A conceptual approach to existential verbs in japanese: The case of aru versus iru

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This paper presents an alternative analysis of the two Japanese existential verbs: aru and iru. By appealing to the notion of conceptualisation that pervades the cognitive linguistic literature, I demonstrate that the two verbs pattern as motion verbs, and not simply as verbs of existence and/or location. Throughout the paper, I demonstrate that the traditional opposition of inanimacy versus animacy, said to determine the use of aru versus iru, respectively, is not a reliable predictor. Instead, contextual and cognitive factors such as perceived movement/displacement potential of the sentential subject, actual expectation of movement and the relative immediacy of potential displacement, both literally and metaphorically, will be shown to be more at play than the simple dichotomy of inanimacy versus animacy. The data include acceptability judgements by native speakers of Japanese on a 20-item questionnaire. Participants' line item responses and open-ended comments reflect a consistent tendency to draw upon traditional grammatical ‘rules’ which explicitly place the animacy/inanimacy of the sentential subjects as the primary (if not the sole) distinguishing feature. However, as will be shown, participants also exhibit a clear orientation to the concept of motion as a key element in their selection of one form over other possible competing forms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-194
Number of pages16
JournalLanguage Awareness
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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