More discussion on Japanese particles “ga” and “ha”, and debate on mistaken examples

By | October 9, 2015

In a recent post I discussed how I had seen a phrase “Advilがありますか?” (“Advil ga arimasus ka?”) in a book, and upon further research confirmed it was not a natural usage of the particle “ga”. I had posted to Oshiete Goo and received an excellent response which discussed why it was unnatural.

Since then, I’ve received several more responses on that Oshiete Goo thread, for a total of six. The #5 response gives a detailed account of the fundamental differences (including a quote from the historical text Man’youshuu), but it’s uses a load of advanced terms and wasn’t as useful for me as some of the other responses.

In this article I wanted to give some discussion around the #4 answer, which references to a post where someone is discussing how the unnatural phrase in question ( “~ga arimasus ka?”) is actually utilized by at least two Japanese textbooks, one of which is “Japanese for Busy People?” (which I had read myself some time back). The original poster of this referenced post posits there are two possibilities for how this incorrect phrase got into formal textbooks:

  1. The authors didn’t really think about the example when adding it
  2. The authors purposefully used “ga” because that particle is typically used in phrases containing “arimasu” which specify existence.

The second theory, whereby teachers have purposefully added an incorrect (or simply unnatural, depending on who you ask) phrase because they wanted to simplify things for the students, seems like a good idea on the surface. After all, why confuse beginner-level students when they can pick up the basics first, and then re-learn the finer points once they get more knowledgable about Japanese grammar, later in their studies?

But on further consideration, I feel this is a bad practice, which only delays the process of native-level fluency regarding this difficult topic. If the books author(s) really wanted to simply things, they could simply add a sidenote, and refer the student to a more detailed explanation that they can read once they grasp the basics.

Part of me feels that the first possibility (#1, where the authors simply didn’t put enough thought into the examples) is actually more likely. However, I feel a bit awkward making that declaration since they are more likely much more qualified than me, at least in terms of their formal training in Japanese. In any case, their first priority was probably creating a textbook which is easy to understand (at least in the case of “Japanese for Busy People”), and in that sense they succeeded, since textbook was easy enough to become popular.

If I were to take the stance of these teachers, they might provide the counter argument that I was spending too much of my time on such a “minor point”, when I could be studying more relevant things. I think it’s well established that mistakenly using “ha” (pronounced “wa”) for “ga” in cases like this almost always still gets one’s point across, so what’s the point of being so persistent on exact particle usage? They would actually have a point there, but given I am somewhat of a perfectionist, I will continue to pursue the finer details of Japanese grammar until I know I got them down as well as a native speaker.

Note: I have not seen the latest edition of either of the textbooks in question, so I cannot say with certainty these examples haven’t been updated. Also, I can’t confirm 100% there is no explanatory text on the examples clarifying this point, though I have no memory of any such on the edition of “Japanese for Busy People” that I read. If you have the latest edition of either book (the second one seems to be called 「華東師範大学出版の聴解の教科書」) please let me know.






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