VERBING JAPANESE.

No-sword has an entry about the way Japanese conjugates verbs made from borrowed words. My favorites:

guguru — corresponds to the (pace Google’s legal department) English verb “to Google”, appears in the title of some new books and magazine articles (sometimes in a variant form, guuguru, which is homophonous with the Japanese pronunciation of “Google” itself, but written differently — the verb has the final ru is in hiragana for the reason given above), and inspired this post.
homoru — that’s the homo of “homosexual”, so the verb means “to be homosexual/engage in homosexual acts [male ones]“. I first encountered this in a book by MURAKAMI Ryuu and puzzled over it for a few seconds, then almost died laughing when I realised what it meant. There’s a corresponding verb for females, too (I checked) — rezuru (from “rezubian“, the Japanese pronunciation), and even a porno movie series called Rezure! — that’s the imperative form!

Addendum. See The Tensor’s post for further details on this.

Comments

  1. I’ve studied Japanese, and the term “Rezure!” strikes me as comical. But maybe it wouldn’t be funny to native speakers.

  2. Okay, so what’s the past tense of each? Namae o gugutta (< gugur-ta)? ‘(I) googled the name’? Aitsu to homotta (< homor-ta)? ‘(I) engaged in homosexual acts with him’?
    “Rezure!” suggests rezutta (< rezur-ta). Otherwise it would be rezu-te, by analogy to tabe-te ‘eat!’ Saboru ‘to play hookie’ is clearly sabor-u rather than sabo-ru if the past is sabot-ta (not *sabota, like tabeta) and the negative is sabor-anai (not *sabonai, like tabenai).
    In fact, I suspect that in every case that No-sword cites, the stem ends in -r+u, not -V+ru. Why might that be? I really don’t know, except that underlying consonant clusters, which resolve to double consonants, sound a bit more foreign.

  3. Joel is right. All of these have stems that
    end in /r/. In addition to the way they make
    imperative and the past tense, its predictable
    in most cases because the only vowel-stem verbs end in front vowels, that is, /i/ and /e/. The /r/ that they in end is a verb-forming suffix. One of the rare examples of a verb formed in this way from a loan from Chinese (which would normally take suru instead) is gyuuzir-u “boss around” from gyuuzi
    “ox ears”.
    By the way, the “imperative” tabe-te is not the
    vowel-stem equivalent of consonant-stem forms with the suffix /e/. The suffix is /e/ after consonants, /re/ after vowels. For example, the bare imperative of “eat” is tabe-re, while the bare imperative of “read” is yom-e. The bare imperatives of ki-ru “wear” and kir-u “cut”
    are therefore both /kire/. The form tabe-te
    is an elided form of tabe-te kudasai, which is a
    polite request. Omitting kudasai makes it less polite – you would only say this to someone with whom you were on friendly terms and to whom you didn’t need to show respect – but it is still polite. tabere, on the other hand, is a rather abrupt order, not at all polite.

  4. There’s also my favourite: daburu, to double or repeat. It is conjugated as you’d expect: past form dabutta; negative daburanai.
    I have heard, but can’t be sure, that toripuru, to triple, can be used in the same way.

  5. My informants tell me that “rezure!” is comical, but only because it’s such a bizarre order to give. Grammatically, it’s sound!
    Re the r issue — Bill and Joel are right, these are not “ru” verbs like “taberu” or “tsuujiru” (group 1, as we usually call them in English), they are “r+u” verbs like “iru” (need) and “kaeru” (group 2). I guess “(original english word bit) + -r + u” would be more accurate, but I didn’t want to get too complicated.
    For example, I threw out a whole paragraph about this: there’s a whole lot of other interesting one-word verbs with the pattern: “(single chinese word) + ji/zu + ru”. “kanjiru” is one very common example of this. “kanzuru” is a much less common verb with exactly the same meaning, according to the Koujien (think Japanese OED). But, according to my informants (and Google results), deriving a “-te” or “-ta” form from “kanzuru” is very, very rarely done. You have to go to “kanjiru” for “kanjite”/”kanjita”. Which makes me ask, is this a “living fossil” of some older pattern, zuru->jite/jita? Or is it just that the te/ta forms of “zuru” have fallen into disuse for some reason? (And note that you can conjugate zuru in other ways — kanzureba, etc.)
    It can’t just be because “kanjiru” is so much more common, though — in another pair like this, “eizuru” and “eijiru” (identical meaning: “compose”), the “zuru” form is much more common than the “jiru” form, but conjugate it and you get the same “zuru”->”jiru” pattern.
    one day I’ll be able to read and skim fast enough to find the answers to these questions in Japanese linguistics papers.

    Incidentally, not to be nitpicky but just for the record, the bare imperative group II verbs like “taberu” (where the ending is genuine “ru”, not “-r+u”), isn’t “-re”, it’s “-ro”. Thus, not “tabere”, but “tabero” (and also, but much rarer, “tabeyo”, i think). some people probably do say “tabere”, because it’s so tempting to make all those imperatives end in e, but prescriptive grammarians would label this incorrect.

  6. Matt is of course right about the imperatives of vowel stems usually ending in /ro/ rather than /re/.
    I have to get to bed earlier.
    The business with kanzuru/kanjiru is something I have studied. Japanese makes periphrastic verbs by adding the verb suru “do,make’ to a verbal noun.
    There are native examples of this, but it is particularly common with borrowed words. In general, there are two variants of this construction. In one the verbal noun gets accusative case (with the object, if any, genitive) and behaves like a separate word. In the
    other the verbal noun is not case-marked, the object if any is accusative, and in various ways the verbal noun behaves like it forms a unit with suru. Thus we have, e.g.:
    eigo o benkyoo sita
    english acc study did
    and
    eigo no benkyoo o sita
    english gen study acc did
    Verbs like kanzuru are members of a class in which
    the verbal noun and suru have gotten glommed together and “lexicalized”. They exhibit the phonology of words, as seen, for example, in the voicing of /s/ to /z/ as in a compound. The two components are inseparable (e.g. *kan o s/zuru).
    And to various degrees they shed the irregularities of the conjugation of suru.
    In the case of kanzuru, which is typical of the verbal nouns ending in /n/, the older form is kanzuru. kanjiru is a regularized form.
    The verbal nouns that belong to this class are almost exclusively loans from Chinese that were monosyllabic in Chinese but are not not always monosyllabic on the surface in Japanese, e.g.
    nessuru “be hot”, c.f. netu “heat”.
    I have a paper about these lexicalized periphrastic verbs which can be downloaded from
    http://www.cis.upenn.edu/~wjposer/papers.htm.
    Look for “Lexical Periphrastics”. This refers to a discussion of the two other types in “Japanese Periphrastic Verbs and Noun Incorporation”, available on the same page.

  7. Thanks Bill! I suspected it would be some kind of glomming (with accompaying vocalising-of-the-s) of “suru”.
    Incidentally, Paul, I just conducted an informal survey of native Japanese speakers at my local. n = 6, divided evenly between male and female and ranging in age from early 20s to mid 40s, by my estimates. 100% acceptance of “toripuru” as a noun, but 0% acceptance of it as a verb. (They all understood what would be meant by it, but said it felt wrong somehow.)

  8. Thanks for this — I’m rather amused.
    It bothers me though, as an English speaker, that the “ru” of “guguru” is doubling as phonetic bit and verb ending. It seems like one loses crucial phonetic information when the verb is conjugated. (e.g. “gugutte”, “gugutta”)

  9. Technically, I don’t think that the “ru” of verb “gu(u)guru” is the same “ru” as the one at the end of “guuguru” the brand name. Like Bill explains, the verb is:
    stem (gu(u)gu + r) + ending (u)
    whereas the noun is
    japanese pronunciation of english word (google)
    The two happen to sound the same (and I wouldn’t be surprised if the phonetic similarity of “guuguru” to a Japanese verb originally suggested the verbing to whoever first used the word that way), but structurally they are quite different and they are written differently too. (brand name: all katakana, GUUGURU. verb: katakana for the borrowed part, then one hiragana character for the Japanese verb-ending part: GU(U)GUru)
    To a Japanese speaker, the crucial lexical information in the verb is “gu(u)gu”. So, put another way, you’re right when you note that some of the phonetic information from the English verb “Google” has been lost, but it happened when the verb was coined, not when it’s conjugated :)

  10. I started composing a comment here, but it got long enough that I turned it into a post over at my blog. (I hope this isn’t poor form.)

  11. I recall an English near-equivalent for the imperative of homoru: the Monty Python sketch quoted here where a squad of soldiers were ordered to mince in unison.
    Sergeant: “Squad… CAMP it UP!”

  12. A new verbization is 告る (kokuru), used by teenagers, meaning to tell someone you love them, although this is not based on an English loan-word, but rather on the “on-yomi” (Chinese-based pronunciation) of the character for “report”.

  13. This has been an amusing and informative comment thread. Can anyone cite a borrowed verb whose stem ends in -i or -e? Can reberu (‘level’) or kyanseru (‘cancel’), for instance, be verbed in Japanese?

  14. Ah. I see that Russell has answered this in a comment on Tensor’s blog:
    Also, regarding the vowel-stem thing: several of these new words, like /kopiru/ (to copy), /deniru/ (to go eat at a Denny’s), and /famiru/ (to play famicom / video games in general) look potentially like they could be vowel-stem verbs, but they are invariable interpreted as consonant-stem verbs.
    So, I would say “sakuban denitta” rather than “sakuban denita” for ‘ate at Denny’s last night’. Or, “kopitte kudasai” instead of “kopite kudasai” for ‘please copy’. If all katakana-stem verbs are assigned to the -r+u class (group 2), I guess it’s not surprising that the newest borrowings are all treated the same, and not assigned to one of the two phonological classes that apply to more traditional verbs.
    But Bob Myers’ kokuru (告る) example makes me wonder whether the verbed on-yomi kanji are treated like katakana-stem verbs or like older “hiragana-stem” verbs.

  15. Hmm, not sure about [on-yomi]+ru, since I think those are pretty rare, at least in modern Japanese. I can only think of the word 料る (ryouru), popular during the end of the Edo period (I think), meaning the same as 料理をする, and the new coinage 事故る, meaning ‘to cause an accident.’

  16. There are native examples of this, but it is particularly common with borrowed words. In general, there are two variants of this construction. In one the verbal noun gets accusative case (with the object, if any, genitive) and behaves like a separate word.

  17. The two happen to sound the same (and I wouldn’t be surprised if the phonetic similarity of “guuguru” to a Japanese verb originally suggested the verbing to whoever first used the word that way), but structurally they are quite different and they are written differently too. (brand name: all katakana, GUUGURU. verb: katakana for the borrowed part, then one hiragana character for the Japanese verb-ending part: GU(U)GUru)

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