Recently I looked up an explanation for 文節【ぶんせつ】 on here 国語文法, which I learned are the phrases/units that make up sentences while theoretically still standing on their own out of context.

During that explanation they used the concept of ネ・サ・ヨ to illustrate their points, by separating each 文節 of a sentence with one of these. E.g.


I didn't understand why at first as this seemed rather specific for an arbitrary separator, so I searched for other mentions of ネ・サ・ヨ on the net. What I found was only a mention of some movement around 1958 in some elementary schools to avoid using these sounds at the end of sentences, as they were supposedly not part of standard language. See here.

From that I pieced together that in the initial 文節 explanation ネ・サ・ヨ were used because conceptionally they could be appended at the end of each basic phrase in a sentence so Japanese people might have a natural feel for what a phrase/文節 is.

That's all just my limited speculation however, thus my question:
Is ネ・サ・ヨ used with any frequency in Japanese grammar explanations, and if yes, to what end?

  • Is there a way to bold the last line? I tried the stars, and the b html-tag in various placements but at most only ネ・サ・ヨ gets bolded. – vruvre Jan 29 '18 at 7:28
  • 1
    Yeah, I think there's a CSS problem that's making italics/bold not work on Latin letters at the moment, at least in Chrome and Firefox on my desktop computer. The bold all shows up in Safari on my iPhone. I posted a bug report: japanese.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1807/… – snailboat Jan 29 '18 at 8:18

ネ・サ・ヨ (and ナ) are basically meaningless fillers. See: What does さあ (saa) mean? Some of the fillers are indeed dialectal, but at least ネ and サ are fairly commonly used in conversations in modern standard Japanese. In English, fillers sometimes come between a preposition and a noun (e.g., "at, you know, school", "in spite of, well, his opinion"), but in Japanese you cannot insert a filler between a noun and a case particle.

I think all students learn "trying to insert ネ is a quick way to separate 文節" at grammar classes at around 7th grade or so. As you can see, people who try to explain 文節 of 国語文法 would usually explain this method, too. Of course this method works only for those who are already fluent Japanese speakers, though. IMEs convert hiragana sentences into kanji by separating 文節 first, so I believe most Japanese people roughly remember the idea of 文節 they learnt at school.

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