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Consider:

[A] 猫好きだ

To me this means [A']"I like cats."

Contrast this to:

[B] 猫好きだ

To me this means [B']"I like cats (among other animals)"

I based my understanding of [B] from Derek Schaab's answer to "What is the difference between “に” and “には”?":

You'll see that while in the first sentence there is only one scope, the second actually has two:

(私【わたし】は)彼【かれ】と会【あ】わなかった。

  • Scope (implied): I
  • Statement: Didn't meet with him.

(私【わたし】は)彼【かれ】とは会【あ】わなかった。

  • Outer scope (implied): I
  • Inner scope (explicit): with him
  • Statement: Didn't meet.

Now as for what effect this has, the は often adds a hint of comparison or contrast, as repecmps mentioned. While both of the above sentences translate to, "I didn't meet with him," the second hints that although you didn't meet with him, you may have met with someone else.

So I deduced that は in [B] can perform that disambiguative role.


Now [A] can be interpreted to mean "I like cats" because of the implicit first person as in (私は)猫が好きだ

Now let's make 私 explicit:

[C]私は猫が好きだ - [C']"I like cats"

Now it is explicit that I am doing the liking.

Now reconsider [B]猫は好きだ:

Based on [C], I have another way to interpret [B]:

So now 猫は好きだ can mean [B'']"The cat likes (an unspecified object)"


(Questions) What is going on? Who is doing the liking and who is being liked in each case? Are [B'] and [B''] both valid? What am I doing and understanding wrong? If there is indeed ambiguity, how can I resolve it?

EDIT:

Can I resolve it by introducing another は element? E.g.

私は猫は好きです。 "I(thematic) like cats(disambiguated/anaphoric)"

Is it acceptable to have two はs in a sentence as above?

share|improve this question
    
@DaveMG Yes that was the OP's question. But I was actually referring to sawa's answer and building on from there - "私は先生が猫[が/を]好きだと思います". I figured that to be less complicated I should understand it without と思う first. –  Flaw Jan 18 '12 at 13:51
    
I think 彼と'は'会わなかった implies that (1) you may have met with someone else, or (2) you were going to meet with him at first but you didn't or couldn't-- like 'I ended up not meeting with him'/'I thought I could meet him but I couldn't after all'/'I was going to meet with him but I changed my mind'(when you're asked if you met with him). –  Choko Jan 18 '12 at 14:02
    
猫が好きだ would be 'I like cats (probably best among other animals)', and 猫'は'好きだ would be like 'Speaking of cats, I like them,' like saying 'I don't hate them, they're fine with me, but I wouldn't say I like them best among other animals,' when you're asked if you like cats. –  Choko Jan 18 '12 at 14:07
    
@DaveMG. Yes perhaps I phrased my question poorly. I meant to convey that the sentence I'm presenting was inspired(for lack of a better word) by a previous sentence. Instead of taking it directly. –  Flaw Jan 18 '12 at 15:48

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

私は猫が好きだ means I like cats.

私は猫は好きだ has the same meaning and its absolutely possible.

But in the second case you are putting emphasis on what you like for whatever reason: maybe you are going to talk then about cats, or you want to remark that you like a specific cat ( 私はこの猫は好きだ), or want to focus attention on cats, etc.

The same enphasis can be put on other subjects marked with が. ドアが開いています。 このドアは開いています。 Direct object can be marked with は instead of を for the same reason.

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Dave M G's comment is right, you should see the sentence as 私は[先生が猫が好きだ]と思います. So if you remove と思います, you remove 私は as well. 私は先生が猫が好きだ is not a correct sentence.

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2  
Thank you for your verification. I will remove that part from my question accordingly. But still the question of whether 猫は好きです is ambiguous or not remains. –  Flaw Jan 19 '12 at 1:20
3  
about 猫は好きです ambiguity, there is no right answer. Japanese language depends on the context it's being used in. It can mean both. –  oldergod Jan 19 '12 at 1:27

The phrase 〜は〜が好きだ is a little unusual, but it's not too hard to break down.

First, 好く is a verb meaning "to be fond of". For whatever reason (probably because declaring your fondness for something is too direct in Japanese culture), you never say 〜を好く.

Instead, we nominalize the verb by using the 〜い form: 好き (remember, nominalize means to turn into a noun). We might translate this as "one that (I) like".

Because 好き is a noun, it cannot take 〜を. In fact, it can't even appear alone at the end of a sentence. We need the copula, だ, meaning "is".

So, dropping the 〜は part, the phrase 〜が好きだ literally translates to "~ is the one (I) like".

The full phrase is an example where the は particle introduces a topic that isn't actually the subject. It's just like in the sentence 今は眠い, "As for now, (I) am tired". 今 is not the subject. Similarly, when you have 私は猫がすきです, 私 is not the subject. 猫 is, because it's doing the "being" in the sentence: As for me, cats are things (I) like.

tl;dr,

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2  
Then can sentences like (私は)猫は好きです exist? Supposing the preceding conversation was about a general dislike for animals. Then 猫は好きです could mean "As for cats, I like". Is this a valid use of 猫は too? –  Flaw Jan 20 '12 at 1:36
    
I'm actually a little uncertain about multiple topic markers in a single sentence. I want to say it's doable, but I can't remember seeing it from a native Japanese source. My impression is that you'd probably omit one of the two topics ( topics, in general, are excellent candidates for omission). But I would defer to a native speaker if someone else knew better. –  Tac-Tics Jan 20 '12 at 22:18

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