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I was listening to lastfm.jp the other day, and happened across this line in an artist bio:

14歳の頃にギターを、17歳で作曲を始める。

I've often read here on JLU that a phrase particle should only appear once per sentence for a given particle meaning. (Presumably this is more specific, and tied to the predicate verb?)

  • Is this substandard/casual Japanese more appropriate to mixi than a biographical snippet?

  • Is this an exception to that general rule/theme? Are there any rules for how to put together a multiple を sentence?

  • Is this simply an elliptical phrase joined to a complete sentence?

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It would seem to me, at least, that the writer is just combining two similar sentences into one longer sentence. –  summea Apr 24 '12 at 22:34
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Only one を per sentence is definitely not a rule. One per clause, maybe. So the question is, is this two clauses with the verb dropped in the first one, or one clause with multiple objects... it seems more complicated than just combining objects with と or や, since there are different adverbial phrases hanging off the objects. –  dainichi Apr 25 '12 at 1:24
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I think you're confusing multiple をs in a sentence with multiple をs in a clause.

Multiple をs in a sentence is perfectly normal:

私がご飯を作っている間、彼女はテレビを見ていた

whereas multiple をs in a clause isn't:

× 台風を気をつける

What makes your example sentence complicated is that it's not completely clear whether there is one clause or two.

In English, the word "and" is very flexible, and you can use it to combine almost anything from clauses and verb phrases to noun phrases, adverbs and adjectives.

In Japanese, you use 連体形 (~て、~で) to combine clauses and verb/adjectival phrases, と or や to combine noun phrases.

In the example sentence, what is being combined isn't just (object) noun phrases (ギター and 作曲) but also prepositional phrases "hanging off" them (14歳の頃に and 17歳で). In English, "and" works fine for this:

He begins guitar-playing around 14 and composition at 17

In Japanese, if it were just the object noun phrases, と or や would be possible

○ 14歳の頃にギターと作曲を始める

but with the prepositional phrases, this becomes unnatural

?? 14歳の頃にギターと、17歳で作曲を始める。

So the example sentence is "avoiding the problem" by simply listing the two object+prepositional-phrase compounds next to each other

[14歳の頃にギターを]、[17歳で作曲を]始める。

Whether you choose to interpret this as two clauses where the verb is dropped from the first one, or one clause with two object+prepositional-phrase compounds hanging off the main verb... I don't see any reason why one is preferable to the other, but others might shed more light on that.

Is this substandard/casual Japanese more appropriate to mixi than a biographical snippet?

On the contrary, I would say that it's slightly formal/written/newspaper-language-like. In speech, I think people would tend to say

14歳の頃にギターを始めて、17歳で作曲を始める。

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I'm slightly curious about your final claim that this is somewhat formal/written/newspaper-like. This doesn't seem to square with sawa's identification of this as a case of gapping. (which does seem accurate) –  jkerian May 2 '12 at 22:50
    
@jkerian Sorry, maybe I lack the background to understand your comment. Is there supposed to be a negative correlation between gapping and format/written/newspaper-like language? –  dainichi May 7 '12 at 0:52
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It is pretty common in Japanese not to finish sentences. The not written part would be most of the time obvious/useless. For instance, it happens a lot in movie trailer.
As Summea said, this is 2 sentences in one long. Just to avoid ugly redundancy, they skip the verb for the first part.

14歳の頃にギターを始める。17歳で作曲を始める。

14歳の頃にギターを始めて、17歳で作曲を始める。

14歳の頃にギターを、17歳で作曲を始める。

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Could someone please explain the downvote? It's harmful to downvote without telling the poster what they did wrong. –  atlantiza Apr 25 '12 at 3:35
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Right... cos I don't see anything 'wrong' about this answer –  Choko Apr 25 '12 at 9:06
    
This construction is not especially for Japanese. Therefore, all the arguments in the answer mentioning Japanese tendency of omitting things is totally irrelevant. Furthuremore, there is no evidence, and is highly unlikely that this construction is derived from two sentenced as shown in the answer. –  sawa Apr 26 '12 at 1:00
    
Sawa seems to be arguing that since this is a case of gapping, the middle step in oldergod's list does not exist. I'm unconvinced of this, because I would argue that the て-form in Japanese is the equivalent of the ',' in English... which is pretty much used everywhere you look for gapping examples. It is true that the step from sentence 1->2 is not of the same form as 2->3, but that's a linguistic quibble. –  jkerian Apr 27 '12 at 15:30
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This construction is called gapping, and is observed widely across languages. It is not particularly Japanese or tied to a specific register.

I started the guitar at seventeen, and composing at fourteen.

There are several analyses for it, and the consensus has not been reached, but what is important is that the construction includes some sort of coordination. The two instances of the same particle are considered to belong to different clauses, and fragments of the clauses are somehow connected, probably involving some kind of ellipsis.

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