The bare-marking of ga

Its function in spoken Japanese

in International Review of Pragmatics
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It has been recognized that the Japanese so-called subject marker ga is often not overtly expressed in spoken Japanese. Regarding the particle ga in conversational Japanese, the work of Ono, Thompson, and Suzuki (2000) is most notable. With respect to the bare-marking of ga, however, Ono et al. argue that “the norm is not to use ga, but to use a bare NP” (2000: 66). Although the current study is aligned with their work, we do not see the bare-marking of ga as a ‘norm’. Rather, we see that the pragmatic functions of the bare-marking of ga play just as important a role as ga-marking. Through an examination of naturally occurring every day conversational data, we provide two specific principles, Basic Rule 1 and Basic Rule 2. In reality, the Japanese bare-marking of ga in spoken Japanese is governed by these consistent, predictable, and systematic rules.




Kuno (1972) argues that in (7a) dokushin desu conveys known information. In (7b), however, not only the subject John ga, but also the entire sentence conveys new information, since (7b) was the first statement in a discourse, as an exclamatory statement by the speaker indicates. Therefore, there is no old information contained in (7b).


Masunaga (1988) also claims that when there is a sentence final particle, the case marker can be deleted. Masunaga argues a sentence final particle has the function of focusing the verb it attaches to. Therefore, by adding a sentence final particle, the verb becomes focused, and in turn, the subject NP is ‘defocused’. She suggests that whenever the pertinent NP is “deemphasized” or “defocused”, the case marker can be deleted (1988: 143).


Kiri Lee (2002), also provides evidence against Tsutsui’s fourth form of constructed examples in which a Bare NP and no sentence final particles are used (2002: 690).


Duck-Young Lee (2002) claims that “the grammatical property of the zero particle is ‘absolute specification’, by which the speaker specifies an object or event represented by the NP, without referring to other objects/events” (2002: 622). The key implication of this definition is that the use of the zero particle rejects any particular relationships which might be established between the NP and others (such as exclusion, contrast, sharedness, limitation, etc.). Shimojoo (2006), following Lee’s arguments, claims that a zero particle denotes absolute specification with total absence of contrastiveness.


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