のこと

Flaminius

hedomodo
日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
I have been wondering for a few days what nuances のこと renders to sentences where the direct object of the verb is a person.

(1) a. 神を信じる
b. 被告のことを信じる

While 神のことを信じる is ungrammatical, (1b) has little difference with 被告を信じる. Yet, I find it has some stress on what the defendant says or claims. While Xを and Xのことを are not so different from each other, one may be allowed to find a similar distinction as that between English "I believe in God" and "I believe the defendant."

(2) a. 智くんが好き
b. 智くんのことが好き

These sentences are loaded with more subtle nuances than sentences (1). The opposition between the existence of Tomo and what Tomo says is irrelevant here. While I am not sure what のこと is doing in (2b), I find it more natural an expression of emotion than (2a). Could anyone explain why it is so? An explanation that helps to understand both (1) and (2) in the same light would be greatly appreciated. :)
 
  • kaito

    Senior Member
    German
    Well since I've been wondering about it too I've asked some Japanese people in a game chatroom about it.
    They said のこと makes it less direct and more "secretively", which makes sense if you translate it literally.
    Leaving the のこと part out makes it a normal, flat liking.

    I also found this on some other forum:
    [...]
    it is hard to explain "koto".
    sometimes, it means something about something.
    But sometimes, it is euphemism.

    "あなたのことが好き"
    "I like you"
    #he/she doesn't seems to love you.

    "あなたが好き"
    "I like you and most likely I love you."
    #Japanese people usually don't say "あなたを愛しています"
    Of couse there are exceptions, I mean younger generation say this sentence.
    But for me, I have never say this embarrassed sentence. :)
    [...]

    My interpretation of the whole thing is that のこと delivers a nuance of shyness/reservation but I would love to hear more on this from native speakers.
     

    Flaminius

    hedomodo
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    Interesting comments, kaito!

    I agree that のこと comes across indirect, euphemistic too. I don't know why but I find あなたを愛しています more mundane, tasteless than あなたのことを愛しています (not that we hear both forms a lot; just for comparison's sake). The former to me is a bit too artificial to convey a true love.

    My temporary silly native of field notwithstanding, I am a native Japanese speaker. :)
     

    kaito

    Senior Member
    German
    I don't know why but I find あなたを愛しています more mundane, tasteless than あなたのことを愛しています (not that we hear both forms a lot; just for comparison's sake). The former to me is a bit too artificial to convey a true love.

    That's probably because people are usually afraid to confess their love in general.
    Although the saying it directly is a stronger literal expression of love, if you try to tone it down a little bit, it might get interpreted as a more "honest" or "true" love.

    Well that much counts for 好き I would've said if you hadn't used those examples :p
    Since 愛してる seems to be a huge step for a Japanese to say, would it really matter if you used のこと there (assuming you have a previous relationship with the person and don't burst through the door with 愛してるよ!!! after a week of dating)?

    /e:
    Now, on a second thought, 111000 google hits say it matters.

    Which brings another question to my mind, is using のこと for yourself, as in the question 僕のこと愛してるの? a way appear less "arrogant" or assumptive ?
     

    Mr Punch

    Member
    England, British English
    I'm not native but I kind of agree with Kaito and with Flaminius...

    I'm a bit more pragmatic in my translation of it: のこと is a bit more indirect but the reason for me is because it can be literally translated using こと meaning 'things'. So, it becomes: 'I love many things about you.' The way こと is used as things is for abstract concepts, so these things that are loved would not be concrete things like 'the way you smile', 'the way you look' etc, but maybe essences: 'the way you think', 'the way you are'.

    Conversely, when the のこと is dropped it becomes more concrete: 'I love you', and therefore, as Flaminius says, maybe more vulgar. The very floating indistinct nature of the のこと version makes it more romantic to me.
     

    Mr Punch

    Member
    England, British English
    Which brings another question to my mind, is using のこと for yourself, as in the question 僕のこと愛してるの? a way appear less "arrogant" or assumptive ?
    Yes, less presumptive.

    Rather than, 'Do you love me?' it's more like, 'Do you like some things about me?'. Unfortunately, the answer, therefore, can be less definite for you and even an affirmative response may not mean that the other person actually loves you!
     

    Toma

    Member
    Bulgarian
    Just a small addition to the above.

    Word tend to have along history behind their backs and although their antiquated meanings may long have become obsolete, they keep on living in the background. The same with 'koto'.
    Koto is a nominalizer for sure and should not be renedered by 'different things' it simply means things when refferign to abstract ideas, but when it comes to living beings, the matter is probably more subtle.
    Koto was used with personal pronouns for the expression of the idea of humbleness and I am strongly convinced that this is what we are witnessing in the above sentences like 私のことが好き?
    At the same time this usage is very closely intertwined with that of the nominalizer 'koto'.
    Either way it would be unserious to think that Japanese people render the idea of liking by asking 'which abstract things about me do you like?'

    When it comes to things 'koto' tends to generalize and make things not less precise, but more open to discussion.
    Here I should also disagree with the comments about Japanese being not straight to the point. Due to the fact that the Japanese think constantly about the other and the way he/she may interpret things, they tend to use less exact wordings in order to leave things open to interpretation and other oppinions.

    Thanks for making me think about these things.

    Salve
     

    Mr Punch

    Member
    England, British English
    Word tend to have along history behind their backs and although their antiquated meanings may long have become obsolete, they keep on living in the background.
    Sure.
    ...should not be renedered by 'different things'
    I was suggesting it is 'many things' and implying yes, that this means 'different things'. This is because, while there is no definite plural in the Japanese in this case, it would be absurd to translate it into English literally as 'my thing'!

    it simply means things when refferign to abstract ideas, but when it comes to living beings, the matter is probably more subtle.
    Yes and no. The use of こと is specifically to mean abstract things in most cases. It is distinct from もの or ぶつ which mean solid things you can carry! Regard the absurdity of 私のものが好きですか? in this case.
    Toma said:
    Koto was used with personal pronouns for the expression of the idea of humbleness and I am strongly convinced that this is what we are witnessing in the above sentences like 私のことが好き?
    Again, agreed.

    Toma said:
    Either way it would be unserious to think that Japanese people render the idea of liking by asking 'which abstract things about me do you like?'
    Nobody was suggesting such a literal translation, merely that when translating into English we can't translate it using 'things' at all unless we stress that we are not talking about objects. We can't even put it accurately into the vernacular as 'I like stuff about you,' as this carries the implication that there is a comparable amount of stuff about you I don't like too.

    Toma said:
    When it comes to things 'koto' tends to generalize and make things not less precise, but more open to discussion.
    Yep.

    Here I should also disagree with the comments about Japanese being not straight to the point. Due to the fact that the Japanese think constantly about the other and the way he/she may interpret things, they tend to use less exact wordings in order to leave things open to interpretation and other oppinions.
    The bit I've bolded means also that Japanese is not straight to the point (or rather, Japanese people are not straight to the point)! This isn't a moral judgment, it's a linguistic observation.

    Thanks for the discussion.
     

    Toma

    Member
    Bulgarian
    I am sorry about barging like this on the discussion of 'koto', I also meant no offese. Simply I find it wrong to try to transalte it literarally, because it is useless. It is eqaully useless to draw conclusions based on contemporary language observations, without knowing how the particular word evloved, etc. I find this subject really fascinating and this is the reason I decided to post a reply.

    Since Japanese makes distincions, which English does not, i.e. between animate and inamite subjects, I mentioned in my posting that 'koto' used with animate subjects, i.e. personal pronouns can be regarded as still having inside it the original meaning of humbleness, which is intertwined with that of the contemporay use of generalization. I.e. for me humbleness prdominates when used with the first person prounoun. Compare (watakushi -me).


    Also when mentioning about 'mono' please do not be mislead by the kanji usage, because mono can be both 物 and 者, and this written distinction is evidently secondary. All the more that classical Japanese did not need a nominalizer as contemporary Japanese does.

    Finally I disagree that 'mono' is used for solid physical objects only. it is used for abstrastions too. Suffice is to check its usage in any Daijien or big Kokugo-jiten.

    Finally all languages are perfect communication tools and when you claim that Japanese is not to the point, what you are saying is that at times foreigners have problems understanding Japanese, because I have never heard of Japanese complaining about this, except in a joking way.

    There are languages which dispense with the idea of subject, like Japanese, without them being in any way less objective.
    If that was not true they would have already switched to some more language, more perfect and to the point.;)
     

    Mr Punch

    Member
    England, British English
    I am sorry about barging like this on the discussion of 'koto', I also meant no offese.
    You're not barging, sir, and you've made no cause for offence: this is a public discussion board.


    Simply I find it wrong to try to transalte it literarally, because it is useless.
    I think that it is you who are taking the discussion too literally.


    It is eqaully useless to draw conclusions based on contemporary language observations, without knowing how the particular word evloved, etc.
    I largely disagree. I agree that in some cases the evolution/etymology of a word helps us to understand its meaning and use it more fully, but in some cases it is hugely irrelevant.

    E.g. The English 'blackmail': it may be interesting to know its origin, but it doesn't help us in usage or understanding. There are thousands more examples. In Japanese it can be particularly so, as ultimately many of the origins are derived through kanji which are from Chinese yet many had different meanings to the Chinese by the time Japan was founded.

    Since Japanese makes distincions, which English does not, i.e. between animate and inamite subjects, I mentioned in my posting that 'koto' used with animate subjects, i.e. personal pronouns can be regarded as still having inside it the original meaning of humbleness, which is intertwined with that of the contemporay use of generalization.
    1) There are common many ways of making distinctions between inanimate and animate in English, which are as unambiguous yet as non-explicit as Japanese, so I think your first point is wrong.

    2) Your argument is a non-sequitur. The fact that Japanese distinguishes between animate and inanimate is unrelated to your supposition (and however many times you asserted it!) that 'koto' is related to humbleness. Also, 'koto' is often used for concepts, not just animate objects.

    I.e. for me humbleness prdominates when used with the first person prounoun. Compare (watakushi -me).
    Again, this is unrelated to 'koto', isn't it?


    Also when mentioning about 'mono' please do not be mislead by the kanji usage, because mono can be both 物 and 者, and this written distinction is evidently secondary.
    In some cases it is precisely because of the ambiguity of Chinese and classical that Japanese developed the use of different kanji for closely allied or previously indistinguishable concepts. Nowadays the distinction has been developed further, but speak to any Japanese about how easy it is to understand the written classics or even old-fashioned spoken Japanese and they'll shake their heads and laugh!

    Finally I disagree that 'mono' is used for solid physical objects only. it is used for abstrastions too. Suffice is to check its usage in any Daijien or big Kokugo-jiten.
    OK, I took your advice and checked both. There are 6 listed uses of 'mono' under 物, of which the first (most common) three are specifically tangible things, the next two include an abstract concept (but not exclusively), and the last one is again tangible. The first two and major definitions are:

    岩波書店広辞苑第五版 said:
    1.形のある物体をはじめとして、存在の感知できる対象。

    2.物体
    Which are undisputably concrete concepts.

    The first definition for 者, incidentally, is simply: 人!

    I admit I was, however, hasty in writing my last post without my usual qualifications: Most uses of 'mono' are concrete, and most uses of 'koto' are abstract, would have been a better definition.

    ...when you claim that Japanese is not to the point,
    1) I didn't use this expression first: you did, and you seem to have become rather obsessed by it! I wouldn't have chosen it, and I'm certainly not claiming it!!!

    2) You seem to think I'm alone in suggesting that Japanese is in many ways an ambiguous language: it is a well-observed phenomenon, amongst many Japanese linguists too.

    what you are saying is that at times foreigners have problems understanding Japanese,
    I was not saying that at all! I was quite explicit it what I said: if you are going to put words in my mouth there is no point in continuing this discussion!
     
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