Prior to the development of the な particle (presumably from なる) several hundred years ago, what constructions were used where な-construtions are currently used? E.g. in the phase きれいな女, would that have been きれいの女, 女のきれい, きれい女 (and would that be kireionna or kirei onna?), きれいなる女 or something else?

  • 3
    I think that なる is used.
    – ithisa
    Feb 1 '14 at 20:39
  • 1
    なり and たり conjugate like ラ変 verbs.
    – Zhen Lin
    Feb 2 '14 at 1:51
  • 1
    – user1016
    Feb 2 '14 at 15:58
  • 1
    @Chocolate 助詞というより助動詞かな?
    – Zhen Lin
    Feb 2 '14 at 18:25
  • 1
    Sorry, are you asking what developed into なる, or what developed into な?
    – dainichi
    Feb 3 '14 at 1:17

It is from なる, in a way; but it may not be the one you're thinking of. The なる here is the 連体形 of the former copula なり, which itself derives from に+あり (modern ある). This seems to have been the copula as far back as we have records of. Indeed, this kind of adjective is younger than the copula it uses - these kinds of adjectives do not occur before the Heian-jidai.

A couple of forms do appear that have since become them (e.g. adjectives ending in -らか), but I don't know how these were used - my source (Bentley's Descriptive Grammar of Old Japanese Prose) mentions their existence, but only says that these なり-based adjectives are new as of the Heian-jidai; it says nothing at all about how they were used in Old Japanese. I would speculate that they're used in the very old adjective patterns that require no morphology at all: so just like you can get /awo sora/ (/səra/?) where you would expect /awo-ki sora/, I bet you could get /tapiraka umi/ when later you would expect /taɸiraka=naru umi/ (for 平らかな海).

As for きれい, it's a Chinese loanword, and was loaned after the creation of these kinds of adjectives. So there was never a point in time before きれいなる女 - you would have used a native Japanese word like 美しい, and so you would have either /utukusi-ki womina/ or the older /utukusi womina/.

  • /utukusi/ would be the 終止形【しゅうしけい】 or terminal form, which only ended a sentence. As such, /utukusi womina/ would not be correct. The 連体形【れんたいけい】 or attributive form would have to be used for the adjective to directly precede a noun, which would have been /utukusiki/. This is already the case in the Man'yōshū, written starting some time between the 300s or 400s and finalized around the mid-700s. May 16 '14 at 22:23
  • Also, /awo/ and the other root Japanese color words (/aka/, /shiro/, /kuro/) are also nouns, so /awo sora/ is a compound of two nouns. /awoki/ as an adjective is indeed used, but not so much in set phrases, where the compound is the shorter and simpler formation. May 16 '14 at 22:26
  • Lastly, the -らか and -やか adjectives were formed by adding suffixes -ら and -や, with -か then later added on as another suffix. According to Shogakukan, both -ら and -や indicated "XX kind of state or circumstances". -ら may be related to pluralizing suffix -ら as in 我【われ】ら, which was also used to imply "[noun] kind of thing", and -や may be related to particle や, similarly used to imply "[noun] kind of thing". Final suffix -か also indicated "kind of state", and I've read theories that this is related to the -か, -こ, and -く suffixes indicating "place, area". May 16 '14 at 22:36
  • All that said, though, 平【たひ】ら is a compound of prefix た- (of indeterminate meaning, apparent emphasizer) and ひら "flat". たひらか is thus たひら + か, not たひ + らか. There was also a regular /-si/ adjectival form たひらけし, with adjectivizing suffix -けし apparently 気 + し, a bit like modern 気【げ】 + な. May 16 '14 at 22:50

As others have noted, the modern な particle used with -na adjectives evolved from なる, itself not the verb なる "to become", but instead a contraction of にある "to be in a state". So from newest form to oldest, using your example of きれい, we would have:

  • 綺麗な女
  • 綺麗なる女
  • 綺麗にある女

The -naru form is still used in modern poetry and other contexts to give things a somewhat archaic and formal sense, such as in 静{しず}かなる田舎{いなか}, the quiet contryside.

Although the classical -naru adjectives did indeed seem to develop mostly in the Heian period (794-1185), the construction of [noun phrase] + にある + [noun] can already be found in the Man'yōshū, dating to some time between the mid-300s and the mid-700s. Example:

  • Poem 165:
    宇都曽見乃 人尓有吾哉 従
    Here, utsusomi no hito is a noun phrase ("person in the real world", i.e. "someone who is still alive") used to modify ware ("I, me").

There is also at least one example I found of what may be an early -ni aru adjective in the Man'yōshū, 寛{ゆた}, classed in Shogakukan's Kokugo Dai Jiten as a 形容動詞{けいようどうし} (-na adjective):

  • Poem 2367:
    大舟之 由多尓将有 人兒由恵尓
    ...because [you're] the child of a person who is steadfast like a big ship
    Here, the phrase ohobune no yuta ("big ship's easygoing-ness / steadfastness / steadiness") is used to modify hito.

If you're interested in the history of -na adjectives, the 概要 section of the JA Wikipedia article on 形容動詞 describes how Heian-period writers suffixed -にあり (becoming -なり) and -とあり (becoming -たり) to nouns to create new classes of adjectives.

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