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I encountered this phrase and after a bit of Googling, it seems to describe the action of crowding around a particular thing or object (people crowding around someone, trees crowding around a building) but doesn't 取り囲む itself also describe that action? Does omitting the 周囲 change the effect of its use in sentences or is it more similar to an idiomatic set phrase?

The sentence i saw it in was:

周囲を取り囲むように大勢の学生が集まっている。

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    There's also 周囲を取り巻く. – snailboat Feb 7 '15 at 21:47
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Japanese motion verbs utilize the particle を for both object and place the action takes place. So you can equally say:

彼を取り囲む。
周囲を取り囲む。
彼の周囲を取り囲む。

but not:

× 彼を周囲を取り囲む。 (same case particle cannot be repeated in one clause)

In my opinion, the 周囲を取り囲む version has slightly more "completely surrounded" nuance, but it barely matters in the usual case. Also, the 周囲 can be used as good as a "dummy noun" to bypass obvious pronouns like him, her, it etc. in English. We hate pronouns.

If you'd look for similar expressions in Japanese, they abound:

上を見上げる
後ろを振り返る
下に落ちる
前に進む

Of course, you don't want to translate them literally.

enter image description here
(from http://www.inquisitr.com/6826/for-restrooms-go-back-toward-your-behind/)

  • I upvoted, though where is the proof that 周囲 could be a "dummy noun"????????? Ex, when you speak "ビルの周囲", that denotes the space surrounding the building. As I said, I bet this would be the crowd of people itself, = mass = since it is like a far stretching fence. So like you said, it comes to denote "completely surrounding". – Kentaro Tomono Feb 12 '15 at 15:17
  • It might sound to you as a "dummy noun", however it is not. Why it sounds you so could be because the size of the "space" is not specified. If it is a dummy noun, it is so categorized in the dictionary too. kotobank.jp/word/%E5%91%A8%E5%9B%B2-526234. However, sorry, it is not. So it denotes "surround certain but unspecified size of space" – Kentaro Tomono Feb 12 '15 at 15:24
  • So, for example, we say, "周囲4kⅿに渡り”, denoting "expanding 4 square kilo meters", this implies the word 周囲 does not specify the size of itself. – Kentaro Tomono Feb 12 '15 at 15:41
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    I don't think any dictionary categorize something as "dummy", because it's function rather than grammar. You know, we say "live a life", "dance a dance" or "laugh a laugh" in English, where the latter nouns are almost empty in meaning. I tried to explain these kind of matters with "dummy", in analogy of dummy pronouns. – broccoli forest Feb 13 '15 at 6:08
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    Yes, I know about the "dummy pronouns", like "I think it is nice for you to play here"'s "it". And what is the relationship between the question and the photo you uploaded??? – Kentaro Tomono Feb 13 '15 at 8:22
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Does omitting the 周囲 change the effect of its use in sentences or is it more similar to an idiomatic set phrase?

 Yes. Since 取り囲む is a verb, and it is a transitive verb ( you can imagine easily, I think ), so the object is necessary.

Now, onto 周囲

Please take a look at here

http://okjiten.jp/kanji676.html the word 周

Here is how the Kanji 周 was born. You can see the 4 blocks. And you can see also

成り立ち 指事文字です。「方形の箱などの器物 に彫刻が一面に施された」象形から、 「あまねく・ゆきわたる」を意味する 「周」という漢字が成り立ちました。

Translation :

How was the Kanji made?

This is 指示文字 ( I do not know the corresponding English, sorry ( But here http://okjiten.jp/kanji1.html we can learn the 4 patters how Kanji was created ). From the pictograph that looks like a rectangular container or other tools sculptures are decorated outside, the Kanji 周, denoting "all over, far spreading" was made.

the word 囲

http://okjiten.jp/kanji630.html

成り立ち 形声文字です。「周辺を取り囲む線」 の象形(「めぐらす」の意味)と 「ステップの方向が違う足の象形と 場所を示す文字」(「ここでは、 「かこむ」の意味)から、「かこい めぐらす」を意味する「囲」という 漢字が成り立ちました。

Translation

This is 形成文字. From an ideograph denoting "a line surrounding an object" ( enclosure ) and another expression "footage each pointing different directions" the Kanji 囲む  denoting "to build a fence" was made.

So, 周囲 is ”far spreading fence ( field ).”

So, when we say ビルの周囲, we mean "the vicinity of the building" due to the derivation from above, like a fence circling the building.

When you say, 周囲を取り囲む, sure, as you say

it seems to describe the action of crowding around a particular thing or object (people crowding around someone,

when people crowd, it becomes a "mass", right? So

ex:(人々の)周囲を取り囲む surrounding people ( of some kind ).

Have a nice Sunday.

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