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I just started trying to read the Japanese translation of Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha. I've struck a problem in the first sentence that my native Japanese speaking friends can't seem to help me with.

... その友でバラモンの子なるゴーヴィンダ(典尊)とともに、生い立った。

Both the English Wiktionary and WWWJDIC say 生{お}い立{た}ち is a noun.

As far as I can tell, ~った is the plain past ending, as in わかった "(I) understood".

What am I missing? Is it something to do with this noun 生い立ち not really being a noun but rather some special kind of noun phrase compound made of two verbs (maybe even another 連用形?) that has a meaning as a compound but can still have verbal inflections on the second part?

At least this is the best theory after going over it a few times with a local friend and searching the web. It confuses Google Translate just as much as it confuses me (-:

Before this my previous best theory was much more convoluted based on nouns and -na adjectives being basically the same so this noun becoming a past tense -na adjective - but that idea just seemed too crazy!

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With what I've learned from your answers I've made some enhancements to the English Wiktionary's entries for the related terms: 生い立ち – hippietrail Apr 4 '14 at 18:59
Regarding your enhancement, careful calling 生い立ち (or more generally, anything in its 連用形) a "verb". It suggests a specific, non-standard, and IMO non-useful definition of "verb". – Darius Jahandarie Apr 5 '14 at 1:46
Similarly, regarding your "usage note", I think it is incorrect to say 生い立った is an "inflected form" of 生い立ち. It is an inflected form of the verb 生い立つ. – Darius Jahandarie Apr 5 '14 at 1:48
Thanks for editing the wiktionary entry (I assume it was you). Would you say that 生い立ち is the renyokei form of 生い立つ? Now the etym says "from" but not how/what achieves/causes the derivation. – hippietrail Apr 5 '14 at 6:28
It wasn't me. I would say that 生い立ち etymologically-speaking is the 連用形 of 生い立つ. As Chocolate's post suggests, nowadays it's probably just a noun in most people's heads due to 生い立つ being very uncommon in modern Japanese. – Darius Jahandarie Apr 5 '14 at 13:21
up vote 7 down vote accepted

My Japanese dictionaries (岩波国語辞典 and 小学館現代国語例解辞典) both have an entry for 生い立ち but not for 生い立つ, and my 古語辞典(角川 and 旺文社) both have an entry for おひたつ but not for おひたち. So I think 生い立ち came from おひたつ, and maybe おひたつ/生い立つ is now almost obsolete? Because I have never seen it used as a verb.

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By the way, what am I missing about おひたつ vs おいたつ? Googling seems to find it being used as a verb but I don't have near the Japanese to be able to read the hits... – hippietrail Apr 5 '14 at 6:58
おひたつ is [歴史的]{れきしてき}[仮名]{かな}[遣]{づか}い -> Wiki Almost all the Google hits of おひたつ are from classical literature. Many of the hits of おいたつ are part of においたつ. – user1016 Apr 5 '14 at 7:11
And as for the Google hits with 生い立つ, it seems like there's a nursery school called 生い立つ保育園, and many of the others are part of poems and 校歌(school/college songs). – user1016 Apr 5 '14 at 7:29
I think 生い立つ保育園 is a strange name. – noel_lapin Apr 6 '14 at 9:21
@noel_lapin 私も変な名前だな~って思いました。「生い立つ」って地名の場所にあるわけでもないようで。shinaien.jp/oitatsu – user1016 Apr 6 '14 at 13:39


Is quite simply like saying "That was his personal upbringing"

Instead of


"That is his personal upbringing."

It might be that the author is about to move on in the next sentence in terms of time frame for example:

....That was his upbringing. He is now 45 years old, and finds himself....

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Thanks. I'm not trying to figure out the author&translator's motives but understand the grammar process with these renyokei compounds that bilingual dictionaries state are nouns, but are not really. – hippietrail Apr 4 '14 at 18:28
Ahh, I see what you are saying hippietrail. In English though we do also have words such as 'writing' Which is a noun and a verb when you think about it right? I believe this word is one of those types. Friend says they never saw it written that way, but said it sounds a lot like there should be something after it. – Worthy7 Apr 5 '14 at 12:17
Yes all languages have verbal nouns of various kinds, and they are usually full of quirks. English has two kinds (gerund and infinitive) with different quirks. I've been trying to find and read some papers on it and it seems Japanese has at least three kinds, as usual, each with different quirks. My question is about trying to understand this particular kind of verbal noun and its quirks. – hippietrail Apr 5 '14 at 12:22
Sorry, but this explanation doesn't make much sense. First you bring the same word, saying one is instead of another. Second, moving on to the next sentence doesn't have much to do with tenses. – Szymon Apr 6 '14 at 7:11
Whops, I can see what you mean after re-reading, I'll fix it now. – Worthy7 Apr 6 '14 at 8:22

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