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I don't know if "part-of-speech" is the best term here, since it generally has a Western language orientation, but I am curious as to what function the word gegege has in reference to the TV show title GeGeGe no Kitarō. I asked my grandma—a native Japanese speaker—what exactly this meant. She said that it didn't really have a lexical or direct meaning in the same way a noun would. I take this to mean that the gegege is kind of there for the sake of being there and for how it sounds.

I've noticed that Japanese seems to have lots of interjections or onomatopoeic words which don't always have a direct and easily definable meaning (e.g. ねー, as in, ちょうっとーまって), but gegege seems to be even farther along the spectrum of easily definable words. Is there a grammatical category for such a word?

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    Part of speech is fine. In Japanese it's 品詞, but they refer to the same concept. – snailboat Sep 3 '16 at 17:52
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Apparently ゲゲゲ comes from the nickname ゲゲゲのしげる GeGeGe no Shigeru of the creator of the series Shigeru Mizuki, who pronounced his name げげる as a small child. (At least this seems to be the consensus of this 教えて!goo question, citing interviews with Mizuki broadcast on Japanese television.)

In other words, ゲゲゲ is a representation of child speech.

I think that ゲゲゲの鬼太郎 is probably understood as a quotation, as in 「ゲゲゲ」の鬼太郎, i.e. the kitarō, who (always) says 「ゲゲゲ」. Maybe a bit like "Howdy" John Smith—the John Smith, who always says "Howdy".

Functionally or formally, quotations behave like nouns and if we are indeed dealing with a case of "mention" rather than "use", it might not wouldn't really matter what part-of-speech ゲゲゲ were.

But ゲゲゲ itself is probably best considered an ideophone, i.e. some mysterious word class that records a particular sound. Something that's different from the parts-of-speech we know and love (verbs, adjectives, etc.).

  • I don't think 鬼太郎 the character says ゲゲゲ though? It's on the title and a catchy part of the theme song, but it's not his catchphrase – I mostly know the older iteration of the manga, not the anime; but I think it's not even his phrase, catch- or otherwise. – melboiko Sep 3 '16 at 20:40
  • I'm watching the 2007 anime adaptation right now and he calls himself ゲゲゲの鬼太郎. Other characters can also be seen saying "let's contact ゲゲゲの鬼太郎". Don't know about other versions. – kuchitsu Sep 3 '16 at 21:30
  • @leoboiko I meant that ゲゲゲ was an imitation of other people, imitating the sound and not that 水木しげる necessarily called himself ゲゲゲ... – Earthliŋ Sep 3 '16 at 22:05
  • @kuchitsu yeah he calls himself Gegege no Kitaro, that's like his title; but he's not characterized by saying Gegege, like the putative "John who always says Howdy". – melboiko Sep 3 '16 at 22:47
  • @Earthliŋ I'm not sure I follow, but there's a difference between the author, 水木しげる, and the character, the yōkai 鬼太郎 . the author used to mispronounce his own name as げげる when he was a toddler; he took inspiration from this to title his character, 鬼太郎 , with the nonsense word ゲゲゲ (which he himself said has no deeper meaning). but, the author didn't call the character しげる, and neither did he make 鬼太郎 be characterized by saying げげる or ゲゲゲ. – melboiko Sep 3 '16 at 22:50
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There are several issues here. First, let's review the “meaning” of Gegege; then let's think a bit more carefully about what does it mean to try to classify words as "parts of speech", and how does Gegege fit into them.

The word Gegege was created by Shigeru Mizuki based on the way he mispronounced his name as a toddler: Gegeru. So our first attempt could be to classify it as a noun, and intuitively it seems to fit. However, at the same time, it does have the general look-and-feel of a Japanese onomatopoeia, and doesn't seem to refer to something, like "Shigeru" refers to the author; and, in the iconic first-generation anime opening, ge-ge-ge appears to be sung by frogs. Given that the Japanese frog onomatopoeia is gero-gero, it's a fair bet that we can consider it to be an onomatopoia—or, more generally, a sound-symbolic word (also called “ideophone”, “phonomime”, “mimetic word” etc. etc.; Japanese: 擬態語 gitaigo)—that is, a word where the sound of the word itself suggests a feeling, manner or sensation (auditory or otherwise). As a sound-symbolic word, to me at least Gegege feels croaky, critter-y, monster-y, perhaps somewhat yucky (cf. ゲー , a vomit onomatopoeia).

Now, what is it that you want to know when you ask what “part of speech” or “grammatical category” it is? Traditional parts of speech terms, like “noun” or “verb”, have two different and independent usages. The first is formal: it tells how the word relates to other words, more or less mechanically; how it inflects (or doesn't), where can it be inserted… For example, in English, only a noun may follow “the”:¹ you can say “the frog” but not “*the sing” or “*the of”. In Japanese, only a nominal (体言 taigen) may be followed by no. So Gegege is a noun, because it's followed by no; end of story.² If the title was Gegege na Kitaro, then Gegege would be a na-adjective; if it was Gegegeru Kitaro it would be a verb, etc. So we define noun “distributionally”; that is, based on how “noun” words are distributed in actual use among other words.

Please notice that this definition of "parts of speech" has nothing to do with meaning. It treats words as abstract pieces in a game board, and identify word classes by what rules they follow when combining with each other.

A different, older, and fuzzier definition of parts of speech is based on meanings: for example, nouns are "things", adjectives are "attributes" of the things, and verbs are "actions" ("to kick"), "events" ("to die") or "states" ("to like") of the things. This makes intuitive sense, but it's easy to see that this definition is squishy and not very clear:

  • A bomb exploded yesterday.
  • There was an explosion yesterday.

The verb "exploded" and the noun "explosion" are referring to the same event. (Many nouns refer to events, including "kiss", "death", seppuku and so on.)

  • I only kiss hunks.
  • I only kiss them if they're manly.

Here the adjective "manly" points to the same thing as the noun "hunk".

We can avoid this problem if we say that nouns usually or typically refer to "things", verbs to "events", and adjectives to "attributes". What's more, if we want to use a noun as a property or an event, we may have to add extra stuff to it: "man" → "manly", "manning" etc. But we never need to annotate or "mark" a noun to denote a thing, a verb an event, or an adjective a property. This insight is due to Croft, who distinguishes (formal, distributional) nouns, verbs and adjectives from (semantic) Objects, Events and Properties; the former typically denote the latter, but not necessarily.

It should now be clear that Gegege is, formally, a noun; but that doesn't mean that, semantically, it must refer to an Object (and it doesn't; it's sound-symbolic). -ne is an entirely different beast; you can't say *ne no Kitaro, *ne da etc.; it always comes at the end of phrases, so it's a phrasal postposition (literally something "positioned after phrases"; Japanese: 終助詞 shūjoshi). And, semantically, it's a discourse helper, comparable to English tag questions like "isn't it?"; it doesn't refer to things, but rather express the speaker's attitude to what they're saying, or the discourse modality.


Footnotes:

1) You can also say things like "the beautiful people", where an adjective follows "the"; but this is because the sequence [beautiful people] works, for all intents and purposes, just like a noun, and can be used wherever a noun can ("they are the Englishmen" → "they are the [beautiful people]"), etc. It's a "noun phrase".

And what about things like "the good, the bad and the ugly", which have no apparent nouns? I think you'd agree that, intuitively, it feels like putting the word "ugly" after a "the" makes it into a noun, precisely because "the" expects a noun.

2) There's a small set of strange words which may take no but are not nouns, like kanari "considerably" or tobitobi "here and there". We can identify those distributionally because, unlike nouns, they don't occur as a subject marked by -ga or as an object marked by -wo. I set aside the trickier cases for simplicity. Incidentally, it's easy to find ゲゲゲ as a standalone noun (marked with を/が) on the Internet; but in those cases it seems to be a simple abbreviation for 『ゲゲゲの鬼太郎』.

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