I am trying to understand how the plain form is used in novels set in the past through the explanations in the paper referenced below. I wonder if someone could explain how we should understand the Japanese version of the following examples:
(1) hirota-san wa hige no sita kara ha o dasite warat-TA.
(2) wariai kireina ha o motte-i-RU/??motte-i-TA.
(1) Mr. Hirota SMILED showing his teeth below his moustache.
(2) He’D GOT good-looking teeth.
(1) “odeni narimasen ka” to kiku to, sensei wa sukosi warai nagara, mugon no mama kubi o yoko ni hut-TA.
(2) kodomo no yoona syosa o su-RU/??si-TA.
(1) “Wouldn’t you like to go out?” asked Sanshiro, and then Sensei smiled faintly and SHOOK his head without saying a word.
(2) That WAS a childlike gesture.
(1) “osida,” to singo wa tubuyai-TA.
(2) gyatto itta semi to wa tiga-U.
(1) “This one’s mute,” Shingo MUTTERED.
(2) It WAS different from the one that had sung so loudly.
My limited understanding is that:
- ta-form are main sentences about the foreground, plain form are about the background.
- In each case the English translation places the plain form sentence in the past tense and makes it part of the author's narrative but, as the paper explains, this is wrong. You lose the perspective of being there, conveyed by the plain form.
- In sentence 2 of example 24 the past tense does not work, but I am not sure why.
- Again in example 2 of example 25 past tense does not work, but I am not sure why.
- Sanshiro seems to be "thinking" sentence 2 of example 25 but I am not really sure.
- English translations do always help. Sometimes they feel unnatural. For example, in the second sentence of "Example 25", I am not sure why the author has used "That" instead of "It". "It" (as used in sentence 2 of "Example 29") would have been more natural if the sentence was written from the author's perspective. "That" would fit if sentence was from Sanshiro's perspective, but if it his unspoken observation or the narrative has switched, how are we supposed to tell?, what is the convention? There is a bit more to it than just: background, plain form = time of utterance.
- In example 29 we are told that sentence two is the "voice" of Shingo's: Are these his actual thoughts or observations, or even just what he could observe? I am confused.
My guess is that:
Possibly this writing can be likened to the frames in a US-Comic book(?) where:
- The authors narrative appears in the rectangular boxes?,
- the ta-form sentences represent the words appearing in speech bubbles?
- The plain form sentences refer to the images/pictures and the thoughts appearing in the "thought bubbles"?
But, I don't really know if this works. I have struggled with explanations in the paper (link below) but if somebody could explain in simple terms how to interpret the plain form sentences above I should be grateful.
Paper: TENSE-ASPECT CONTROVERSY REVISITED: THE -TA AND -RU FORMS IN JAPANESE Yoko Hasegawa; Link to paper: http://hasegawa.berkeley.edu/Papers/Hasegawa99.pdf