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Folia Linguistica Historica XX/1-2 pp.

© Societas Linguistica Europaea



1. Introduction

It is a well-known fact that Modern Japanese has a morphological

causative, formed by Suffixes on the verb. In the course of Japanese
language history these causative verb Suffixes have undergone
considerable change. One remarkable feature of causative Suffixes in
Japanese is their usage äs honorifics which became lost in late Middle
Japanese.2 However, there has been no agreement among scholars about
the primacy of either causative or honorific sense and how to explain
their correlation. In this paper, first a short historical outline of the
morphological relation between causatives and honorifics will be given in
section 2. In the following section, I will argue that the causative sense is
the primary one and try to explain the honorific use of causatives äs the
transfer of a concept, namely 'hierarchy of control' from the domain of
event to a social domain, facilitated by certain syntactic conditions of
Japanese. Finally, it will be shown that this concept is still of pragmatic
relevance for the use of causatives in Modern Japanese (section 4).

2. An Historical Outline

The formal relation between causative and honorifics in Japanese can be

observed äs early äs in Old Japanese. Old Japanese had an honorific
suffix -(a)s- forming verbs that resembled causative verbs ending on -s-
and -(a)se-. In the Man'yöshü, the largest corpus of colloquial Old

An earlier Version of this paper was presented at the Symposium Traditional and
Modern in Japanese Literature and Language in Prague on 28 September 1993.1
wish to express my thanks to Eric Long and Tai Suzuki and an anonymous reviewer
for FLH for their valuable advice in the process of revising the paper.
In this paper the following periods in Japanese language history are assumed: Old
Japanese: 6th-8th Century; Late Old Japanese: 9th-l Ith Century; Middle Japanese:
12th-17th Century; Early Modern Japanese: 18th-19th Century; Modem Japanese:
end of 19th Century ~.

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Japanese, one can find äs many äs 54 verbs with the honorific suffix,3 in
all but one case morphological segmentation not being problematic.4
-(a)s- (example 1) expressed respect and sometimes affection towards the
action of the main participant of the event depicted by the verb. In regard
to its syntactical functions it can be clearly distinguished from the verbs
with the causative endings,5 äs it has no influence on the valency of the
verbs to which it is suffixed.6
(1) ...kyepu kyepu=to a=wo mat.as.u=ram.u
titi-papa. ra =pa—mo
"Today, today [he certainly will come back]", they will say
and wait for me, alas, my father and my mother!'
(MYS 5/890)8
Although the honorific suffix -(a)s- was not formally identical with
the causative Suffixes, it exhibits a striking similarity to them. For
instance, four out of the seven verbs which occured both with the suffix

3 This number is the result of a critical analysis of the lists of honorative verbs provided
by Yoshida (Yoshida 1973:192f) and Köji (Köji 1980: 5 Iff). I have added to the list
two verb formations with one-syllabic vocalic stems that are treated by neither
author, myes- 'see (honorative)' and kyes- 'put on (honorative)'.
4 The allomorph -äs- is added to the stem of consonant-stem verbs, and the base of
vocalic-stem and irregulär verbs, e. g. wasur- 'forget' + -äs- > wasur-as- 'forget
(honorific)', mi- 'see' + -äs- > myes- 'see (honorific)'; si- 'do' + -äs- > ses- 'do
(honorific)'. The allomorph -os- is added to a few consonant-stem verbs: omof-
'think'+ -os- > omof-os- 'think (honorific). Only in the case of e-base verb nas-
'sleep (honorific)' morphological segmentation is problematic. This verb-form can
be interpreted äs a fusion of the verb-base ne- and -äs-.
5 Examples for causative verb formations on -s- and -(a)se- would be sugus- 'let
pass/spend (time)', tiras- 'scatter', mise- 'let see/show' and kikase- 'let hear/tell'.
6 Morphological transcription in this paper is based on Rickmeyer (1986, 1995).
7 The following abbreviations are used in the glosses: DAT = dative, ACC =
accusative, LOG = locative, RFC = right focus, LFC = left focus, PL = plural, EMPH
= emphasis, EM = emotive, INT = intensive, QUOT = quotative, PERF = perfect,
FINPR = fmite present tense, ADNPR = adnominal present tense, PST = past, NPST
= non-past, FUT = future, CAUS = causative, HON = honorific, HUM = humility,
POL = politeness, SUPP = suppositive, DEO = deontic, GER = gerund, COND =
conditional, AVR = adversative, CRC = circumstance, ADV = adverbial, INTERR =
interrogative, EXPL = explanative, LIM = limitative, VERBAL = verbalization (of
nominal phrase)
8 "MYS" is used here äs an abbreviation for Man 'yöshü, a poem collection from the
8th Century.

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-(a)s- and in a causative formation on -s- or -(a)se- have a present-tense

form which is identical with the causative formation, namely siras-u
'know (honorific)' resp. 'let know/tell', apas-u 'meet (honorific)' resp.
'let meet/put together', nas-u 'sleep (honorific)' resp. 'let sleep' and
kikas-u 'hear (honorific)' resp. 'let hear/telF. Still the consonant-stem
honorific -(a)s- distinguishes itself from e-base causative formations on
-(a)se- through the difference in inflectional class, that is, all the other
inflectional forms differ.
The productive Late Old Japanese suffix -(s)ase-, which is the direct
predecessor of Modern Japanese -(s)ase-, emerged not only äs the new
morphological causative, but also combined the honorific function. The
old honorific suffix -(a)s- left traces only in a few lexical words (cf.
Matsumura 1971: 342). In (2) -(s)ase- is used äs a causative, in (3) it is
used äs an honorific:
(2) Nagusam-u-ya-to, sar-u-be-ki
fito-bito mawir-ase-tamaf-e-do [...]
person-person come-CAUS/HON-HON-COND-AVR
'Hoping that this might comfort [him], they would let suitable
ladies come to court, but [...].'
(GM l, 42, l O)9
(3) "Yo-naka-ni ko-fa nazo arik-ase-tamaf-u"
night-middle-LOC child-RFC why walk-CAUS/HON-HON-PRES
'"Why does the child walk around [here] in the middle of the
(GM l, 101, 14)
As an honorific, -(s)ase- generally was used together with other
honorific verbs and suffix verbs. Most often it preceded tamaf- ('grant'/as
a suffix: HON) äs in example (5) or followed tamaf- ('grant') or notamaf-
('speak (honorific)'), while expressing the highest degree of deference for
actions of persons like the emperor (cf. Morino 1971: 133).
In the llth Century -(s)ase-ofasimas- and -(s)ase-masimas-, in which
the second verbs masimas- and ofasimas- both are honorific verbs with
the meaning 'be', emerged in the role of honorifics used for the actions of
highest-ranking persons. This is probably due to the frequent use and the

"GM" is used here äs an abbreviation for the Genji monogatari (Tale of the Prince
Genji) from the l Ith Century.

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resulting decline in degree of deference of -(s)ase-tamaf- (Morino 1971:

135f.). -(s)ase-tamaf- developed into the Middle Japanese irregulär
honorific suffix verb -(s)asim-, which itself degenerated to vulgär speech
before vanishing in the 17th Century (cf. Iwai 1973: 117ff). Besides

Table 1. Historical development of the causative-honorific suffix verbs

Old -**- (~vc) -(a)se (-ve) -(a)s- (-vc) -(a)sime- (-v )

Japanese [-ase-/-ose-/-se-] [-asime-/-sime-]
'Caus' 'Caus' 'Hon' 'Caus'

Late Old -(s)ase- (-ve) -(a)sime- (-ve)

Japanese [-sase-/-ase-] [-asime-/-sime-]
'Caus/Hon' 'Caus/Hon'
(honorific äs: tamaf.ase-, notamaf.ase- (honorific äs: —(a)sime-,
-(s)ase-ofasimas-, -(s)ase-masimas-) -(a)sime-tamaf-)

Middle -(s) äs im- (-v ) -(s) äse- (-v ) -(s)asimas- (-v )

Japanese [-sasinW-asim-] [-sase-/-ase-] [-sasimas-/...] -(a)sime- (-ve)
' 'Caus/Hon' 'Hon' (written style only)
(honorific äs: 'Caus'
-(s) äse.rare-)

Early -(s)assyare- (-YU) -(s)ase.ru (-vy); -(s)as- (- )

Modern [-sassyare-/-assyare-] [-sase.ru/-ase.ru], [-sas-/-as-]
Japanese 'Hon' 'Caus'

Modern -(s)ase.ru (-vy); -(s)äs- (- ) -(a)sime- (-vy)

Japanese [-sase.ru/-ase.ru/-osase.ru]; [-sas-/as-/os-] [-asime-/-sime-/-osime-
'Caus' (written style only)

-vy: suffix that forms vocalic-stem verbs

-ve: suffix that forms e-base verbs
-vc: suffix that forms consonant-stem verbs
-vu: suffix that forms verbs with irregulär inflection

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-(s)asim-, another irregulär honorific suffix verb, -(s)asimas-, developed

out of-(s)asi-owasimas- (Sakurai 1971: 257).
Furthermore, Old Japanese had a causative suffix verb -(a)sime- that
became very rare in Late Old Japanese. It was mostly used then äs an
honorific either together with tamaf- or alone. Later -(a)sime- vanished
completely from colloquial language, but äs a causative it remained in
frequent use in the written language (cf. Konoshima 1983: 16). As such it
has survived today in written style.
In Middle Japanese, combinations of honorific verbs and -(s)ase-
went out of use. Instead, the combination of the causative -(s)ase- and
the passive suffix verb -(r)are-, -(s)ase-rare- became quite productive
then äs an honorific expression (cf. Sakurai 1971: 256). Gradually
-(s)ase-rare-, too, declined in degree of deference and eventually got lost
in Early Modern Japanese (cf. Yuzawa 1954: 387). The suffix -(s)ase-
(also: -(s)äs-} in Modern Japanese basically does not express deference
anymore but is used exclusively äs a causative.
The history of causative Suffixes äs honorifics is summarized in Table l.
3. Implications
As one can see, honorific use is a point of special interest in the history of
the Japanese causative. A majority of scholars suggest that the primary
meaning was causative, while the honorific meaning was somehow
derived from it (cf. Toyama 1985: 108). In fact, there is no historical
proof in regard to the primacy of either use of -(s)ase-, but in the case of
-(a)sime- causative use preceded honorific use. However, the nature of
the conceptual relationship between 'causative' and 'honorific' has not
been made clear yet. In the works of Japanese scholars he following two
explanations for the honorific use of causatives can be found:
1) There is a tendency in the Japanese language to avoid saying things
directly; instead euphemisms or indirect expressions are used
(Miyaji 1971: 386).
2) In relation to the honorific usage of Late Old Japanese (i.e.
Heian-period) -(s)ase-, it is said that at the Heian court nobles of
high rank did not do things themselves but let people do it. The
honorific meaning is derived from this fact (Nishida 1987: 190).
Both of these explanations have their shortcomings. While the first
one remains vague and does not give an account of causatives and
honorifics specifically, the second one is centered exclusively on
phenomena of the Heian-period. However, äs stated above, we may

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assume that already in Old Japanese there is some relation between the
causative and honorific suffix, a relation that also continued in Middle
Japanese after the breakdown of the Heian court and Heian society. Both
explanations, however true they may be, fail to refer to the semantic
concepts involved and concrete language use.
I propose here that there is a fundamental semantic relation between
causative and honorific äs there is a basic semantic feature of causatives
which underlies the derivation of honorific meaning. I suggest this feature
is "hierarchy of control". This feature is quite obvious in causation. In
order to be either physically manipulative to the causee (manipulative
causative) or give a direction to the causee äs a volitional entity (directive
causative), äs a rule a higher level of control by the causer than by the
causee is demanded.10 Thus, when the causer is a human being, it is more
probable that s/he is of a higher social Standing than the causee than the
other way round.11 In this case "hierarchy of control" reflects "social
hierarchy". This is exactly the concept expressed by Japanese honorific
expressions which can be defmed äs "...verbal expressions used
idiomatically to elevate the hearer or a third person to a higher Status"
(Nishidal987:27). 12
From the above follows that the relation between causative and
honorific can be described in terms of metaphor because a concept from a
certain domain is transferred to another domain. To be more precise, the
concept of "degree of control of participant" is transferred from the
domain of primarily external event to a social domain. A concept
implicating social Status comes to be used äs an expression that
deictically indexes social Status.13

10 The concept of control in causatives is also elaborated by Givon (1974).

11 In regard to Modern Japanese Shibatani also notes that "productive causative forms
express the causer's authority over the causee" (Shibatani 1976a: 264).
12 Concerning the origin of honorific speech, Tsujimura Toshiki suggests that
awareness of the hierarchic relation of ruler and ruled must have contributed
considerably to its formation (Tsujimura 1971: 12). One must add here also that in
Old Japanese honorific speech so-called "absolute honorifics" were prevalent. These
kind of honorifics were a direct expression of a person's absolute social rank rather
than "putting someone to higher rank" in a certain speech Situation (Nishida 1987:
159ff). Therefore, a person of high social Standing would use honorifics for the
verbal expression of his own actions.
13 This is a process that has been observed by Dasher (1995) for a number of lexical
verbs in Japanese.

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Furthermore, there is a clear directionality between causative and

honorific. Causation is on a continuum with transitivity äs can be seen in
lexical causatives. It involves the conceptualization of a linkage between
two events, a causing event and a resulting event. An honorific expression
implies only a single event. It refers to a social domain and involves the
speaker's evaluation of the social Standing of event participants in regard
to him- or herseif and therefore is also strongly pragmatically motivated.
As grammaticalization is generally assumed to be directional in regard to
subjectivization (cf. Traugott 1995: 45), it is highly probable that the
honorific is the more grammaticalized category. In other words, while it is
possible that a causative becomes an honorific expression, the reverse
case is rather unlikely.
This semantic account of the relation between causative and honorific,
however, is not fiilly satisfying äs long äs it doesn't refer to concrete
contextual conditions that support the shift in domains. It is easiest, I believe,
to observe these conditions in examples of ambiguity between the two
meanings. I will take the examples from Late Old Japanese when causative
and honorific completely coincided in the same morpheme for the first time.
The major distinction between causative and honorific lies in the fact that
the honorific has the same argument-structure äs the original verb while the
causative changes the argument structure. Therefore, the most prominent
linguistic factors disambiguating causative and honorific are 1) the absence
or presence of a causee in the surface structure and 2) the semantic role of
the main participant (whether causer or agent). When 1) there is no causee in
the surface structure and 2) the semantic role of the main participant is
unclear, ambiguity between causative and honorific may arise.
It was common in Late Old Japanese to leave out arguments of the
verb-argument structure in the surface structure when they could be
inferred from the context. For example, an analysis of the first 100
occurences of-(s)ase- in the The Tale o/Prince Genji yields 58 instances
of honorifc use and 42 instances of causative use. In only 12 cases (29% of
the causatives) the causee was realized in the surface structure. Although
these numbers are not sufficient to provide statistical proof, it is clear that
the causee was left out whenever he could be retrieved from the context or
is not relevant for the story (e. g. a person of low rank, a servant etc.).14

14 It has been shown by Nedjalkov and Silnitsky (1973: 31f) that in various languages
the causees of trivalent causatives are frequently deleted. This is just the case in OJ äs
in the examples given below.

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The realization of the causee in the surface structure is rather the marked
case, used to specifically identify the causee like in (2).15
The following sentences are ambiguous äs there is no obvious causee
and the main participant could be either interpreted äs causer or äs
(4) Naden- ide-sase-ofasimasi-te,
Central.Palace-LOC go.out-CAUS/HON-be (HON)-GER
mafas-ase-tamaf-u-ni ...
'As [the infant emperor] went out to the Central Palace and
span/had someone spin [a top], ...'
(Ökagami 203, 10)
(5) Nanatu-ni nari-tamaf-e-ba fumi-fazime-nado
seven-DAT become-HON-COND-COND letter-begin-EXPL
'When [Prince Genji] became seven years old, [the emperor]
performed/let perform the 'first reading ceremony' and ...'
(GM l, 40, 9)
(6) Suri-siki takumi-dukasa-ni
construction-office carpenter-office-DAT
senzi kudari-te,
imperial. order come.down-GER
ni-na-u aratame-tukur-ase-tamaf-u
twice-be.not-ADV change-build-CAUS/HON-HON-FINPR
'An imperial order was issued to the construction office and the
carpenter's office and [the prince] reconstructed/let reconstruct
[his residence] in a Singular fashion.'
(GM l, 48, 15)

15 It must be noted that it is easier to identify the agent or causer from context than the
causee, because the honorific Suffixes on the predicate indicate the relative social
Standing of the grammatical subject. This usually is not the case with the causee
(grammatical direct or indirect object).
16 (6) has come to my attention äs an instance of ambiguity through the article of

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I suggest there are two possible cases in which a causative might have
been reinterpreted äs an honorific via conversational implicature. In the
first case, which is exemplified by (4), it is indeed not entirely clear
whether the main participant is causer or agent. By using the causative
anyway, the fact is exploited that the he or she has the power to let the
action expressed by the verb be performed by someone eise. This can be
reinterpreted äs an honorific use, especially in cases where it is probable
that the person in question has performed the action himself.
In the second case, exemplified by (6), the main participant (the
prince) can be interpreted both äs an agent and äs a causer, but this is
irrelevant, äs he does not perform the action himself in any case. Instead,
the action expressed by the verb is performed by craftsmen and
construction workers. The prince only gives the order for construction.
There would be hardly any change in meaning between non-causative
(aratame-)tukuri-tamaf- and causative (aratame-)tukur-ase-tamaf-. In the
following example (7) the verb tukur- is indeed used without causative,
although like in (6) the construction is performed not by the subject

(7) "Kaguya-fime
Kaguya (name of a person)-young.lady
suwe-m-u-ni-fa rei-no
install-FUT-ADNPR-DAT-RFC usual-GEN
yau-ni-fa mi-niku-si#"-to
appearance-ADV-ROC see-difficult.to-FINPR-QUOT
notamafi-te urufasi-ki ya-wo
say (honorific)-GER splendid-ADNPR
tukuri-tamafi-te urusi-wo nuri...
building-ACC build-HON-GER lacquer-ACC paint
'"In order to have young lady Kaguya [here äs my wife], [this
place] is too unsightly", [the Chief Councillor] said, and built a
splendid residence, varnished it with lacquer ...'
(Taketori monogatari 77, 3)

The causative ending in (6) may bring about the effect of stressing the
fact that the Prince let people do it. As in this case the causative is almost
semantically void, it can be reinterpreted äs an honorification of the
In sentence (5) the emperor äs the main participant has features both
of (4) and (6) in that he is certainly directly involved in the ceremony to
be performed, but also has other people work for the ceremony.

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A specific type of speech act which might have played a role in the
reinterpretation of causatives äs honorifics are requests. By using the
causative form, the person that requests politely may leave open or
ambiguous whether the person requested to do something is asked to
perform the action himself or have others do it for him:
(8) Tiuzyau... "köre madu
Chüjö (court rank) this first
osi-tutumi-te okose-tar-u-wo...
press-wrap-GER send-PERF-ADNPR-CRC
'As the Chüjö wrapped [the missing length of sleeve] and sent
it over with the words, "Sew this on first! / Let this be sewn
on first!", ..'
(GM 3, 73, 7)
(9) ...on-kata-gata-ni
kubari-tatematur-ase-tamaf-u Futa-kusa-dutu
distribute-HUM-HON/CAUS-HON-FINPR two-kind-at.once
afase-sase-tamaf-e#-to kikoyesase-tamaf-eri
'[Prince Genji] passed [the perfümes] out to his ladies and said,
"Each of you shall prepare a blend of two kinds / Each of you
shall have someone prepare a blend of two kinds!'"
(GM 5, 153,12)
To sum up the discussion in this section, I have claimed that there is a
metaphorical relation between causative and honorific based on a
common concept of 'hierarchy of controF. 'Causative' is the basic
meaning and 'honorific' is derived from it. Furthermore, I have tried to
demonstrate how the actual meaning change could have taken place
through context-induced reinterpretation supported by certain linguistic
and pragmatic conditions. This kind of analysis is in accord with recent
grammaticalization theories äs put forward by Heine et al. (1991) and
Traugott (l995).

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4. Causative and hierarchy of control in Modern Japanese

-(s)ase- has not been used s an honorific since Early Modern Japanese
of the late Edo-period. However, I would like to point out how the feature
that believe underlies the honorific usage of the causative can still be said
to be present in the Modern Japanese causative suffix -(s)ase-/-(s)as-
both semantically and pragmatically.
First of all, Makino Seiichi in regard to -(s) se- says that, "...the
causer must be equal to or higher than the causee in terms of Status." Thus
example (10) would be unacceptable:
(10) HWatasi-wa sensei-ni/o paati-ni k-osase-ru
I-RFC teacher-DAT/ACC party-LOC come-CAUS-NPST
Tm going to let my teacher come to the party.'
(Makino 1986: 390)
Furthermore, according to Alfonso, causatives generally should not be
used when the causee is present, even if the causee is an inferior, s they
indicate the speaker's superiority (H): 17
(11) HZyotyuu-ni mado-o ake-sase-mas-yoo
maiden-DAT window-ACC open-CAUS-POL-FUT
'We'll have the maiden open the window.'
(Alfonso 1980: 958)
Nevertheless, usually the causer must be of higher rank than the
causee. Sometimes it may be necessary to break this rule, but then this is
a marked context. Thus, the following sentence (12) would hardly be
used, although it is grammatically correct.
(12) llWatakusi-wa kyootoo-sensei-ηί musume-o
I-RFC principal-teacher-DAT daughter-ACC
eki-made o-okur-ase-si-ta
station-LIM HON-take.to-do-PST
Ί caused the principal to take my daughter to the Station.'
(Kuno 1987: 117)

17 However, depending on the Situation, the usage of the causative can be acceptable,
even when the causee is present, if the causee is a member of your own family or
group. E.g.: (The father to the teacher) Kore-kara kodomo-o yo-ku
benkyoo-s-ase-mas-u ('From now on, Γ11 let my child study weil').

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If the causee is a person of higher rank, one generally uses

expressions of receiving favours, that is syntactic constructions of verb
plus participle -Te plus verb of receiving, V+Te moraw-/itadak- 'have (a
person) do V instead of the causative. This means that sentence (13)
could be politely expressed äs follows:
(13) Watakusi-wa kyootoo-sensei-ni musume-o
I-RFC principal-teacher-DAT daughter-ACC
eki-made o-okuri-ni nat-te itadai-ta
station-LIM HON-take.to-DAT become-GER receive-PST
(received the favour of) the principal to take my daughter to
the Station.'
These expressions of giving and receiving favours are relatively new,
first appearing in Late Middle Japanese and becoming customarily used
in Early Modern Japanese. In Late Old Japanese, äs they did not yet exist,
one had to use verbs expressing high deference instead (cf. Morino 1971:
A usage of -(s)ase-/(s)as- that is related to expressions of politeness
can be seen in the syntactic constructions of VQrb+(s)ase-te
moraw-/itadak- 'let have (a person) do V respectively VQicb+(s)ase-te
kure-/kudasar- 'be so kind äs to let V.These constructions are used for
politely requesting permission or assuming permission. Thus (14) is a
polite saying of (15):
(14) Syusseki-s-ase-te itadaki-mas-u
attendance-do-CAUS-GER receive-POL-NPST
(will take the liberty to) be in attendance.'
(Martin 1988: 599)
(15) Syusseki-si-mas-u
will artend.'
(Martin 1988: 599)
Respect is seen in both the verb itadakimas-, which indicates that the
Speaker receives a favor, and by the causative, which indicates that the
hearer gives a permission. The latter implies that the Speaker is dependent
on the favor and kindness of the hearer (cf. Alfonso 1980: 963), i.e. puts
the hearer in a position of higher control than the Speaker.
From the discussion above we may conclude that the Modern
Japanese causative has the same semantic potential äs the Late Old
Japanese causative to become an expression of deference. The fact that

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actually it is not might be due to a variety of factors, for instance the

change of social structures. But there is also a change in syntax. Modern
Japanese is far more explicit in realizing verb arguments on the surface
structure than Late Old Japanese. This also pertains to the realization of
the 'causee' in causative sentences. In an analysis of a Modern Japanese
novel,18 I have found that in 74 out of 98 sentences with a morphological
causative, that is 75%, the causee was realized on the surface structure,
compared with only 29% in the Late Old Japanese text introduced above.
The numbers are too small to provide sufficient statistical proof and rely
on written discourse. Still, it may indicate that the syntactic conditions
that facilitated the reinterpretation of causative äs an honorific in Late Old
Japanese have changed.

Institute of Language and Culture Studies
University of Hokkaido
Kita 17-jo, Nishi 8-chome
SAPPORO 060-0017


Alfonso, Anthony et al.

1980 Japanese language patterns, vol. 2. Tökyö: Sophia Uni-
versity L.L. Center for Applied Linguistics.
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