I am unhappy with the translation of grammatical 専門用語{せんもんようご}. The technical terms used to describe English and Japanese grammar should never overlap. I see words such as 名詞{めいし}=noun、動詞{どうし}=verb、形容詞{けいようし}=adjective、 carelessly interchanged.

English grammar that does not exist in the Japanese language:
Those grammar structures (relative pronouns / past participles / subjunctive mood) don't exist in Japanese. Therefore, those words can be strictly translated.

Japanese grammar not in English: 使役形{しえきけい}、形容動詞{けいようどうし}、助詞{じょし} So, those words can be strictly translated to English: "causitive form", "na-nominal", "particle".

Now, both languages have parts of speech that are similar in idea such as 動詞{どうし}/verb、形容詞{けいようし}/adjective、and 受身形{うけみけい}/passive voice. But, they are not the same!

動詞 = "verb"
yeah. Well sort of. But "verbs" have participles and "動詞" do not。Based on that alone, 動詞 should not translate to "verb".

形容詞 = "adjective"
Sure. That is the idea, but 形容詞 are inflectible. Adding "-ly" to many adjectives is sort of like an inflection that creates adverbs, but not always. 形容詞 is the general idea of an adjective, but it is not an "adjective".

So, aren't these better translations:
"動詞" translates to, based on surrounding context, "Japanese verb" or "English verb".
"verb" translates to, based on surrounding context "日本動詞{にほんどうし} or "英動詞{えいどうし}"

Basically, "動詞" is translated as "verb", but it is not a "verb". They are very, very, similar. However, I can put a "verb" into 12 (or so) tenses. A "動詞", only into 4 tenses. So, they are not the same. Linguistics is a science, and all science needs strict protocols to follow. Does anyone understand what I am rambling about?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Dono, Szymon, dainichi, Kaji, hippietrail Apr 25 '14 at 4:38

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    I may misunderstand but what exactly is the question here? It's pretty normal that e.g. verbs can have different modes, tenses, etc. in different languages. – Szymon Apr 25 '14 at 3:11
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    Following your logic, one would have to call "Portuguese verbs" instead of just verbs, simply because the portuguese language fails to have some conjugations that are present in English (e.g. Present Perfect). On the other hand, some verb tenses in Portuguese, when translating into English, requires the addition of some kind of modal verb (like would). The same idea is expressed by different mechanisms in different languages. I'm no linguist, but I think that what defines those parts of speech that you mentioned (verb, adjective, etc) is their function, regardless of their mechanism – Rodrigo Pará Apr 25 '14 at 3:57
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    That's why they have the same name, it doesn't matter whether japanese adjectives have inflections that doesn't exist in English (in fact, the English language ALSO has inflections: when using comparative adjectives, for example, which in japanese is expressed in a total different way); they still have the same role in a sentence, which is to describe a noun. – Rodrigo Pará Apr 25 '14 at 4:05
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    The vast majority of words do not have anything like a 1:1 mapping between any pair of two languages. The same goes for Latin, whence most of these terms came, into English. Once you realize translation can never, ever, be perfect you can get on with the job of communicating. These words are not special. – hippietrail Apr 25 '14 at 4:36
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is just a rant. – hippietrail Apr 25 '14 at 4:38

Linguistics is indeed a science, however every science has its fundamentals and standardized terms. To pull from chemistry, you don't hear scientists saying that you can't call iron and uranium both metals due to the fact that they have different properties (e.g. radioactivity). Where needed, you can indeed specify "non-radioactive metal" vs. "radioactive metal", but having slightly different properties does not change their categorization if the qualities that define the category are still there.

So it is with linguistic terminology. As used in English, we classify words in the following manner:

  • Verbs: action words
  • Nouns: people, places, things, or concepts
  • Adjectives: words that describe nouns
  • Adverbs: words that describe how an action is performed
  • Pronouns: words that take the place of nouns

As it turns out, this classification system works to classify a lot of words in Japanese as well. 動詞, as the characters themselves state, are action words. 名詞 are nouns. 形容詞 describe nouns and 代名詞 take their place.

Granted, there are cases where Japanese words can overlap across these boundaries (e.g. 形容動詞), but in those cases we coin new terms to explain the nuances and make them fit into the existing framework (e.g. "adjectival verbs", in this case)—we don't just throw the whole framework out and say that the two can't be compared.

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    Definitions like these aren't actually used by modern linguists. See Lexical Categorization in English Dictionaries and Traditional Grammars for some discussion. – snailboat Apr 25 '14 at 6:47
  • I addressed his concern over nouns by including "concepts" in my definition. Some of his other points I'm a bit hesitant about, personally (e.g. "good" functions as a noun [identifying a group, in this case], modified by "young", in his example of "The good die young." It's not a case of two adjectives and no nouns.). – Kaji Apr 25 '14 at 7:25

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