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I've always taken this to be the -te form of だ. My reasoning is similar to the discussion given here:

What's the use of で in 「日本の食べ物で大好きなものは何?」

However, I ran this by a native speaker, and she strongly felt that the で should be understood as an abbreviation of ・・・の中で. (But perhaps that で is itself still understandable as the -te form of だ. In fact, I have the feeling that it is.)

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

  • It is an equivalent of 「の中で」, not an abbreviation of it. – l'électeur Feb 27 '16 at 0:55
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Treating で as の中で:

Among/in Japanese foods, as for the most liked thing, what is it?

Treating で as て-form of だ:

It is Japanese food and, as for the most liked thing, what is it?

To me the first interpretation makes perfect sense. The second interpretation doesn't work. What is it? It's Japanese food. We just said so.

  • 4
    The second one can be taken as "what is a thing which you like and which is Japanese food?". – user4092 Feb 26 '16 at 1:37
  • Thanks for the replies, everyone. Glad I'm not the only one who has interpreted it that way. I think the resistance I felt to calling it the particle で was due to the fact that it was hard to think of other examples where the particle performs quite the same role. However, on further thought, the で from something like 世界で一番有名 is doing exactly the same thing, and this feels well and truly impossible to interpret as the -te form of だ. (Perhaps this might be called a "scoping role" for で.) – どっかのおっさん Feb 27 '16 at 19:57

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