The Japanese Imperative

Abstract: The present thesis explores Japanese imperative constructions from a general linguistic perspective, as well as examining the imperative as a cross-linguistic object of study. On the definitional side, a terminological apparatus for the description and analysis of imperatives and directives is presented. It includes the proposal that the range of conventional directive strategies in a language be termed its ‘directive system’. On the theoretical side, following Jary and Kissine (2014), the position is taken that imperatives likely do not directly encode the illocutionary function of directivity. I put forward evidence from Japanese that may provide an empirical constraint on proposals of universal imperative semantics in terms of potentiality. A semantic model is outlined in which the underlying functionality of imperatives is conceived of as the creation of a ‘world gap’ between different mental representations of reality. A layered model of semantics-pragmatics interaction in Japanese imperatives is then developed. In this model, a non-directive imperative semantics interacts with elements including the state-of-affairs content and an attitudinal component (describable in terms of Pottsian expressive meaning) that derives from the presence/absence of benefactivity and honorification. Qualitative and quantitative evidence is used to argue that different varieties of Japanese imperatives do not have a fixed association with different types of directive illocutionary force (as ‘order expressions’ vs. ‘request expressions’). If viable, my approach supports a general non-directive semantics for the imperative. My analysis of Japanese imperative subjects and Japanese imperatives in reported speech also supports the position that imperatives can embed.Japanese imperatives are, in addition, discussed from the viewpoint of linguistic change. The focus is on identifying factors that have led to their current functional profile, and on explaining the shifting realization of directivity in Japanese in terms of processes that underlie language change in general.

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