I have a problem with the following sentence from Saito's Japanese Folktales for Language Learners: Legends and Fables in Japanese and English. I'm interested in breaking down the sentence syntactically.

(Context: in a tale, a couple of mice have finally had a child).


The translation given in the book is as follows:

The new parents thought their daughter was the most beautiful mouse in the world, raised her with love and attention and gave her the best of everything, whatever it was.

My translation, more literal:

The pair of mice, who had become mouse-parents, considered their daughter to be the most beautiful thing in the world, and gave her the best, whatever that might be, educating her with lots and lots of love and attention.

This sentence is made up of two clauses(a,b) ending in -は, a (c) dependent clause ending in 思{おも}い (ren'yōkei), another (d) dependent clause ending in 与{あた}え (another ren'yōkei) and (e) finally a main proposition:

  • (a) 親{おや}鼠{ねずみ}になったこの鼠{ねずみ}夫婦{ふうふ}は
  • (b) 自分{じぶん}たちの娘{むすめ}は
  • (c) 世{よ}の中{なか}のでいちばん美{うつく}しいと思{おも}い、
  • (d) 何{なん}でも最高{さいこう}の物{もの}を与{あた}え、
  • (e) 大{だい}事{じ}に大{だい}事{じ}に育{そだ}てました。

My question is about the two clauses in -は:

Is correct to say that

  • the first clause in -は (親{おや}鼠{ねずみ}になったこの鼠{ねずみ}夫婦{ふうふ}は) is the subject of the three clauses (...思{おも}い、...与{あた}え、...育{そだ}てました。
  • and that the second clause in -は is the subject of いちばん美{うつく}しい ?

Is my grammatical analysis correct? This is the first time I've come across this structure with two clauses in -は in a sentence.


1 Answer 1


I agree that you generally have split the sentence into the right pieces. Certainly you understand the overall meaning correctly. However, structurally I would "bracket" your b) and c). 「自分たちの娘は世の中のでいちばん美しい」 is an indirect quotation, which functions as an object (that which was thought) for 思う (inflected to 思い here). As a quotation, it works as a stand-alone sentence, with its own は. (It's possible to use double-は "directly" in a sentence that doesn't involve quotation; but I can't make sense of such an interpretation here.)

The outer は, meanwhile, goes with the main verb 育てました. (I don't think "educate" is a good gloss for 育 here, because of the context of the already established parent-child relationship.)

marks a topic; from the perspective of traditional Western grammatical analysis at least, it doesn't mark a subject (that's what が is for), but a concept marked as a topic can implicitly fill that role (and often does, and often it's idiomatic to do so deliberately instead of specifying a subject explicitly).

Pedantically, I think your English grammatical terminology is off. Particles like は mark a noun phrase. A clause requires a predicate. So e) is the main clause; b) and c) together form one secondary clause; and d) is another secondary clause. a), as a topic, implies the common subject of all of these clauses: it's the same two mice who had the thought, gave the nice things and raised the daughter. The combination of b) and c) has an internal structure where the quotation is a direct object for the predicate 思う (inflected to 思い). In turn, that quotation has a single clause with an (implied) subject of [自分たち=鼠夫婦]の娘 and a predicate いちばん美しい.

More literally (in a way that will make a lot of older anime fans cringe), I render it:

"As for this mouse-couple who had become mouse-parents: thinking 'as for our daughter, she is the most beautiful in the world', and giving her whatever are the best things, they attentively, attentively raised her."

  • Why does that make old anime fans cringe?
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Apr 28 at 22:21
  • 1
    @aguijonazo I'm reflecting an older attitude towards literalism, using specific formulas (like "as for" to translate the particle は) that I understand to be quite cliche. Commented Apr 29 at 0:17

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