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I've read that 日本人の知らない日本語 translates to: "Japanese (language) that Japanese (people) don't know". But I don't understand how or what the の does in that sentence. If I'm not mistaken 知らない日本語 could mean "Japanese language that (x) don't know" or "even unknown Japanese". But I don't get how the 日本人の fits into the translation.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 13 down vote accepted

In your example, 日本人の知らない is a relative clause, equivalent in meaning to 日本人が知らない. This clause as a whole modifies 日本語, so it means the Japanese that Japanese people don't know.

In relative clauses, the subject particle が can be replaced with の:

  1. ジョン買った本
  2. ジョン買った本

The book John bought

This is true in double-subject constructions as well:

  1. ジョン高い理由
  2. ジョン高い理由
  3. ジョン高い理由
  4. ジョン高い理由

The reason John is tall

But you can't replace が with の if there's a direct object marked with を:

  1. ジョン買った店
  2. *ジョン買った店 (ungrammatical)

The store where John bought the book

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It's just standard GA-NO conversion.

'Japanese that [Japanese don't know]'

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In more precise terms: の can act like a subject (nominative) particle in descriptive (attirbutive/relative) clauses. –  user54609 Sep 14 '13 at 23:26

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