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This is a question taken from a JLPT excercise workbook.

Person A: 新聞をよく読みますか。

Person B: そうですね。毎日は[Fill in this blank]。

I am given 4 choices, of which only 2 are conjugated correctly.

Choice 1: 読みます

Choice 2: 読みません

To me it seems both options answer the question, since そうですね in this case should be just a 相槌 (interjection used to indicate that the listener is still participating in the conversation), and should not be a consideration factor between Choice 1 and 2.

According to the workbook, Choice 2 is the correct answer. Is there an explanation for this? Or can I just dismiss this as a poorly constructed question in the workbook?


After considering what Dave said about は. I've come up with some explanation.

This question should have been about the disambiguating function of は.

Person A: Do you read the newspapers frequently?

Person B: 毎日は[Fill in the blank].

The domain that A establishes is "frequently"

B is using は to extract 毎日 from "frequently" as a given premise. (Since the concept of "everyday" is a subset of "frequently")


This begs the question of why it's wrong when B says the following:

  1. 毎日読みません

  2. 毎日は読みます

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3  
I don't think this has anything to do with そうですね (really can't see how it would). I have a feeling that, the 'は' is the problem with 1. I would say 毎日読みます... but I honestly can't give you a proper grammatical reason for it. –  Dave Jul 31 '11 at 13:21
    
I cannot think of は as introducing a contrastive element because there's no other contextual information I can fall back on. In the case of XはA、YはB。Y is contrasted against X. But if it is 毎日は, the idea it's being compared to (which should have been introduced earlier in context) would be of the form (not毎日)は. And that wouldn't make sense would it? –  Flaw Jul 31 '11 at 14:08
    
If it's not playing a contrastive role, it must be playing it's disambiguative role then. –  Flaw Jul 31 '11 at 14:25
    
to be quite honest, I am not sure I understand your comments here. But hopefully DaveMG's answer sheds better light on the matter. Regarding your edit: I don't think 毎日読みません is wrong (it has a slightly different nuance from 毎日*は*読みません), but my understanding is that it was not an option anyway. –  Dave Jul 31 '11 at 15:09
    
@Flaw can you clarify what's a disambiguative role? –  Pacerier Jul 31 '11 at 15:58
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

As Dave and Dave M G stated, the answer comes not from そうですね but from 毎日は.

そうですね shows that person B is thinking about the question in a similar way to “Let me see” in English. It does not mean either “yes” or “no.”

は here distinguishes 毎日 (every day) from other possible choices of frequency. 毎日は might be translated to “as long as ‘every day’ is concerned.”

(新聞を)毎日は読みません means that the speaker does not read newspaper every day, and it also means that he/she reads newspaper (in less frequency). That is a good answer to the question “Do you read newspaper often?”

(新聞を)毎日は読みます would mean that the speaker reads newspaper every day, and it also means that he/she does not read newspaper in greater frequency. But if you read newspaper every day, you usually count as a regular reader of newspaper, and there is no point stating that you do not read in greater frequency (say, once every hour).

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just to clarify, let's say we take は out of the question. Do you mean that そうですね。毎日読みません。 is correct and そうですね。毎日読みます。 is wrong? because am i right to say that the presence of the は is irrelevant here to determining the answer here? –  Pacerier Jul 31 '11 at 15:55
    
@Pacerier: If you understand what I said, it should be clear that I explained what role “は” plays. If you remove “は,” that changes the whole story. 毎日読みます is correct. I think that 毎日読みません is unnatural in itself, and it definitely does not answer the question “Do you read newspaper often?” –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 31 '11 at 15:59
    
@Pacerier: I noticed that you posted the same comment to another answer. If you are posting comments without reading the post, please stop it. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 31 '11 at 16:05
    
of course that's not true.. i posted that comment before i posted the comment here above and before you replied. i posted comment to heuristics because we couldn't tell if そうですね。毎日読みます。 is a valid response in the question based on his answer. –  Pacerier Jul 31 '11 at 16:20
    
@Tsuyoshi, I think I understand what you're trying to get at, although it's quite hard to extract it from your answer, but it is in there. What you're saying as "natural" or "unnatural" is due to は acting as "context glue"(in layman terms). 毎日読みません makes the reply seem disjunct from the previous statement. As though the person replying was not part of the conversation in the first place. With は, the reply is "glued" to a previous context because the reply refers to a specific concept established by person A. –  Flaw Aug 1 '11 at 0:45
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The question in the workbook is not poorly constructed - choice 2 is indeed the correct answer. The reason for this is that the は following 毎日 is being used in a contrastive context.

Person B is, I think, shortening what he is saying. Since the contrastive は requires two parts to to it, in a form such as

寿司は食べれますが、納豆は食べれません

If we combine the latter part of person A's question with the first part of person B's answer, then we can make the first part of person B's answer the following

そうですね。新聞はよく読みますが、毎日は[Fill in this blank]

If my reasoning is correct, then this would be the full structure of the reply that person B is giving, but as is common in Japanese speech, certain parts can be omitted if they do not really add anything to the conversation. In this case, the part that does not add anything is 新聞はよく読みますが. This is because person B is agreeing with the statement that he reads the paper often, even though he does not explicitly state it in his answer. With that, the first part of the contrastive は form is not required, and so the answer can be shortened down to

そうですね。毎日は[Fill in this blank]

Given that we now know what sort of structure is actually being used behind the scenes, we can now deduce that the answer is indeed choice 2:

そうですね。毎日は読みません

Or, in its unshortened state,

そうですね。新聞はよく読みますが、毎日は読みません。

It seems to me as though the そうですね may be being used as an interjection, but may also provide a little context in this case - B agreeing that the content of the question applies to him.

At any rate, I'm not sure if this is the correct thought process for solving the problem, but it's how I would reach the conclusion that 2 is the correct answer.

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1  
let's say we take は out of the question. Is it that both そうですね。毎日読みません。 and そうですね。毎日読みます。 are valid replies? –  Pacerier Jul 31 '11 at 15:54
    
I'm very sure that そうですね is only a 相槌 and provides us with no contextual clues. The problem is what happens with and without は for the affirmative and negative statements. –  Flaw Aug 1 '11 at 0:55
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This is a classic JLPT tricky question.

The presence of そうですね is supposed to mislead you. It seems like a positive agreement, leading to you to think that a positive answer, 読みます【よみます】(to read), is the way to go.

After all, if the answer was just そうですね, then you could translate the conversation like this:

Person A: 新聞をよく読みますか。(Do you often read the paper?)

Person B: そうですね。(Yes, I do)

It would seem reasonable at first guess that the answer should have a positive follow up.

However, as Dave points out in his comment, the is the tip off that there is a game afoot.

The is there because it's saying something like "as for...". Which would make the translation using 毎日は読みます something like, "I do read it a lot. As for every day, I read it." So that doesn't seem quite right, does it? It's sort of redundant.

, or "as for..." seems to be creating a sort of comparison, and that's how we get to the right answer.

A really clunky translation that gives you insight into how the Japanese is constructed would be "Yes I do. As for every day, I don't read it."

The natural English translation would be more like "Yes, I read it a lot. I don't read it every day, though."

So the correct answer is the second choice.

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goes with time (or day) normally. 昨日はたくさん御飯を食べました. –  sawa Jul 31 '11 at 14:44
    
Exception is not the right word. There is no asymmetry of exception vs. standard cases. The different cases are just contrastive. –  sawa Jul 31 '11 at 15:29
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そうですね does not mean a positive answer (as Flaw correctly stated in the question). Therefore, the reason why “そうですね。毎日は読みます。” is incorrect is not because it is redundant. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 31 '11 at 15:30
1  
I am not talking about そうです or はい. そうですね is different from そうです: そうですね can be used for “let me see,” but そうです cannot. You might think that answering “そうですね。ほとんど読みません。” is contradictory, but it is not contradictory. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 31 '11 at 15:38
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(1) As I have already stated, your explanation is wrong because the same explanation would lead one to think that “そうですね。あまり読みません。” is a contradictory and incorrect response, but it is actually a correct response. そうですね does not mean “I do read it a lot.” (2) Your edit has not corrected the error which I have been pointing out. You do not have to correct the error, but I just want to clarify that you did not address the issue I have been raising. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 31 '11 at 16:19
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