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I recently started studying the 古事記. In the beginning of the modern translation, there is a piece of grammar which, while not terribly confusing in itself, still fascinates me. The whole sentence is as follows. I have bolded the relevant part.

 [臣安万侶]{しんやすまろ}が申し上げます。

そもそも宇宙の始めに、混沌とした根元がすでに固まって、まだ生成力も形も現れなかったころのことは、名づけようもなく動きも無く、誰もその形状を知るものはなかった。

If we look at the corresponding original passage:

臣安万侶[言]{まを}さく、[夫]{そ}れ混元既に[凝]{こ}りて、気象[未]{いま}だ[効]{あらわ}れず。 名も無く[為]{わざ}もなし。 誰か其の形を知らむ。

So the translation is evidently "[the shapeless fleeting state of the early universe] has no name", but the grammar of the modern translation, "名づけようもなく", is an interesting usage of the volitional form, making it sound more like "Nobody has ever bothered giving a name to [this]". I would be happy to hear a more experienced Japanese speaker's interpretation of it.

  • 6
    That よう is not this but this ≒ 方法. Not [なづけようもなく]{LHHHLLHL} but [なづけようもなく]{LHHHHHHL} – user1016 Oct 27 '14 at 22:50
  • なるほど! ありがとうございます! 大分当たったと思ったら大外れでしたね。笑 – Espen Nielsen Oct 27 '14 at 23:07
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In this case, it isn't the volitional form, but よう(様). See this entry in the 大辞泉, sense 2 and 6.

よう〔ヤウ〕【様】

2 方法。やり方。

6 動詞の連用形の下に付いて複合語をつくる。

  • ありさま、ようすなどの意を表す。

  • …する方法、…するやり方などの意を表す。

Therefore, 名づけようもなく could literally be interpreted as [there] not even being a way/possibility to name [it], .... Or shorter, it cannot be named or unnameable, which is just another way of stating [because] there is no name (名も無し). I suppose the translator chose this expression because it flows better with the rest of the sentence and the style.

For 一段 verbs there isn't any difference in form to the volitional, but consider these examples with 五段 verbs:

  • どうしようもなくさみしい夜だ。
  • 疑いようもなく幸福です。
  • 温泉の看板が出ていて迷いようもなく。
  • 陸軍の見せた音痴ぶりは、救いようもなく見事なものだった。
  • 河口近くで見た夕焼け空がまた、言いようもなく美しかった。
  • 見間違いようもない強烈な光を宿している。

These examples should also make it clear that this collocation means that there is not possibility/doubt about the verb action not taking place. But keep in mind it shouldn't always be translated literally.

かれは見るからに美しく優雅な生き物でしたが、何とも言いようがなく脆弱な感じでした。

He struck me as being a very beautiful and graceful creature, but indescribably frail.

H. G. Wells『タイムマシン』

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