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I've previously asked about あっての, but now it seems to me that I've run into an additional usage of it (or perhaps the same usage I just can't wrap my head around it...).

When the sentence is simply AあってのB, it seems pretty straightforward. For example:

あなたあっての私なんです。

I think means: "I wouldn't be here without you" This sentence, however is more confusing to me:

子供あっての我が家である。

Does this mean:

  • "Our family wouldn't be here without the children/if not for the children"?

Or is it more like:

  • "Our family exists for the (benefit of the) children"?

Or even:

  • "If we never had children, we wouldn't be a family"?
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1  
I'm not sure, but I translated it as "Our children being here makes us a family". So probably closer to the first or third ones. –  Chris Harris Aug 17 '12 at 21:32
    
What is the difference between the first option (“Our family wouldn’t be here without the children/if not for the children”) and the third option (“If we never had children, we wouldn’t be a family”)? –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 18 '12 at 3:35
    
I don't have an understanding I can confidently articulate to you, but WWWJDIC has a definition and you can look at some sentences in space alc to try to get a better feel for it. –  SomethingJapanese Aug 18 '12 at 4:37
1  
@Tsuyoshi: I'll admit it's subtle, but I guess the first option implies that are children, but they're not part of the family...as in these children exist, but they're elsewhere (adopted by someone/being raised somewhere else). Like how just giving birth to a child doesn't mean you're a family, living together and being apart of each others' lives does. –  silvermaple Aug 18 '12 at 4:44

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I sometimes have this problem with あっての too so I looked it up (Reference: 日本語表現文型辞典 p25). To my surprise the English explanation was contradictory but the Japanese explanation works.

I'll start with the English definition:

「N1あってのN2」is an emphatic expression meaning N1 is realized because there is N2.

This fits

「子供あっての我が家である。」

which I take to mean "We would not be the family we are without our children"(see note 3), but seems contra to the more familiar:

「あなたあっての私なんです。 / "I wouldn't be here without you"

However the Japanese explanation uses the expression:

「N1があるからN2が成立する」

which works for both examples.

Notes

  1. FWIW: The book also give alternative English equivalents as "comprised of" or "indispensable to".

  2. The full Japanese definition was:

    「N1あってのN2」の形で、「N1があるからN2が成立する」と強調するときの表現。

  3. This translation is closest to your first meaning, which also seems quite acceptable. The others might also work in the right context?

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あなたあっての私なんです means "I would not be the person as I am without you," so I am not sure what in the book you think contradicts the explanation of this phrase. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 18 '12 at 13:28
    
@Tsuyoshi ito: If you try to understand the phrase by applying the English explanation literally (as so many of us non-native speakers do when we struggle with a new term) then you get "You(N1) are realized because there is me (N2)" which is contra to "I am realized because there is you", which, in turn, corresponds in a ham fisted way to "I would not be the person as I am without you". (=>Soln: apply this Japanese definition) –  Tim Aug 18 '12 at 17:24
    
Ah, now I see what you mean. Thanks for the explanation! Indeed, I think that the quoted explanation in English is incorrect. N1あってのN2 means “N2 is realized because there is N1.” –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 18 '12 at 17:58
    
Thanks. Unfortunately this answer does not seem to have helped Silvermaple. I thought the English helps illustrate how あっての can sometimes be difficult to understand but it might be better left out. –  Tim Aug 19 '12 at 2:07

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