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The following sentence/phrase comes from the Progressive (プログレッシブ)dictionary:

この本は自然主義について論じている|This book deals with naturalism

In English people often say something like "This books addresses the issue of...." or even "This book discusses...." instead of "In this book the author deals with....". Is it possible to use verbs such as 論じる (to discuss) in the same way in Japanese?

Although the topic of this sentence is clear, I am not sure whether the subject is the book or the author (who is not mentioned). If the sentence was rewritten to make the subject clear would it be:

著者がこの本で自然主義について論じている

Or is the following possible:

この本が自然主義について論じている

Or are both possible?

(I can't tell from the entry for 論じる in my other dictionary (大辞泉) and I am not 100% sure the locational particle is required with は (it is for example optional in the sentence 彼[に]は英語ができない), or whether it would be で or に.)

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The topic title here isn't very clear. Could you restate? Do you mean that a location discusses a subject? That doesn't make sense to me... Also, your comment about the locational particle is a bit confusing -- do you mean, you're not sure if it should be このほん は。。。? –  Eiríkr Útlendi Jun 25 at 22:36
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@EiríkrÚtlendi: I've revised the question to make it clearer. –  Tim Jun 26 at 0:07
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Use "この本に書いてある" or "この本で論じている" to say "in this book". I can't explain why, but "この本で書いてある" and "この本に論じている" sound weird to me. (Perhaps no one can explain why) –  naruto Jun 26 at 6:51
    
@naruto: Thank you. Your choice of particle sounds logical to me but do you have a view on my real question: who/what is the subject of the sentence, この本は自然主義について論じている? –  Tim Jun 26 at 13:23
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@Tim 「この本は~~について論じている。」の主語は「この本」だと思います。「この本*では*~~について論じる。」「次の章*では*~~について述べる。」「この論文*では‌​*~~を取り扱う」と言ったら、主語は「私」等になると思います。 –  Choko Jun 27 at 4:57

1 Answer 1

up vote 3 down vote accepted

There are a lot of different theories for how は works. One theory is that は can follow case particles, but when it follows が or を, that particle is deleted:

  が + は =   は
  を + は =   は   (although there is a literary をば < を + は)

  に + は =  には   (although sometimes に is dropped)
  で + は =  では
  へ + は =  へは
  と + は =  とは
 から + は = からは
 より + は = よりは

According to Martin, は replaces が thirteen times more often than it replaces を, and I think it especially often replaces が at the beginning of a sentence.

So what is は replacing in your sentence, if anything? In your sentence, both を and に seem unlikely:

  • With this verb, を marks the thing being discussed (in your example paraphrased with について).
  • With this verb, で would be used instead of に, and で wouldn't be deleted. Also, if に were used anyway, I don't think it could be dropped before は—see discussion at the end of the answer.

Instead, I'll suggest that は is replacing が. The subject is この本:

この本が  自然主義について論じている(こと) (before topicalization)
この本 自然主義について論じている。    (after topicalization, が is deleted before は)

The verb 論じる can be used in several different ways. Although the book can be the subject, as in your example, so can the author, in which case the book could be mentioned in an adjunct marked with で:

著者が この本で 自然主義を論じている(こと) (before topicalization)
この本では 著者が自然主義を論じている。    (after topicalization)

The flexibility in this case reminds me of English, where we can say:

  1. This book talks about naturalism.
    The book is the subject.

  2. In this book, the author talks about naturalism.
    The book is part of an adjunct. The author is the subject.

And so we find examples like the following (collected from the web and BCCWJ):

この本が論じているのは、「戦後」とは何だったかということ。

これは骨子においては、中島氏がこの本のなかで論じていることとほぼ同じなのではないだろうか。

At the end of your post, you give an example where に can be dropped. So the question is, why can に sometimes be dropped? Well, I linked to a paper above that discusses the topic in more detail, but I think we can explain the example at the end of your question like this:

1a. 彼が  英語ができない(こと)   (before topicalization)
1b.  英語ができない。      (after topicalization, が is deleted before は)

2a. 彼に  英語ができない(こと)   (before topicalization)
2b. 彼には 英語ができない。      (after topicalization)

Your examples are 1b and 2b. Of course, it's natural to use は there, but if we add something like こと and turn it into a subordinate clause, は disappears, leaving behind the basic case marking of the sentence (1a and 2a).

This is what Shibatani calls a non-canonical construction, and in this case either が or に is possible:

  • When you add は to が, you get は.
  • When you add は to に, you get には.

Since you can do either one, it gives the appearance that に is optional, but the real difference is が versus に. Of course, this doesn't apply to your 論じている example because に and が aren't in alternation there, so you're comparing apples and oranges.

(As an aside, adding こと does complicate things slightly, because it allows が-の conversion. But in this answer, I'm ignoring that fact.)

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