also say 'chop the onions nicely' and 'add a little salt and sugar.' Some people think that living scientific person of culture means cooking methods specifying so-and-so many grams of such-and-such. But being a scientific person of culture isn't about so-and-so many grams of salt; it's about being someone who has mastered the scientific approach to life but remains unfettered by it. (Mikaku baka 味覚馬鹿 ("Mad About Flavor"?), by Kitaoji Rosanjin 北大路魯山人. Undated but presumably from sometime in the first half of the 20th century.)

Here, nani ("what?") is reduplicated to give naninani, meaning "such-and-such": some unspecified (but specific!) member of the class of "things", and nan guramu ("how many grams?") and nan monme ("how many monme?") are placeholders for members of the class of "amounts in grams/monme of a given ingredient (that a recipe might specify)".

So maybe itsu wa to wa toki wa wakanedo is working similarly: "Time isn't divided up so that at such-and-such a time [there is a division]". I seem to recall Ōno Susumu 大野晋 mentioning something about this use of interrogatives, especially in combination with wa, but I can't remember where.

Here's another interesting itsu wa-related story. As noted above, itsu wa can be found in the Man'yō shū. There are four instances, and here, courtesy of the Man'yō shū Search System and the Oxford Corpus of Old Japanese (Frellesvig, Bjarke; Stephen Wright Horn; Kerri L Russell; and Peter Sells, 2012), they are:

#2373 (Kakimoto no Hitomaro):
itu pa si mo/ kwopwinu toki to pa/ aranedomo...
"There is no time at which I do not love [her], but..."

#2877 (anonymous):
itu pa namo/ kwopwizu ari to pa/ aranedomo...
"There is no time at which I am not in love, but..."

#3329 (anonymous):
... 何時橋物不戀時等者不有友...
... いつはしも恋ひぬ時とはあらねども...
... itu pa si mo/ kwopwinu toki to pa/ aranedomo...
"... there is no time at which I do not love [her], but..."

#3904 (Ōtomo no [Sukune] Fumimochi):
ume no pana/ itu pa worazi to/ itopanedo...
"The plum blossom: there is no particular time at which I refrain from picking them, but..."

(I'm thinking of moving the whole blog to Frellesvig/Whitman romanization for OJ, and another equivalent system [probably Frellesvig's, again, for consistency] for MJ; what do you think?)

You will notice that itu pa is used in three ways:

  1. itu pa (#3904)
  2. itu pa si mo (#2373, #3329)
  3. itu pa namo (#2877)

This namo of the third example is, in fact, typically cited as the only namo of its kind in the MYS. There are other namo in there — the sentence-final namo, the Eastern dialect auxiliary verb namo, cognate to ramu in the standard dialect — but they are mere homophones. This namo is a conjunctive particle, the one that grew up to be namu and overrun Heian literature completely.

And, despite being quite common in the Senmyō (a collection of 62 "Imperial edicts", i.e. senmyō 宣命, embedded in the late 8th-C history Shoku Nihongi 続日本紀 and written in Old Japanese prose), this namo only appears once in the MYS... or does it?

Non!, cry Satake Akihiro, Yamada Hideo, Kudō Rikio, Ōtani Masao, and Yamazaki Yoshiyuki, editors of Iwanami Shoten's Shin Nihon koten bungaku taikei 新日本古典文学大系 ("New Compendium of Japanese Classical Literature") edition of the MYS. Invoking an "old interpretation" 古義, specifics not given, they amend the 奈毛 /namo/ of the text to 志毛 /si mo/, citing #2373 and #3329 as examples of the itu pa si mo form, and thereby (a) tidying up the use of itu pa in the MYS, and (b) removing namo entirely from the MYS (making it, perhaps, a form used exclusively in prose).

It's an interesting idea, but it's hard to build a case stronger than the circumstantial one above. In particular, while si mo does appear as 志毛 four times in the MYS (and 志母 another half-dozen or so times), 奈毛 appears in the Senmyō, like, a million times, as does 奈母. (I don't have a good scholarly edition, but something claiming to be the full text of the Shoku Nihongi can be found at j-texts.com.) So it's certainly possible that si mo was intended, but it would be by no means unusual in terms of spelling to have written 奈毛 and meant namo: it's not an obvious corruption in the text.

Personally, I'm not confident enough in my understanding of namo/namu to declare its appearance in MYS #2877 a more egregious instance of entities being multiplied unnecessarily than the proposition that we should amend a text that looks perfectly fine.

Popularity factor: 5


Let it be submitted to the record that "itsu WA to WA toki WA WAkanedo" is just beautiful sounding.

In a way that the Man'yoshu and the 何グラム examples aren't.

(I also wish to dissent on that definition of "the scientific life," but that's another issue.)

L.N. Hammer:

It is indeed beautiful in sound, at least in modern pronunciation.

I've been slowly coming to a tentative understanding that Japanese interrogatives are really indefinite pronouns that are often understood as functioning as interrogatives. It still is hard to wrap my head around that construction in KKS #189, even with this helpful discussion.

I still feel like I'm ten years too early to deal with man'yogana -- that stuff makes my head hurt.



Dear Sir,

I've stumbled upon your translation of Kani Kosen Chapter 1 and was wondering where the rest of the text was. May I request a link for other chapters as well?

Though I cannot read Japanese, I enjoy reading your blog, if only to understand some of its meaning.



i have always read it as "Miss" now I am dlgeehtid to be corrected + am equally dlgeehtid to see that the other participants have been here to drop by your entry, too. I've checked it out the first time the url appeared on the linky, i was probably too excited that i forgot to leave a comment :)anyway, i hope you can join again this week. nice to know you Mys :)


Yea2Kc wpavkcezyocx

Aime la vérité, mais pardonne à l'erreur

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