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Earlier today I saw this sign:

smokers are inconsiderate losers

煙{けむり}の行方{ゆくえ}。本人{ほんにん}だけが、他人{たにん}事{こと}だった。

The English is different enough that I think we can mostly ignore it for the purposes of this question. It helpfully conveys the message, but I'm wondering about the grammar of the Japanese, from which the provided English is quite different.

In particular, I'm wondering about the use of だけが. だけ is "just" or "only", and is "but", so my reading of this is "Other people's problem, but only/just the person themselves." That's not merely deliberately ungrammatical English to convey my confusion, it also seems to convey the opposite message than intended. It seems to be saying that the smoke is only just the smoker's problem, no one elses.

From the context and the English provided, I know it's supposed to say, "not just the smoker, it's other people's issue as well."

But I just don't see how だけが means "not just", instead of "but only."

What am I not understanding about だけが?

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The が is a case particle. –  Choko May 17 '12 at 5:38
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@Chocolate: Thanks for answering, but I'm not one for whom giving something a grammatical name makes me able to use and understand it. I need usage explained, or examples to clarify. :) –  Questioner May 17 '12 at 6:18
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The original text isn't grammatical so I'd read it as 煙の行方--本人だけが「他人事だなIt's not my concern」という気持ちorという状態だった。→煙の行方に関して、本人だけが「他人事だ」と思っていた。/ 煙の行方は(Where the smoke was going)、本人だけにとって(for only the smoker himself)、「他人事」だった(it was 他人事 for him/it was not his concern) while it should be '他人'事 for 'other people=他人'。The word 本人 is contrasted with the word 他人 –  Choko May 17 '12 at 7:55
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@DaveMG: Chocolate means that you have misidentified が. It is not the "but" が, but rather it is the subject particle が. –  Zhen Lin May 17 '12 at 8:00
    
@ZhenLin: Ah, and here I thought I was more in the know by not assuming it was the subject particle version of . Doh! –  Questioner May 17 '12 at 10:48

1 Answer 1

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Let's look at some example sentences:

ゲームとネットだけが[生きがい]{いきがい}

自分だけが知ってる[秘密]{ひみつ}

[悲しみ]{かなしみ}だけが夢をみる

To put it simply, a strong emphasis is put on whatever comes before the だけが to mean "The only thing", "The only person", "The only reason", etc. In other words, translating it as "not just" would be a mistake. It actually means the opposite, for example you could translate the first example as:

(Video) Games and the internet are my only reason for living. (Assuming the subject is the speaker)

I hope you can see that "not just" doesn't make much sense in the above sentence. So, based on the above logic, I would translate the sentence in the poster as:

Where does the smoke go? Only the smoker doesn't care. (Which I think is a better translation than what's in the poster :))

As an exercise, how would you translate the last sentence? [悲しみ]{かなしみ}だけが夢をみる

Also, I should warn that these ad campaigns are run by JT (Japan Tobacco) because they try to brainwash people into believing that smokers and non-smokers can live in harmony as long as the smokers obey manners, but I digress..

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Regarding emphasis, that seems to be a bug with the markup. Here's a workaround, the conversation about this bug is over here‌​. –  jkerian May 20 '12 at 2:20
    
This is a very helpful answer. I think after reading this, my confusion wasn't just about だけが, but also 他人事. I took it literally "other people's issue", but when you used the term "doesn't care" in your translation, I'm now seeing 他人事 as being a way of describing the "whatever" attitude of the smoker. Thus, a clunky translation that makes sense to me now is "Only the smoker thinks the problem should be left to others to sort out." Would you say that's a reasonable way of interpreting it? –  Questioner May 20 '12 at 3:23
    
@DaveMG: Perhaps. However, it could be the case that the smoker doesn't realize that it's a problem at all rather than thinking it's a problem that should be left for others. –  Jesse Good May 20 '12 at 22:19
    
@Jesse: That the smoker is completely without thought for others was my original interpretation, but I'm trying to reconcile that with what the more literal meaning of the term 他人事, which is "other people's problem." –  Questioner May 21 '12 at 2:24
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@Dave M G: Here, 他人事 means the problem of others, as in, not the problem of myself. Here, it is simply the opposite of "my problem" (that is, denying or not feeling any responsibility), and does not necessarily mean that "I" think others must deal with it. Think of 他人事 here as just another way of saying 自分に関係ない. –  SomethingJapanese May 21 '12 at 3:34

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