Finding questions about the meaning of という isn't too hard, but the answers tend to revolve around its usage before a word particle or something, such as in ということ. However there's a sentence in a children's book - おむすびコロリン - where several words are said, then という, then a comma, then several more words:


という doesn't seem to be a special expression unto itself, not without help. But if you try to treat it as と and then 言う, how is that grammatically possible right before a comma? i.e., why wouldn't it be といい、 というと、 or といって?


Something that just occurred to me: could it be that, despite where that comma is placed, いう is still ultimately modifying 打ち出の小槌, as in "a nursery-tale-magic-mallet that is said to bring forth anything which one desires"? If so, the comma seems kind of surprising, but they are used a little bit differently.

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    Japanese comma is not tied with grammar. Yes, it could be used to disambiguate grammatical structure, but as often as not it's just a pause mark. Oct 21, 2016 at 3:34
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    @broccoliforest : Elocutionary grammar is grammar as much as any other kind, as I mentioned in this comment. Oct 21, 2016 at 4:44
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    @TrevorAlexander I agree. Of course people wouldn't insert pauses for no reason. What I meant was that it's not bounded by what we taught "grammar", which is an abstract notion that doesn't necessarily have reflection in utterances. Oct 21, 2016 at 6:14

4 Answers 4



The short answer is that it doesn't affect how the sentence is parsed.

It's best to abandon expectations that (may) come from English when interpreting these things. There are so many more options for punctuation marks in Japanese that any attempt at mapping is bound to fail by exhaustion.

Instead, consider this:

"The concept of rhetorical punctuation was originally developed by Simpson (1911) in his study of Shakespearian punctuation. Simpson notes that the English punctuation system has undergone significant changes over the past three hundred years. During the seventeenth century, punctuation was a flexible system primarily used for for expressing 'subtle differences of tone' (Simpson 1911: 10) and it was based on rhyme. In contrast, modern punctuation is, or at least attempts to be, 'logical' (Simpson 1911: 11)." (Senko K. Maynard, Linguistic Creativity in Japanese Discourse. John Benjamins, 2007)

In other words, early modern English punctuation was primarily for guiding the reader/speaker through the sense of the statement as it would be spoken. I've also heard it called "elocutionary grammar" for this reason.

This is far more accurate a description of the role of punctuation in Japanese--and isn't it interesting that the author of that segment is a professor of Japanese linguistics, writing on the same?





修辞学的句読点という概念は、シンプソンという学者の、シェークスピアが用いた句読点の分析に由来する(Simpson 1911)。シンプソンの研究によれば、過去300年にわたって、英語の句読点の使い方が著しく変化してきているのである。17世紀には、「口調の微差」を表現することが主な使い道で(Simpson 1911: 10)、[脚韻]{きゃくいん}に基づいていた。一方、現代的句読点の使い方は「理屈的」である(とされる)(Simpson 1911: 11)。



  • @chocolate さん、編集ありがとうございます。間違いだらけで申し訳ありませんm(__)m Oct 21, 2016 at 6:11
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    Do you want to make your Japanese portion almost equivalent to English? I mean, there are some gaps between them in current state. Oct 21, 2016 at 6:42
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    ^ "tone" の訳ですよね‥「意味合い」じゃなくて・・・「調子」?「口調」とか?
    – Chocolate
    Oct 21, 2016 at 7:48

Japanese comma, unlike that in English, isn't utilized on orthographic demand, but a more direct rendering of oral articulation.

Usually, a comma denotes a short pause, or a boundary of prosodic units (i.e. the stretch a single legato of intonation extends to). Thus, you might see a great variance in frequency that commas are used among Japanese writers, likely reflecting their own everyday style of speaking.

Actually, putting a comma between という and the modified phrase isn't that rare when the modified part doesn't go in a single 文節 (roughly a-word-plus-succeeding-particles-long unit), because you might need to carve out a new prosodic unit for a longer word (or, a semantic chunk). Here, 打ち出の小づち literally contains multiple words to mean "mallet of shake-them-out", so it's reasonable to put a break before saying this overlong name.

Another factor, it's merely my conjecture, is that this is probably the first occurrence of 打ち出の小づち in this story. When you introduce a new name, it becomes more natural to set a pause before the saying the word. In this case, you could also rewrite it in another way:



Something that just occurred to me: could it be that, despite where that comma is placed, いう is still ultimately modifying 打ち出の小槌, as in

  • "a nursery-tale-magic-mallet that is said to bring forth anything which one desires"?

That sounds right.

In children's books, (because there are so many Hiraganas), commas are often over-used.

Sometimes, Hankaku-spaces (半角スペース) are used too. -- This is called 分かち書き

https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/わかち書き --- わかち書き(わかちがき)とは、文章において語の区切りに空白を挟んで記述することである。分かち書き・分ち書き・別ち書きとも表記する。


If you search と言う in the dictionary, you will see that it also has the meaning of as much as/as many as when used after a quantity. This would be my best bet.

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    I'm afraid but that's not the case here... という as "as much as / as many as" is used this way: 「3万という数の~」(=3万もの数の~)「何万人という群衆」(=何万人もの群衆). The という discussed in this thread means "is said to~", "they say~".
    – Chocolate
    Oct 21, 2016 at 6:07

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