Analysis: Is Japanese's "~masu" a verb, or just a form?

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Analysis: Is Japanese's "~masu" a verb, or just a form?

Postby Lord-Ragnarock » Thu 07 Feb 2013 8:56 pm

I was debating whether to put this thread in Language Learning or LOTE, so hopefully this ends up being the right one! :D

Anyhow, I'm only into my fifth semester of Japanese (3201 level in U.S. Universities), but thanks to me and a classmate being partners in analyzing the language, we've noticed a few patterns in the way words work in Japanese. Specifically, I've noticed a pattern in a certain class of compound verbs:

(While this specific class of compound verbs is unrelated, this can probably help to explain the formulas) Suru verbs, probably the most populated kind, are created by either taking a loan word, or making a compound word from at least two Kanji (Typically using their ON-Readings*), and tacking する ("Suru," to do/make) at the end of it.

Example, you have these two kanji:

1. 習 (ON-Rdng: "Shuu" | Meaning: Learn)
2. 得 (ON-Rdng: "Toku" | Meaning: Gain, Profit)
When both are put together, they make 習得 ("Shuutoku" | Learning, Acquisition), and when made into a suru verb, make 習得する ("Shuutoku suru" | Learn, Acquire Knowledge, To Master)

Easy as making stew, right? :D


Well, some of the more common verbs in Japanese are also compounds, but use a different kind of compounding method involving Kun-Readings.* All one would need to do is take the "stem"** of one verb and tack it before another verb, and voila, your new verb!

Example, you have these two verbs:

1. 思う (Kun-Rdng: "Omo-u" | Meaning: To think) Its stem is 思い ("Omo-i")
2. 出す (Kun-Rdng: "Da-su" | Meaning: To put out, take out.) Its stem is 出し ("Da-shi")

If you tack the stem of 思う before 出す, you would get 思い出す ("Omoidasu"), which means "to remember." In another case, 込む ("Ko-mu") is added after many stems to often indicate an action done completely or intensely, like with 飲み込む ("Nomikomu"), which combines the stem of 飲む ("No-mu" | To drink) with 込む ("Ko-mu" | To do completely/intensely) to mean "To Swallow".


Finally, as every Japanese-language student learns within his first few lessons, changing the final "-u" to "imasu" (on "-u" verbs) or dropping the final "-ru" and adding "masu" (on "-iru/-eru" verbs) creates the polite form of a verb. 行く("I-ku") becomes 行きます ("I-kimasu"), 食べる ("Ta-beru") becomes 食べます ("Ta-bemasu")


Now that I'm done explaining some formulas of Japanese compounds, I can finally explain my little hypothesis XD

Upon examining the polite form, it's apparent that we have a verb in its stem form followed by "Masu." Knowing this, and using what I know of Japanese's grammar mechanics, this leads me to consider that the "masu" one adds after a verb stem could possibly be not a conjugation, but instead a verb of its own, likely with a meaning akin to doing something in a respectful or polite fashion.

Of course, I am also aware that to normally make verbs negative or past-negative, the final "-u" must be changed to "a" and "nai" or "nakatta" added after. But, looking at the negative and past-negative forms of polite Japanese verbs (ません["masen"] and ませんでした ["masendeshita"] ), something seems to contradict my statement. This presents (so far) three ways I can view this:

1. As a verb, "Masu" would have a negative and past-negative conjugation of "Masanai" and "Masanakatta," except that isn't the case. Because "Masen" and "Masendeshita" aren't consistent with this, "Masu" might not be a verb at all, but simply a polite conjugation method as it is taught to be.

2. If "Masu" is a verb, it's likely an irregular verb like Suru, Kuru and Aru, which would explain the non-standard negative endings.

3. There could possibly be a type of grammatical conjugation that explains this later on in my studies, and I just simply need more information. I'm taking this stance for now.


Have any of the Japanese speakers/learners given thought to this? Would anyone have clues, maybe answers? :D



Footnotes:

*Most Japanese Kanji (The more complex characters), because of their Chinese origin, have multiple ways of being read, and from those readings derive different meanings/words. ON-Readings have their roots in Chinese language (年 has an ON-reading of "Nen" is Japanese, and is read "Nián" in Chinese), while Kun-Readings are a native Japanese word (所 has an ON of "Sho," which is part of the word 場所 ["Basho"], but has a Kun of "Tokoro," which is expressed when writing the Kanji 所 by itself.)

**To make a verb stem, for "-u verbs" one must take a verb's plain form and change it's final "u" to "i." (行く ["iku"] becomes 行き ["iki"] ), and for certain "-iru/-eru verbs" one simply drops the final "-ru" (食べる ["ta-beru-"] becomes 食べ ["ta-be"] ) Sometimes the stem is used by itself for an infinitive.
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Re: Analysis: Is Japanese's "~masu" a verb, or just a form?

Postby linguoboy » Thu 07 Feb 2013 11:15 pm

Historically, it was the independent verb *mawirasu (contracted from *mawira-suru, a combination of suru with the subjunctive stem of the humble verb mairu; -masen, in turn represents a contraction of *mawira-sinai). But I see no reason for treating is as one now. The reason suru, komu, etc. are considered verbs is that they can be used independently in a way that -masu cannot.

Similarly, the causative suffix -(s)aseru represents a formerly independent lexical verb which became grammaticalised, though I would have to check my copy of Martin's The Japanese language through time to tell you which one.
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Re: Analysis: Is Japanese's "~masu" a verb, or just a form?

Postby Lord-Ragnarock » Tue 12 Feb 2013 2:40 am

Dang, I never even gave thought to that possibility. Thanks for the info, then! :D I'll certainly look into the book you mentioned whenever I have the time to.
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Re: Analysis: Is Japanese's "~masu" a verb, or just a form?

Postby Elijah » Sat 23 Mar 2013 3:54 am

Linguoboy: That's ingenious. I mean, I could tell there was "suru" in there, because the irrealis stem was se- (e.g. seyo), as in"-masen".
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