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Some recent posts here reminded me about something from many, many years ago: how do you form concatenated causatives in Japanese?

If I want to say, "Make me go", I would say, 行かせて. That seems pretty clear. Or maybe even 行かせ since this is a pretty blunt thing to say (ie, you wouldn't want to say something like this to your parents or boss without potentially creating a lot of problems). But between friends or peers, it can be a joke or a kind of stubborn refusal to cooperate with someone.

But how would you say, "Make me make you go"? But, I'm not sure 行かせさせて renders this correctly.

How do you make clear who's making who go? English nests things in a way that you can follow who's making whom make whom do whatever. But, I'm simultaneous the one making "you" do something for which you are then making "me" do something. So, at that point, I get lost. A crude attempt might be

私が、あなたに、私に行かせさせて

Yet that sounds about as clear as mud! Convoluted and just not very natural sounding in Japanese IMHO.

Decades ago, this matter originally came up as a strange/difficult thing to translate into Japanese when I was new to Japanese and was basically trying to explain to my Japanese friend the joke behind this sort of nonsense. I don't know that I ever managed to explain it at all.

Truthfully, this "make me make you" or "make me make you make him" etc. is more a verbal polemic in English. It's more likely to be heard on the playground among kids as a threat of sorts than between serious adults. Between adults, it would most likely be a joke; if it wasn't a joke, then between adults it just sounds extremely immature.

As a joke the concatenated causatives can get quite long and absurd: make him make me make you make her go. I'm not even sure that a native English speaker really follows all of this... it just becomes a kind of absurd joke or in-your-face verbal assault.

My point being: this is perhaps a linguistic polemic more natural to English than to other languages.

Is this sort of concatenated verbiage easily done in Japanese ("easily" meaning, in a manner that it would be naturally understood)? If so, how would you do it?


Some very interesting links have been provided in the comments, but the linked questions and answers don't quite match nicely with what I'm trying to get at here. I think that's in part my fault for how I framed the question in terms of make me make you.

But here's a perfectly understandable, though convoluted, concatenation of causation in English that I wouldn't know how to start expressing in Japanese (except very clunkily).

So imagine the situation: my brother-in-law dislikes me, but he's coming to my birthday party nevertheless. He won't talk to me, so he gets my sister (his wife) to talk to me. My mom is very proud of her ability to bake, but her pride is misplaced. Her cakes taste horrendously. So, my brother-in-law wants to make sure, since he dislikes me so much, that at least the cake will not further contribute to his displeasure. So, this is what I wound up telliing my cousin about what happened: (a convoluted background story for a convoluted point of grammar that very easily flows in English)

My brother-in-law made my sister make me make my mom not bake a cake for my birthday, but instead buy one.

How would one even begin to say this in Japanese?

In fact, the matter of the causative might be incidental because in English this also could have been worded without a causative:

He asked my sister to ask me to ask mom not to....

But, let's just stick with the matter of causatives here. Perhaps extra-credit for someone to also come up with the concatenation of "asking".

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  • @naruto Those are both of interest. The first one seems not entirely related to what I'm asking causing someone to cause someone to do something whereas there is about letting/not letting someone cause something. I know in Japanese this distinction is not clear in the causative form, but in the rewordings to ...ないようにして the whole "double" causative is avoided. So, I don't feel it's quite an answer for what I'm asking. But it is related.
    – A.Ellett
    Nov 6, 2023 at 18:41
  • @naruto The 2nd one seems less related than the 1st. The issue of commanding someone to do something in those answers is definitely of interest, but tangential to my question here. Granted, my examples embed commands "make me make you". But, we could easily say "he made her make me make my mom buy a cake instead of baking one for my birthday". So, for a sentence like this, which does make sense in English, I am still out to sea how to begin to say this in Japanese. Would I concatenate as in the first linked question させることをさせることをさせる? How do you make clear who is making whom do what?
    – A.Ellett
    Nov 6, 2023 at 18:46
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    This interests me, because "he made her make me make my mom buy a cake instead of baking one for my birthday" is very clear even on first listen to native English speakers, but seems very clunky to express in Japanese.
    – jogloran
    Nov 6, 2023 at 19:56
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    Another construction with similar discrepancy in difficulty is chaining relative clauses whose subject is the preceding sentence (e.g. ..., which means ..., which in turn means...). I find it quite handy in English. On the other hand, Japanese can chain negation (kind of playfully), which I believe is not possible in English (e.g., なくなくなくなくない; also なくもない )
    – sundowner
    Nov 7, 2023 at 6:02

1 Answer 1

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You would need a concrete verb, instead of just make, for the sister's action. My choice would be 言う, like tell in English, and this puts the speaker into the slot for the target, or indirect object, of that action, also marked with に but not as the agent in a causative relationship.

義理の弟が妹に私に[〜]言わせた。

Inside the brackets is the content of what the sister told the speaker to, again, tell their mother to do or not to do, and the inner-most causative relationship may appear here.

義理の弟が妹に私に[母親にケーキを自分で焼かないで買わせるように]言わせた。

We ended up with two simple causatives. So I think the first link does answer your question. You should avoid concatenated causatives.

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  • Ah! This is an interesting point that I hadn't thought about. The brother-in-law isn't making the sister bake. Good point. So, I would need to think about what the brother-in-law is making my sister do.
    – A.Ellett
    Nov 6, 2023 at 23:21
  • Avoiding concatenated causatives seems natural given that I never hear them used or see them in print. While in the end, I suppose I should agree with you about the first link answering my question, what you've pointed out, and makes your contribution worthwhile, is that in English there is an omission of what exactly is being omitted. It's as if the causation is transitive across the sister, me, and my mom. This is worth thinking about. The contribution you make is how in Japanese what exactly the brother-in-law is forcing (making) his wife (my sister) do must be made explicit.
    – A.Ellett
    Nov 6, 2023 at 23:24
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    @A.Ellett your use of "transitive" in the logical/mathematical sense in a language Q&A site caught me off guard.
    – jarmanso7
    Nov 7, 2023 at 16:50

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