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I've previously asked two separate questions regarding あっての, (and there's a third on here from Pacerier) and I thought I had it figured out, but then I found this sentence (from a JLPT practice book--my bold) that just throws me for a loop:

山での遭難記事を読むたびに命あっての登山なのにと悲しく思う。

Here's how I understand あっての, "B couldn't exist without A". For example: あなたあっての私なんです ==> I wouldn't be here without you

Here's how I understand this sentence: Every time I read an article about a disaster on the mountain, I think sadly "even though mountain climbing wouldn't exist without life!".

This just doesn't make any sense to me, and I'm sure I have the meaning wrong. Can someone explain what I've missed?

I've gone over this so many times, but I think there's is a cog stuck in my brain when it comes to あっての.

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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I think AあってのB is used here the same way it's normally used. According to the 日本語文型辞典:

「XあってのY」の形で、「XがあるからYも成り立つ」という意味を表す。「XがなければYは成り立たない」という含みをもつ。

So XあってのY means "because there is X, Y also holds true" with the connotation that "if there isn't X, Y doesn't hold true".


I think it is similar to the proverb 命あっての物種, which looking at kotowaza-allguide could literally be something like "there can be no origin if there isn't life" (where 物種 refers to something that things can stem from) and can be translated as "be not worth risking one's life".

From this I think 命あっての登山 could mean "there can be no mountain climbing if there isn't life", and that it could also be translated as "it's not worth risking (your) life mountain climbing".


When I Google that phrase, I came up with a couple of results like the following:

...ヤバそうならやめる事ですね。命あっての登山ですし、来年も富士山はそこにあります。

"If it looks dangerous you should give up. You can't mountain climb if you're not alive, and Mount Fuji will be there next year as well."

So I think it could translate to something like the following:

山での遭難記事を読むたびに命あっての登山なのにと悲しく思う。

"Whenever I read articles about accidents in the mountains, I sadly think 'it's not worth risking your life mountain climbing'."

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A little investigation has led me to believe that the usage of 命あっての in this situation MAY, however unlikely, be related to the phrase 命あっての物種, or at least that we can extrapolate the meaning of 命あって in this sense from that phrase. This particular phrase means that something is not worth risking your life over, as can be seen here and here.

However on Google and alc I cannot find any other natural use of the term 命あっての outside of this set phrase. Therefore it seems like an unusual way to use this particular grammar, but if 命あっての物種 is any indication, then we may be able to translate that sentence as something like:

Every time I read disaster reports from the mountain I can only lament the needless risk of life.

However this is entirely speculation because, as you said, あっての doesn't mean that in general. That said, I think it's a bad sentence to begin with and you're probably understanding あっての just fine. The "natural" way to interpret that sentence would be like... 命がないと登山できないのに…っていう残念さを言ってる

So in conclusion, just erase this sentence from your life and move on.

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The "bad sentence" part of it is based on my intuition of people not using あっての that way and getting the same reaction when I asked a native. –  ssb Nov 6 '12 at 0:06
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(This is a "draft" answer because with more thought I can probably improve it.)

As Cypher says, use of あっての here is the same as that in the common Japanese saying:

命あっての物種[だ。]|While there's life, there's hope. / It's not worth risking my life for.

Unfortunately this expression itself is, if not idiomatic, not gramatically intuitive either. もんだね is not directly translated in my dictionary but if we apply the Japanese definition I used in my answer to your previous question:

N1あってのN2=N1があるから N2が成立する

to

命あっての物種

We get:

Because we have life we exist ~>

~> Something that exists because we have life ~>

~> [in the case of 登山・mountain climbing]"We would not be able to climb mountains if we were not alive" ~>

~> "life is more important that climbing mountains"

Now, rather than agonising over this expression further, I would suggest we look at the rest of the sentence:

..なのにと...

sounds like the conjunction for a "fact => an unexpected result" followed by a "quotative と”: The "unexpected result" appears to have been omitted because it can be inferred from the context of the passage from which this sentence has been taken. Without knowing the rest of the passage (see note 3 below), I would guess this omission is something along the lines of "people still do it", "people still do it without the proper equipment" or even perhaps "I could not bear to give it up".

If we put this all together we get:

"Everytime I read about people getting killed in the mountains, I am sadly reminded that even though mountain climbing is not worth risking your life, [people still do it without the proper equipment]."

Notes:

  1. The omission is in [square parentheses].

  2. I have taken a little literary license to translate "悲しく思う” as "sadly reminded".

  3. This sounds like a sentence from a JLPT N1 exercise, in which case, this might be a stand alone sentence rather than an extract from a passage because the examiner wants you to go through the same thought process I have just taken you through here. (And, by the way, this is a great question.)

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Thanks for your answer! Yes, this is just an N1 practice sentence :) –  silvermaple Nov 5 '12 at 22:12
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