Closed and open classes in Natlangs (Especially Japanese)

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Closed and open classes in Natlangs (Especially Japanese)

Post by Chagen » Mon 07 Apr 2014, 21:10

As we probably all know, in basically all languages word classes are either closed or open. Closed classes cannot take any new members (or at least have very large resistance to gaining new members), and usually are small classes of words like function words (for example, prepositions in PIE languages).

I bring this up for the odd case that is Japanese. In Japanese, verbs are closed--they have heavy resistance to taking new members whereas nouns are open. For instance, during the time where Japanese took a GIGANTIC amount of Chinese loans, literally hundreds to thousands of words, the amount of verbs they borrowed was almost nil. What the Japanese did was take Chinese nouns, and then use them with the verb suru "to do"; for instance, benkyō "study" can form the "suru verb" benkyō suru meaning "to study". Despite all these loans, the Japanese verbs resisted any new members. Other evidence for this is that almost no verbs in Japanese have /Cj/ clusters, which came from Chinese loans. Japanese also highly resisted adding new stative/adjective verbs, which end in -i. Any new adjectives were just nouns used with naru "to be" which was just shortened to "na".

However, I have seen, interestingly enough, some new verbs in Japanese coined in recent years that break this. For instance, there's a verb romuru, common enough to show up in dictionaries, that means "to browse an imageboard as a Read-Only-Member". This was formed from taking the abbreviation "ROM" and adding the suffix -ru, which ends a set of Japanese verbs (taberu "to eat" neru "to sleep"). However, -ru is not a verbalizing suffix in Japanese. Japanese has NO verbalizing suffixes, yet I ended up seeing this word, which conjugates like any normal verb; romuranai (negative), romutta (past), romuranakatta (negative past)....

A few days later, I saw the adjective eroi "sexy, erotic", from "ero", an obvious shortening of "erotic". -i was just added--but -i isn't a derivational suffix in Japanese. This also conjugates like normal adjectival verbs; erokunai (negative), for instance.

So, I made this thread to ask; are closed-classes in natlangs not perfectly "watertight"? Could this be a possible indicator of Japanese verbs becoming open class or at least more receptive to new members? Are there any precendences for closed-classes gaining new members regardless (I think English <they> is one)?
Nūdenku waga honji ma naku honyasi ne ika-ika ichamase!
female-appearance=despite boy-voice=PAT hold boy-youth=TOP very be.cute-3PL
Honyasi zō honyasi ma naidasu.
boy-youth=AGT boy-youth=PAT love.romantically-3S
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Re: Closed and open classes in Natlangs (Especially Japanese

Post by Micamo » Mon 07 Apr 2014, 21:16

Chagen wrote:So, I made this thread to ask; are closed-classes in natlangs not perfectly "watertight"? Could this be a possible indicator of Japanese verbs becoming open class or at least more receptive to new members? Are there any precendences for closed-classes gaining new members regardless (I think English <they> is one)?
Yes, yes, and yes. And arguably, the Japanese suru verbs are still verbs that just need an auxilary to take inflections for them: In some natlangs *all* verbs are like this, e.g. Jingulu. I'm sure an analysis on whether the suru verbs are lexicalized verbs or not has already been done, though I wouldn't know where to tell you to look for one. Possibly, Japanese is becoming more receptive to coining new verbs due to English influence?
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Re: Closed and open classes in Natlangs (Especially Japanese

Post by Chagen » Mon 07 Apr 2014, 21:32

Micamo wrote: Yes, yes, and yes. And arguably, the Japanese suru verbs are still verbs that just need an auxilary to take inflections for them: In some natlangs *all* verbs are like this, e.g. Jingulu. I'm sure an analysis on whether the suru verbs are lexicalized verbs or not has already been done, though I wouldn't know where to tell you to look for one. Possibly, Japanese is becoming more receptive to coining new verbs due to English influence?
Well, the suru verbs act in a way that makes me want to view suru as a simple verb suffix. For instance, when they were first introduced, the noun in the compound was put with the object particle wo:

Shōnen wa benkyō wo shita
boy TOP study=ACC do.PST

However the much more common method is to just suffix suru; Shōnen wa benkyō shita, which makes suru feel like a suffix than an actual verb. But the traditional method is to analyze them as noun+verb compounds.

Also, these new verbs are very, VERY slangy. The suru verb method is still the most common--in an anime I watched yesterday from the 2014 season, I heard passu shite "pass it on!".

The English influence thing seems plausible, though it's odd how the Chinese loans didn't do anything similar. Japanese is just a weird language in general...
Nūdenku waga honji ma naku honyasi ne ika-ika ichamase!
female-appearance=despite boy-voice=PAT hold boy-youth=TOP very be.cute-3PL
Honyasi zō honyasi ma naidasu.
boy-youth=AGT boy-youth=PAT love.romantically-3S
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Re: Closed and open classes in Natlangs (Especially Japanese

Post by Xing » Mon 07 Apr 2014, 21:35

I'm no expert, it is seems plausible to suppose that openness can be a matter of degrees. In some word-classes, new members might be added very easily - I suppose this is the case with nouns in many languages. In other word-classes, words may be added from time to time, but not as easily. A language might have certain mechanisms to form, say, new adverbs - but those mechanisms might be much more restricted than, say, the noun-forming mechanisms, and the number of potential new adverbs would thus be much more limited than the number of potential new nouns.
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Re: Closed and open classes in Natlangs (Especially Japanese

Post by clawgrip » Wed 09 Apr 2014, 15:37

Chagen wrote:
Micamo wrote: Yes, yes, and yes. And arguably, the Japanese suru verbs are still verbs that just need an auxilary to take inflections for them: In some natlangs *all* verbs are like this, e.g. Jingulu. I'm sure an analysis on whether the suru verbs are lexicalized verbs or not has already been done, though I wouldn't know where to tell you to look for one. Possibly, Japanese is becoming more receptive to coining new verbs due to English influence?
Well, the suru verbs act in a way that makes me want to view suru as a simple verb suffix. For instance, when they were first introduced, the noun in the compound was put with the object particle wo:

Shōnen wa benkyō wo shita
boy TOP study=ACC do.PST

However the much more common method is to just suffix suru; Shōnen wa benkyō shita, which makes suru feel like a suffix than an actual verb. But the traditional method is to analyze them as noun+verb compounds.
We can of course prove this:
英語の勉強をした。 Eigo no benkyō o shita. "I studied English (LIT I did my English studies)."
As you can see here, the verb suru takes Eigo no benkyō "English studies" as its direct object.

英語を勉強した。Eigo o benkyō shita. "I studied English."
If we compound it, we can now apply a different direct object, Eigo "English"

*英語を勉強をした。 *Eigo o benkyō o shita. *"I did my studies English"
This example shows that a single verb cannot take two direct objects; therefore, benkyō suru must be a single verb.

Whether you want to call this a noun-verb compound or a noun with a verbalizing suffix is really irrelevant, because it amounts to the same thing.
Also, these new verbs are very, VERY slangy. The suru verb method is still the most common--in an anime I watched yesterday from the 2014 season, I heard passu shite "pass it on!".

The English influence thing seems plausible, though it's odd how the Chinese loans didn't do anything similar. Japanese is just a weird language in general...
A number of these verbs are not quite as slangy as you think. While some do have a slang feel to them, others can be perfectly normal. For example, クレームする kurēmu suru "make a complaint" サインする sain suru "sign (one's name)", パンクする panku suru "to go flat (said of a tire)", etc. are quite regular words. There are others that are neither formal nor slangy, just regular conversational level.

Also a minor note, but the -ru being added is not the one from taberu and neru (i.e. shimo-ichidan), it's the godan verb ending with /r/ added.

Chagen wrote:I bring this up for the odd case that is Japanese. In Japanese, verbs are closed--they have heavy resistance to taking new members whereas nouns are open. For instance, during the time where Japanese took a GIGANTIC amount of Chinese loans, literally hundreds to thousands of words, the amount of verbs they borrowed was almost nil.
These exist. One class you probably didn't notice is the single morpheme with the ending -jiru added:

生じる shōjiru "produce; arise from"
感じる kanjiru "feel"
禁じる kinjiru "forbid"
通じる tsūjiru "connect; communicate; get across"
信じる shinjiru "believe"
演じる enjiru "to perform (e.g. in a play)"
存じる zonjiru "to know"
etc. etc.

Of course, this is the exact same phenomenon as N+suru, since -jiru is a form of the old Japanese verb su "to do".

The simple fact of the matter is that unlike English, Japanese verbs require specific endings in order to be verbs, so its impossible to borrow a Chinese verb (which has no endings as a matter of course) and expect it to work in Japanese, which requires its own specific endings. The question then becomes, what ending should be added?

I gather from your post that you think that -ru is the typical ending, but this is a mistake Historically and in the modern language, this appeared at the end of verbs only as r-stem + -u (e.g. 取る toru (tor-u) "take") or as an epenthetic consonant between a V-stem and the ending -u (e.g. 見る miru (mi-r-u) "see"). It's only very recently that it is been considered the default verb ending, allowing for new coinings such as memoru and the romuru you mentioned (I had never heard of this one).

I'm sure you know that in old Japanese and in modern Japanese, the actual default verb ending is -u, but I'm sure that Japanese people did not and do not think of it this way. Take for example, the Old Japanese verb 寝 nu "sleep": people did not really think of this as a verb stem n- with a verb suffix -u; rather they considered nu to the nonpast conclusive form of the verb, i.e. a single and inseparable form of the verb. The proof is the fact that it is written 寝 (nu), not 寝う (n-u). Modern Japanese works the same way; people do not generally consider the syllable onset and coda as separable elements. No one would say the verb stem for 書く kaku "write" is 書k- kak-; they would say it is 書 ka-, and that its endings all belong to the ka-series, again the proof being that it is written 書く (ka-ku), not 書う (kak-u). This means that expecting verbs like *勉強う *benkyōu or 計算う *keisanu is unrealistic, because non-linguist Japanese people did not and do not identify -u as an independent or separable element.

So what I am saying is that Japanese borrowed many verbs from Chinese, but it was necessary to provide them with the proper endings, and the verb su(ru) was the most convenient way to do it.
Last edited by clawgrip on Wed 09 Apr 2014, 16:16, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Closed and open classes in Natlangs (Especially Japanese

Post by Chagen » Wed 09 Apr 2014, 16:16

Whether you want to call this a noun-verb compound or a noun with a verbalizing suffix is really irrelevant, because it amounts to the same thing.
Well, in almost any language there are ambiguous cases like this.
A number of these verbs are not quite as slangy as you think. While some do have a slang feel to them, others can be perfectly normal. For example, クレームする kurēmu suru "make a complaint" サインする sain suru "sign (one's name)", パンクする panku suru "to go flat (said of a tire)", etc. are quite regular words. There are others that are neither formal nor slangy, just regular conversational level.

Also a minor note, but the -ru being added is not the one from taberu and neru (i.e. shimo-ichidan), it's the godan verb ending with /r/ added.
First point: I was talking about the godan verbs formed with -ru as being super slangy, not the suru verbs (which seem to be a normal Japanese process)

Second point: Yes, I knew that, but I find it interesting how -ru was used when any -Cu ending could be used. Perhaps -ru was picked as influence from the ichidan verbs.
The simple fact of the matter is that unlike English, Japanese verbs require specific endings in order to be verbs. I'm sure you know, in old Japanese and in modern Japanese, the actual default verb ending is -u, but I'm sure that Japanese people did not and do not think of it this way. For example, for the Old Japanese verb 寝 nu "sleep" people did not really think of this as a verb stem n- with a verb suffix -u; rather they considered nu to the nonpast conclusive form of the verb, i.e. a single and inseparable form of the verb. Modern Japanese works the same way; people do not generally consider the syllable onset and coda as separable elements, as far as I can tell. No one would say the verb stem for 書く kaku "write" is 書k- kak-; they would say it is 書 ka-, and that its endings all belong to the ka-series.
I don't think that what the Japanese viewed their verbs as actually matters. A stem does not have to actually fit a language's phonology. The roots of godan verbs like kaku, hanasu, and matu, seem to be kak-, hanas-, mat-, because those are the invariant parts of inflections, and any irregularities can be explained with historical diachronics:

kak-u,
hanas-u
mat-u

kak-anai
hanas-anai
mat-anai

ka-ita (once *kak-ita)
hanas-ita
mat-ta

And so on.

It's just that the syllabary and ideography Japanese uses can't really express this kind of thing. But godan roots seem to be of -VC type, except for the ones that end in just -u, like iu, omou, tatakau, and I'm pretty sure that those actually were -wu verbs (*iw-, *omow-, *tatakaw-), given that a -w- surfaces in the negative inflection (iwanai, omowanai, tatakawanai) since /wa/ is the only /w/-syllable in modern Japanese.

I mean, I could be wrong, but Japanese simply seems to have a lot of consonant-final roots that simply never appear with some kind of inflectional vowel applied to them. The analysis where they're call (C)V roots that have endings in a particular series of syllables feels like an overanalysis in my eyes.
Nūdenku waga honji ma naku honyasi ne ika-ika ichamase!
female-appearance=despite boy-voice=PAT hold boy-youth=TOP very be.cute-3PL
Honyasi zō honyasi ma naidasu.
boy-youth=AGT boy-youth=PAT love.romantically-3S
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Re: Closed and open classes in Natlangs (Especially Japanese

Post by clawgrip » Wed 09 Apr 2014, 16:17

I edited my post a bunch. I hope you will reread it.
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Re: Closed and open classes in Natlangs (Especially Japanese

Post by clawgrip » Wed 09 Apr 2014, 16:20

Chagen wrote:I mean, I could be wrong, but Japanese simply seems to have a lot of consonant-final roots that simply never appear with some kind of inflectional vowel applied to them. The analysis where they're call (C)V roots that have endings in a particular series of syllables feels like an overanalysis in my eyes.
I agree here that it is not the best way to analyze it, since kak- is clearly the stem of kaku, something that is easy for me to say as an English speaker with some degree of knowledge of linguistics, but I believe that monolingual Japanese speakers do not perceive syllable onsets and codas as separable elements, and so have/had no default verb ending to add to verbs. The next closest thing is/was su(ru).
Chagen wrote:I don't think that what the Japanese viewed their verbs as actually matters. A stem does not have to actually fit a language's phonology. The roots of godan verbs like kaku, hanasu, and matu, seem to be kak-, hanas-, mat-, because those are the invariant parts of inflections, and any irregularities can be explained with historical diachronics:
It does matter, because Japanese people are the ones coining the new words. The key here is not what form the stem takes, since we are already borrowing the stems from Chinese, English, or wherever, so their forms are not in dispute, it's what form the verbalizing suffix takes. I've already explained why I feel that and -u (not perceived as an independent element) and -ru (variation of -u after vowels or -u after -r) are not realistic options as verbalizing suffixes.

What is confusing me is why you say Japanese has not borrowed verbs from Chinese when we can see hundreds of them, such as 混じる konjiru "mix; blend", 達する tassuru "reach; get to", 卒業する sotsugyō suru "graduate" etc.

Can you give any hypothetical examples of what you expect to see but don't?
Last edited by clawgrip on Wed 09 Apr 2014, 16:36, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Closed and open classes in Natlangs (Especially Japanese

Post by Chagen » Wed 09 Apr 2014, 16:36

What I meant by "hasn't borrowed verbs" is that they simply chose to borrow nouns (or verbs as nouns) and make new verbs by appending suru.

Looking back at it that was kind of confusing.
-ru (variation of -u after vowels or -u after -r) are not realistic options as verbalizing suffixes.
Well, given that these slang verbs are formed by adding -ru to them...maybe that's changing.
Nūdenku waga honji ma naku honyasi ne ika-ika ichamase!
female-appearance=despite boy-voice=PAT hold boy-youth=TOP very be.cute-3PL
Honyasi zō honyasi ma naidasu.
boy-youth=AGT boy-youth=PAT love.romantically-3S
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Re: Closed and open classes in Natlangs (Especially Japanese

Post by clawgrip » Wed 09 Apr 2014, 16:37

Chagen wrote:What I meant by "hasn't borrowed verbs" is that they simply chose to borrow nouns (or verbs as nouns) and make new verbs by appending suru.

Looking back at it that was kind of confusing.
The reason is of course because Japanese verbs must end in -u, and most Chinese loans don't end in -u, so they are not recognizable as Japanese verbs, so an element must be added. Additionally, they seem to have chosen not to interpret those loans that did end in -u as verbs, probably for the same of uniformity (so e.g. no 選択いた sentaita...you get only 選択した sentaku shita).
Chagen wrote:Well, given that these slang verbs are formed by adding -ru to them...maybe that's changing.
Definitely agree on this point, though it's in its infancy.
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Re: Closed and open classes in Natlangs (Especially Japanese

Post by clawgrip » Thu 10 Apr 2014, 01:47

I suppose one of your main points is that if the verb 勉強 benkyō has been borrowed and verbalized with -suru, why then is it possible to nominalize it as 勉強をする benkyō o suru? Following from this, you have posited that since benkyō (and many, many other words like it) can take the direct object marker o, these words must therefore have originally been borrowed as nouns. I do not believe this is a fully accurate description of what's happening. Here's how I think the entire process went, more or less:

- Old Japanese, being a verb-heavy language, lacked any type of verbalizer (but it could easily nominalize verbs)
- Japanese borrows Chinese verbs, but in order to naturalize them, must give them appropriate verb endings
- lacking any specific verbalizer, the default verb す su "do" (and its modern counterpart する suru) is used for this purpose
- cases with morphological or phonological changes, e.g. 興じる kyōjiru "enjoy oneself", 徹する tessuru "penetrate; devote oneself" remain stable as verbs (*興をする *kyō o suru and *徹をする *tetsu o suru are impossible). Due to the limitations that branching constraints place on phonological changes, this limits these to single morpheme Chinese roots.
- cases of Chinese V + suru that lack any morphological or phonological changes (the majority of them) become indistinguishable from N + suru, and they mix through analogy, blurring the line (as you and I touched on earlier) between N+V and V/N+verbalizing suffix.
- It becomes unclear whether the various Chinese and Sino-Japanese roots are actually verbs or nouns, though some have a higher tendency to be used as nouns or verbs, e.g. 経験 keiken "experience" is massively more common as a noun (経験をする) than a verb (経験する), while 勘弁 kanben "forgive; pardon; give (someone) a break" is massively more common as a verb (勘弁する) than a noun (勘弁をする)
- modern Japanese begins using godan -ru as an informal verbalizer in very limited cases

The existence of forms like henjiru and hassuru suggest that verbs were not actually a closed class in Old Japanese. The confusion between V+suru and N+suru blurred the line, making verbs essentially a closed class in modern Japanese. This new development in informal language could eventually reopen the class.
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Re: Closed and open classes in Natlangs (Especially Japanese

Post by Chagen » Thu 10 Apr 2014, 20:56

Okay, that makes sense. By the way...:
興じる kyōjiru "enjoy oneself"
How ironic that in Sunbyaku I made the word for "to have fun, enjoy oneself" kyoku.

Though kyōjiru would probably be heard as a slight mispronunciation of Sunbyaku kyōjiro "I am not on fire" [xP]
Nūdenku waga honji ma naku honyasi ne ika-ika ichamase!
female-appearance=despite boy-voice=PAT hold boy-youth=TOP very be.cute-3PL
Honyasi zō honyasi ma naidasu.
boy-youth=AGT boy-youth=PAT love.romantically-3S
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