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For example, if I want to say "(this food has) become not tasty", would the correct way to say that be "おいしくなくなりました"? How would this be distinguished from おいしく亡くなりました, "died tastily", however meaningless that may be? Is there some more idiomatic way to say the former, and can I expect ない to behave perfectly like a 形容詞?

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無い and 亡い share the same etymology, so what other answer do you expect but "by context"? I cannot imagine any situation where the tastiness of some foodstuff changes, so I have trouble thinking of this example properly. But 好きじゃなくなりました is a common expression (and doesn't mean 好きでは亡くなりました). –  Earthliŋ Jun 2 '13 at 1:07
    
No one would ever think it meant "died tastily". @Earthling: If you left perishable food unrefrigerated, it could easily おいしくなくなる. –  istrasci Jun 2 '13 at 1:56
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@istrasci Thank you, I should have been able to come up with this... –  Earthliŋ Jun 2 '13 at 1:58
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How about 「寂しくなくなった」? ^^ This is quite ambiguous, no? :p –  Choko Jun 2 '13 at 15:31

2 Answers 2

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For example, if I want to say "(this food has) become not tasty", would the correct way to say that be "おいしくなくなりました"?

Yes, this would be a correct way of saying "(this food has) become not tasty".

How would this be distinguished from おいしく亡くなりました, "died tastily", however meaningless that may be?

Context. Precisely because it's meaningless, and because it's a common grammar point, and in writing due to the lack of kanji for 亡くなりました. The same way おいしくなりました is not likely to be おいしく鳴りました, "rang tastily".

Is there some more idiomatic way to say the former

おいしくなくなる is fine, but you could phrase it positively like まずくなる

can I expect ない to behave perfectly like a 形容詞?

I think this ない is classified as 助動詞, while the ない in something like ケーキがない is a 形容詞 (Sources: goo dictionary, goo dictionary, oshiete!goo). But I believe you can just think of it as an i-adjective in terms of conjugations.

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I would say that おいしくなくなる is more common than まずくなる. –  Earthliŋ Jun 2 '13 at 2:55
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I have the same feeling, I was just trying to think of different ways of saying it for him if he didn't like using おいしくない. –  Ash Jun 2 '13 at 11:59
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Just thinking about it now they have a lot of overlap but I think they might have a bit of a difference in nuance. Like おいしくなくなる has more emphasis on the fact that you know it used to be おいしい. –  Ash Jun 2 '13 at 12:27

I think homophones are generally distinguished by:

  1. Syntax. If a homophone is ungrammatical, it's not considered as a possibility.
  2. Semantics. Whichever homophone makes more sense is more likely.
  3. Pragmatics. The distinction between semantics and pragmatics is a bit fuzzy, but I'll define it this way: whichever makes sense in the larger context is more likely.

I think that's true of all languages, but Japanese has a fourth way, which applies only to the written language: you can write something with a particular kanji to specify a particular homophone.

In this case, I don't think they're distinguished syntactically, so you're left with semantics and pragmatics. Devoid of context, "died tastily" is basically nonsense, so I think you'd need a very exceptional context for anyone to interpret it that way. (You could use the kanji to specify 亡くなる, but unless you came up with a context where it made sense, I think readers would assume it was a typo.)

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