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When reffering to the school days, people often say 小学校の時, 中学校の時. Even though this may not be wrong, they are shortened forms of relatively complex (redundant) structures. Thus, they are close to the expressions:

私が通っていた学校が小学校だった時
'when the school that I used to attend was an elementary school'
私が通っていた学校が中学校だった時
'when the school that I used to attend was a junior high school'

I think that there is a much simpler way to express the same situation, such as:

私が小学生だった時
'when I was an elementary school student'
私が中学生だった時
'when I was a junior high school student'

which would be shortened to 小学生の時, 中学生の時, and I do hear people (including myself) using the latter. But still, many people seem to be using the former. Why do people use a more complicated way of saying it?

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Because 小学校の時 is neither complicated nor redundant, unlike your “decompressed” expression. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 20 '11 at 23:13
    
@TsuyoshiIto Then, what is the meaning (role) of 小学校 in 小学校の時? –  sawa Dec 20 '11 at 23:24
    
I do not know, but how about interpreting 小学校の as 小学校に通っていた? の simply converts a noun to a 連体修飾語 (modifier which modifies a noun; I do not know the English term for it), and its meaning can be almost anything. It does not have to be replaceable to である. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 20 '11 at 23:26
    
@TsuyoshiIto That is the underlying sentence, but I believe that constructions like this one is related to a relative clause with a nominal predicate. So the the related relative clause should be in the form ...小学校だった。In this case, that would be a cleft sentence. –  sawa Dec 20 '11 at 23:32
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"modifier which modifies a noun" sounds like you are describing an adjective. –  Karl Knechtel Dec 21 '11 at 2:02

1 Answer 1

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Actually I don't find it surprising. It may be just my own experience but,

English:

[a] "When I was in (primary/secondary/middle/high/etc.) school......" (More common)

as opposed to,

[b] "When I was a (primary/secondary/middle/high/etc.) school student......" (Not as common)

Chinese:

[a] "(我在)[小/中/大]学時......" (More common)

as opposed to,

[b] "我[小/中/大]学生時......" (Less common)

Singlish (Singaporean English):

[a] "primary school that time..." or "that time primary school..." (More common)

[b] "primary school student that time..." or "that time primary school student..." (Almost not used)

Arguably the [a] versions are not specific enough, because you can be referring to any time period that you were in (the) school, regardless of what role you are. I.e. you could be a student, teacher, staff, random civilian, etc. The [b] versions explicitly state that it's the time of being a student.

Also the Singlish versions (if anyone can understand it) show quite obviously why [a] is preferred to [b]. It's just a shorter sentence, and everything else is deduced from context. Being a native speaker of Singlish without any formal study into it I have no way to analyse it apart from just simply feeling that it's correct.

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Thanks for the data to compare. When you have a full relative clause, saying that you are attending may be conceptually simpler than saying that you are a student there. So, what you show looks reasonable. But in the Japanese ...の construction, I think it is natural to consider that the noun followed by corresponds to a nominal predicate in a relative clause so that the relative clause is in the form ...<noun>だ. In your English and Chinese expressions, the preferred forms are still full relative clauses because the predicate is not omitted (was in, ). –  sawa Dec 20 '11 at 23:39
    
Looks like it's time to bring in Singlish (or Singaporean english). –  Flaw Dec 20 '11 at 23:48
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Here in Beijing, we say "我上[小/中/大]学的时候.." –  fefe Dec 21 '11 at 0:27
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In fact, in Malay, the expression masa sekolah rendah/menengah (where masa is ) is valid and the most common. You can say it's a literal translation of the sentence in your question. –  syockit Dec 31 '11 at 13:59

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