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Can you help breakdown 言わん?

彼女は当たり前と言わんばかりに答えた
She answered as if it was a matter of fact.

Are these incorrect, have different meanings?

彼女は当たり前と言うばかりに答えた
彼女は当たり前なことばかりに答えた
彼女は当たり前なんだとばかりに答えた

Do you know another way of saying "as if to say"?

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1  
You are better off remembering 言わんばかり as a phrase which means as if was saying. In almost every other case ばかり means 'Only', and in your three examples, it's usually interpreted as 'Only'. –  Ken Li Aug 20 '11 at 13:47
    
@Ken Li, okay, will do. –  Louis Aug 20 '11 at 14:15

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Edit: In light of Tsuyoshi's comments below, I am changing my etymological explanation.

To answer your first question: 言わんばかり was originally 言わむばかり. This can be broken down into two parts: 言わむ, which is the classical form of 言おう, and ばかり, which here is being used in the sense of something just about to happen. So 言わんばかり might be literally translated as ‘as if [he] wanted to say’.

As for your alternatives:

彼女は当たり前と言うばかりに答えた

This is somewhat ungrammatical, but would probably be interpreted as the exact opposite: ‘She answered just saying “of course”.’ If we change it to 「彼女は当たり前と言ったばかりに答えた。」 it would mean, ‘She answered just because it was said to be obvious.’

彼女は当たり前なことばかりに答えた

This would probably be interpreted like the above: ‘She answered just because it was obvious.’

彼女は当たり前なんだとばかりに答えた

This means the same thing as the original sentence, but is more emphatic. The なんだ can (should?) be omitted.

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ん in 言わんばかり is not negation. It is originally 推量の助動詞「む」 (I do not know how to say this in English). –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 31 '11 at 21:44
    
@Tsuyoshi: That's what I thought at first as well, given the meaning, but the dictionary says otherwise... –  Zhen Lin Sep 1 '11 at 0:17
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It is true that some people use 言わぬばかり, but that is because this ん is commonly confused with negative ぬ. Put differently, the order of evolution is 言わむばかり→言わんばかり→言わぬばかり instead of 言わぬばかり→言わんばかり, although I do not know if the form 言わむばかり has ever been actually used. See 補説 (2) of ぬ in Daijirin. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 1 '11 at 0:24

To further elaborate on Zhen Lin's learned reply, according to 大辞林, "ばかり" derives from the verb "はかる", to measure. Also, considering that one of the meanings attributed to "ばかり" is "approximately", it seems reasonable to say that the listener is imposing a judgment on, or "measuring" the speaker's intended meaning, In this case, it might be more useful to think of "ばかり" as more or less synonymous with "程". In English, it might be something like "She didn't say as much as that it was obvious, but . . . (she might as well have said that it was)".

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Thanks, I'll try that. I mostly get ほど. –  Louis Aug 21 '11 at 3:17

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