Research article
Issue: № 1 (37), 2023


The present paper forms a part in a series of studies aiming at building a detailed taxonomy of Japanese connectives. A functional perspective induces a thorough overhaul of all available means of marking logical relations in discourse, among which a few still remain little attended to, such as locative expressions. Corpus data are used to ascertain whether this set of expressive means (defined loosely as adjunct heads but covering also possible transforms) do indeed act as discourse markers in their own right. The conclusion is twofold. Apparently a part of the group in the process of grammaticalization, acquiring both the formal features of Japanese connectives (patterned variability) and an abstract development in their meaning. Another have actually split into a non-spatial connective and a purely locative operator (see SHITA and MOTO). A third group never went beyond exclusively spatial meaning. Conditions of this variety are discussed, primarily metaphor-ridden semes of ‘proximity’ and ‘co-directedness’.

1. Introduction

Not only locatives, but also temporal expressions are far from being universally accepted as discourse markers, to take just a few popular taxonomies


The pro argument is widely known – since all events take place in time, time (or time axe, to be more precise) forms an ubiquitous adhesive element that ties all utterances together in a single semantic field. Now, whether to align it with different types of logical relations in text or put it to test as a parallel dimension to it

should be a different matter worth a separate discussion.

The contra argument is that location in time is only one of multiple features that events may have in common, the latter comprising such other elements as qualities, purposes and, to think this thought to the end, what not, provided that the two related propositions are bound by any common feature. Thus, if, say, any two events may be easily compared by the degree of their possibility or usefulness to the speaker, why not subsume ‘time’ to just another slot in this seemingly boundless programme? Surely, next and closest to it would be spatial relations, by which all events thinkable are nonetheless united – be it real or imagined space one would be lending one’s attention to.

Still, sometimes locative expressions are treated as discourse markers

. As this is an issue that needs to be addressed before a full taxonomy of connective devices of a concrete language comes about, in the few pages below I shall look into the matter for the case of contemporary Japanese. This is done on the basis of the localist approach
to linguistic events in various tiers of language. My aim here is to judge, based on some contemporary Japanese material, to what extent and whether at all locative meanings do indeed play a certain role in connecting units of discourse, and whether that role can be postulated as a separate type of its kind.

2. Research methods and principles

Luckily, a representative, even though ostentatiously open and incomplete list of locative expressions connecting stretches of text (ideally - clauses) is given for the case of Japanese in

. These are UE, SHITA, MAE, USHIRO, MUKAI, YOKO, HIDARI, MIGI, TONARI, SOBA, KATAWARA, CHIKAKU, TEMAE, OKU, MUKOO, NAKA, HIGASHI, and NISHI. This list can be considered satisfactory for the purpose of studying the matter. Some more formal nouns of this type are reviewed in
, where they are structured by oppositions (UE ‘up’ – SHITA ‘down’ and so forth). These, in addition, include WAKI, SAKI, OMOTE, and URA.

I use corpus data

to study and describe discourse effects of subordinating sentences with the locative expressions mentioned above (all quotes are from the corpus). All In the corpus, therefore, I look for them left-side aligned by typical full-clause relativizers – in Japanese relativized forms of predicates largely coinciding with sentence-final endings of verbs (non-past –(R)U and past TA/DA); while no relevant examples yielded for other sorts of predicates, such as -I or -NA adjectives, anyway. Beside relative clause case, I undertook to study phrase-initial realizations starting with anaphoric SONO (modifying the locative noun from the list). Actually, to push the envelope a bit, the same nuances of meaning seem to be purported even through uniquely nominal modifiers. Such would be HITO-NO MAEDE ‘before people’ (= HITO GA IRU KARA/NONI ‘with people watching’) – fraught with a clear causal implication. All of this corroborates the approach to connective devices as a group loosely tied together by formal features, among other, - such as variable realization
: <N-NO X>/ <V X>/  <P1. SONO X P2>.

Typically, for any discourse effects to arise, the noun in question would be in the locative case DE. Examples with other case particles such as NI either yield purely locative meaning, whilst these circumstantial adjunts do not stand out in any separate discourse function of their own, - or fall into the category of the temporal, as with SAKI (=’tip’).

3. Main results

As said above, most of the expressive means tried and reviewed here come in opposed pairs (in-out, up-down and so forth), fewer – in a bunch of loosely synonymous meanings (aside-next). But practically none of them retains this symmetry in discourse functions. Let us elucidate on this a little. Basically, a locative expression in discourse falls into one of the three large groups. It is either discourse-neutral, with a simple locative semantics, or discourse (connector)-laden. The latter affect all of the usages of a vocable, such as KATAWARA (which has completely departed from locative meaning ‘side’ and come to mean a secondary occupation parallel to a more essential one), or only a part, as with NAKA, combining an ’inside’ meaning with its, no doubt, derivative reinterpretation ‘in a situation when’ (bordering on either cause or contrariety, cf. English AS or Russian V SITUATSIYI KOGDA). Sometimes this nuance involves transmutation – as with CHIKAKU ‘close-by’ – formal noun, but CHIKAKU ‘approximately’ - suffix. Rather rare would be a further split between case realizations of, say, UE-DE (‘on the basis of [previous act]’) and UE-NI (‘on top of’ ‘to make things worse’). Another lane is represented by lexical splits between, for instance, SHITA (‘below’) and MOTO (‘under’ [rule, orders, and such]), retaining the same orthography (unique character read differently according to the type of meaning). Similar logic goes for SOTO (‘outside’, locative) and HOKA (‘besides’, mereological). AIDA and UCHI are both locative and temporal (‘between’ and ‘while’, ‘inside’ and ‘as long as’).

A substantial chunk of the listed locatives is extensively reviewed in the literature, so there would be little point in touching on them here. A whole layer of them never play up to any specific connecting meaning, remaining discourse-neutral (especially directions such as HIGASHI ‘east’, HIDARI ‘left’ and their (complete, in this simple case) opposites. Now, what will be given a more detailed look below is that, yet another, group that subtly exploit their locative meaning to convey a meaning of a logical relation. Asymmetry then would arise between their opposites that have already achieved a clearer split state, such as purely locative USHIRO(DE) ‘behind’ – or ‘URA’ (both ‘on the back side’ and ‘behind [whose] back’), vs. MAE-DE ‘before’ in a not-quite locative meaning amidst prevailing locative ones.

A final point worth scoring. Most discourse function-relevant relative clauses would yield a continuous form -TE IRU in the present, situations described in their duration and comprising uniquely concrete factual events. This – even though we’re not here into viewing outright temporal connections – gives rise to a conclusion that situations conjoined with locative means are predominantly co-existent in time, while the crux of the matter would lie exactly in the nature of that juxtaposition.

4. Discussion

Now we can look at more concrete data.

1.  Much of the above holds for MAE ‘before’, with a touch of the paradoxical arising out of the sensitivization to others’ judgment – the empathic being conscious of being seen. P1 predicates are stative or durative. Only -IRU ‘be’, MIRU in various forms (40/ 46), continuous forms prevail (48):

同僚からお菓子をもらったのですが、口に入れた途端、おえっときて、その人のみている前でそのままトイレに直行してしまいました。The second I put it in my mouth I wanted to vomit, so I headed straight for the washroom, the other one watching me.

See a phrase-initial realization.

「そんなナワの帯しめてさ、天神さまのバチがあたるわい」その前では松ちゃんが、うなだれて鼻をすすりあげておりました。‘With that rope around your waist like this, you’re going to be punished by the Tenjin spirit!’ – addressed so, Matsu-chan looked down and sniffed noisily.

 Social interaction is the principal idea behind this series of examples. But humans interact facing each other, thus appearing before another communicant automatically switches on the idea of ‘mutual intent reaction’. See English BEFORE COURT – a narrower, but still present trace.

 2. As noted previously, USHIRO, an almost exact antonym of MAE, is discourse-neutral. The close synonym of them both, SAKI, with its twofold semantics of ‘just before’ or ‘still ahead’ in both temporal and locative meanings

, does, although very infrequently, also show a usage that seems to entertain the idea of a counterpart. In it, SAKI as an independent word, becomes quite similar to its affixal realization – meaning the other (as seen from the focus of empathy, and not the direction of movement) end of a directed action. Predominant are collocations with the verb DEKAKERU ‘to go out [somewhere]’. Interestingly, both past and present tenses of the relative clause occur frequently (so the notion of simultaneity or parallelism is, so to say, put down):

先日財布を落としてしまいました。出かけていた先で落としたので、落としたところの見当はまったくつきません。Lost my wallet the other day. I must have dropped it where I was waking, so I’ve no idea as to where it might be (Yahoo site 2005).

Here the verb is in the past tense, and the meaning is purely locative – next to a concrete causal connector NODE. Cf. another phrase with present, where in the absence of any other connectors in sight the locative meaning becomes a bit more heavily invested with logics of causality (as soon as the temporal parallelism is back):

頻繁に出かける先で、犯人の眼にとまってしまったというのも、ありうるものね。It might also be that she caught the eye of the robber at a place that she frequented (H.Akino ‘Catch me under the blue blue sky’ 2002).

In parentheses, it may be mentioned that the meaning of locality here is not quite identical to the suffix -SAKI. The difference is in the absent semantic feature of ‘Control’, depicting a planned or regular action in the case of the suffix. Contrarily, the original meaning of ‘tip’ [6] stands out more clearly in the independent usage. Here it remains a purely spatial notion, joined to the following unit with a Level-of-detail type of connection (offering additional information). Now, it could be also construed as Рaraphrase of an explanatory type (the Adressee is given to know where exactly the place in question lies), both of the latter discourse functions attainable with a further relativization of SAKI-NO:

商店街が途切れた先で消防署のある三差路に出たら… If you go out to the T-crossing with a fire station, where the shopping street ceases (M.Terada ‘Nightly landscapes in mountain hikes’ 2005).

3. Another pair concerning the front-back opposition is OMOTE-URA. The former is not, strictly speaking, represented in the corpus in the relativized position – instead, in 2 cases the omographic 表HYOO signifying a table/graph is found. Of URA ‘the inner side’ ‘backstage’ the corpus yields just one example as adjunct-head. This is hardly surprising given the existence of a very similar expression, URAHARA, specialized in contrastive meaning (and not, to be sure, describing spatial relations at all). However, in the context below, beside a clear sense of spatial orientation there is some pervading contrastivity to the situation, showing how location can indeed be re-construed. Later, in fact, the opposing OMOTE comes into view, but this appears as not necessary for a clear construal of URA:

豊かで平和でみち足りた雰囲気の小説が量産されている裏では、精神病者の暗い、依然として偏見と差別にまみれた現実があり、表の世界に取り残された犯罪者の… Even while novels are mass-published in the spirit of prosperity and peace, still, on the other side of it remains the lurid reality of mental illness, filled with prejudice and abuse, so that for the criminals left in the outside world… (O.Kaga ‘Brain death, euthanasia and human rights’ 1991).

A major difference with URAHARA is the absence here of the nuance of personal perfidy or damage involved. A common feature, on the other hand, is the Speaker’s interpretation of reality at two levels, a more evident, and shallow, surface look of things, and a deeper truth.

4. This dichotomy is even more outstanding in OKU ‘inside’ ‘in the depth’. The deeper level of understanding here becomes quite close to generalization, but is still accordant with contrastive view. Only one example meeting my criteria is found:

その荒涼たる風景をつらつら観察する眼射し奥で、旅人の心はここでもやはり風景に溶解した子どもたちの魂と、それの行くえを気遣う行きずりの人びとの、ほぼ魂のそよぎと呼んでいい、やさしい心根に響き合っている。Beneath this impassionate glance sliding across the desolate landscape, the heart of the traveller isn’t any less moved by the almost audible breath of the souls of the children that melted into the scenery, and the passers-by in their concern as to those kids’ destiny; you can feel its warmth resounding in you (M.Ohmuro ‘An owl and a snail’ 2004).

Apparently, Japanese lexical devices conveying notions of ‘deep inside’ are for practical purposes alike to what one would express through BENEATH in English or POD in Russian. I found no examples of any similar meaning with simply SHITA ‘under’. All the while, unlike OKU and URA, NAKA ‘in the middle’ ‘inside’, beside a purely locational sense, came to mean circumstantial environment

, but no ‘surface/ depth’ oppositions.

5.  YOKO ‘side of’ opens a flock of meanings broadly attributable to the idea of parallel events. Clearly, even in their entirety they do not form a comprehensive picture of localist phenomena construed as parallelism, cf. Japanese NARANDE, NAMI, Russian NARYADU, Eng. AT PAR, ON PAR etc. With YOKO, the parallelism can cause surprise or interest, which is based on the contrast between P1 and P2, qualitative or quantitative. In this, an element of comparison is also present.

オンラインで人間相手に対戦してる横で、もう一台のパソコンで将棋ソフトで棋譜を解析して…Playing online with a human counterpart, alongside that he was deciphering a Japanese chess problem at another laptop (Yahoo site, 2005).

ケタがどんどん増えていく世界なのです。1000点の人がいる横で100点はあまり意味がありません。Numbers grow, and fast. Beside someone scoring 1000, you’re not making much point with your score of 100 (A.Nakatani ‘Becoming one and only’ 2003).

Surprise can go as far as disapproval:

親友の眠っている横で平気でその婚約者を誘う千春への憎しみChiharu was despicable in how, just beside her sleeping best friend, she made cold-blooded passes at her fiancé (M.Nejime ‘Daytime dad, early-morning son’ 1994)

6. WAKI ‘side [of the body]’, in comparison, seems to lack the tension behind the notion of alignment, characteristic of YOKO. The few examples picked up depict rather a harmonious coexistence of events:

私がタイプし直している脇で、今ロイドが目を通してくれています。Me typing, Lloyd just at my side checks it (S.Yokote ‘Welsh sketchbook’ 2004).

It is the combination that is valued here:

人々がコートで着ぶくれている脇でもこもこの花が店先を飾っている様子は、ちょっとユーモラスで楽しくなります。With warmly stuffed out people walking next to it, fluffy huge flowers decorating the showcase produced a humorous, funny impression (Y.Namiki ‘Everyday life, everyday flowers’ 2004)

Effectively, this may turn out a differential property of WAKI – that the two events are perceived as friendly to one another. Change for YOKO would apparently kill this atmosphere.

7. A rather limited array of examples hardly allows to make definite conclusions on SOBA ‘flank’ ‘closeby’, which seems a neutralized version between WAKI and YOKO, no particular assessment involved beside pure simultaneity and parallelism. Phrase-initial examples with anaphoric SONO only yield spatial meaning:

流木は茶色というより灰色に近く、植物の形をした別の物のようだ。それらをせっせと水洗いしている傍で、息子がハマグリの貝殻を、スプーンで叩いて「演奏」を始めた。Waterwashed trunks came grey rather than brown, alike to different sort of plants. And next to her washing them in the water, the son was starting his performance of hitting the mussel shells with a spoon (‘Slow life in Fukushima’ 2005).

To compare it with Russian locative expressions, one can find out a clear-cut differentiation between RYADOM ‘nearby’ neutrally spatial, discourse-oriented as an expression of logical addition, and PODLE (activates the idea of comparison, objects are in no way physically close).

7. Last of the ‘nearby’ subgroup, TONARI ‘neighbour/next’ as a bare adjunct-head only comes in two examples, again in a context that is mildly, yet unmistakably contrastive:

電波漏れを防ぐ技術の実証実験を続けている。現在では「短波放送を受信している隣で電力線通信をしていても、ほとんど気にならない」(松下電器)ところまで技術が進歩したExperiments on technology aiming to prevent electricity loss are continuing. According to Matsushita Electronics, the present progress of technology is such that it is possible to use electric lines for communication next to an FM receptor (Mainichi, 7.1.2005).

The original semantics of this word focuses on close location in a row of equal entities (therefore – ‘neighbour’) rather than physical proximity. This is probably what accounts for the milder contrast. Now, unlike YOKO and WAKI, both SOBA and TONARI are modifiable (amplifier SUGU ‘just’), but only TONARI retains the contrastive element in conjoining two utterance units:

日本は、地理的には中国のすぐ隣で、価値観ではアメリカとつながっている。Japan, [even though] being as it is geographically a close neighbour of China, in the realm of the values is tied to America (H.Kato et al. ‘New society system built by each of us’ 2003).

5. Conclusion

Localization in space is apparently widely used in various languages of the world as a base for conceptualization and metaphorical representation of other areas of reality, including social

. In the extensive functional-semantic field of connection in Japanese, as this study has shown, locative expressions do indeed convey a certain range of discourse meanings.

Here again, a careful, selective approach has proven the most adequate. Not each and every locative expression, but only a part of them show a tendency to bear discourse functions, so, apparently, it is not possible to speak of this whole lexico-semantic class moving towards grammaticalization in joined ranks. We could witness different stages of this process, see, for instance, URA as a clear borderline case. While with a number of other lexemes a bifurcation eventually took place, as with, say, SHITA and MOTO, SOBA and KATAWARA, others, with a meaning less conceptualizable, remain purely spatial. Obviously, the very possibility of further metaphorizing lies in the semantic properties of each word. To attempt at a tentative generalization, one would say that such semantic features as orientation in space and proximity appear most relevant to discourse-laden reinterpretations. Especially the latter yields to diverse semantic developments, such as harmonious coexistence or conflict of the described events (the latter actually gradable according to the semantics of the operator). Interestingly, the element of conflict, or contrast, is construed differently with orientation expression (as a social phenomenon), while another semantic ‘side job’ for the semes of spatial orientation is the universal metaphor of ‘hidden truth’.

All this notwithstanding, there is a clear sense of direction in these changes, there being not a single example of an abstract noun developing a spatial meaning, which would disprove the presumed direction of semantic and functional change.

This time we looked upon a rather concise area of linguistic phenomena, narrowed arbitrarily to a corpus of written sources. In newspaper websites (chronologically a decade or two more recent), though, different variations of the phenomena described can be found, e.g. not just adjunt head URA, but also SONO URA DE, accompanied by a full-fledged contrastive DEMO, which as a combo was not represented in the corpus. Whether that is a diachronic trend (more variativity meaning further systemic grammaticalization) or simply an effect of a broader range of data, it should be impossible to tell without a more focused and detailed approach. Further study may shed more light on the matter, using more words, or focusing on their discourse functions in various kinds of language, for instance, spontaneous spoken speed as opposed to written discourse etc.

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