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While reading a JP children's book, I found this sentence:

顔は、ところどころ、味噌をつけたようまだらで、くちばしは、平たくて、耳までさけています

which I roughly understand as:

[As for its] face, here and there, [it has ] spots/speckles like pickled miso, [as for its] beak [it is] flat up to [its] ears [and is] dividing the spotted appearance.

I don't fully understand the relationship between the bolded nouns/adjectives and the verb.

(1) Is 味噌をつけたようにまだらで read as:

  1. "Appearance of pickled miso spots"
  2. "Appearance of pickled miso in spots (places)"
  3. "Spotted appearance of pickled miso"
  4. "Spots like (similar to) pickled miso" << My reading
  5. "Spots like [it was] covered in miso << Alternate verb 付ける instead of 漬ける

(2) What's the relationship between まだら, つけたよう and さけています? Should it be read as:

  1. "Dividing the spotted appearance"
  2. "Dividing the appearance with spots"
  3. "Dividing the spots in/of the appearance"

For the record, I'm familiar with what で and に are (as particles), but I'm still inexperienced with their real-world use. (This is only my 3rd book).

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「顔{かお}は、ところどころ、味噌{みそ}をつけたようにまだら、くちばしは、平{ひら}たくて、耳{みみ}までさけています。」

First, the sentence structure. This sentence talks about two features of a creature.

1) its face

2) its beak

Thus, the 「で」 right in the middle is the 連用形{れんようけい} ("continuative form") of the auxiliary verb 「だ」. This 「で」 is not a particle. The 連用形 is being used because the sentence still continues after talking about the first of the two features that the author intends to talk about. For translation, a plain "and" should work nearly every time.

Next, the vocabulary.

つける」 here is 「付ける」 and not 「漬ける」, so there is no mention of "pickled miso" in the sentence, I assure you. 「付ける」, in this context, would be best translated as "smear". So, we have "smeared with miso".

さける」 in this sentence is 「裂ける」. 「耳までさけている」 thus means "(the beak) extends from ear to ear".

Put it altogether, my own TL would be:

"Its face has spots here and there as if smeared with miso and its beak is flat and it extends from ear to ear."

  • [1]So the で in this case is the て form of the na-adjective? i.e. guidetojapanese.org/learn/complete/verb_sequences [2]Also, since 裂ける targets くちばし, the preceding に is irrelevant to that verb, right? I had learned that ように means to "do B (a verb) towards the manner of A" e.g. タバコを-A-吸わないように-B-する = Try to not smoke cigarettes. But 裂ける is the only remaining verb and I don't see how it relates to つけたよう. What purpose is the に serving here if it isn't a particle for 裂ける? – Hyperglyph Feb 16 '18 at 6:13
  • This ように is simply the adverbal form of ような meaning "like", "similar to". So for instance the basic チーターのような人 "a cheetah-like person" becomes チーターのように速い人 "a person who is fast like a cheetah" or チーターのように走る人 "a person who runs like a cheetah". The な adjectival form changes to the adverbal form に when it modifies a verb "走る" or adjective "速い" rather than a noun "人". In the same way, 味噌をつけたようにまだらだ "spotty like it had been smeared with miso" uses the adverbal form because the ように comparison phrase is modifying the adjective まだらだ. It could equally be phrased as 味噌をつけたような顔 if you omit the adjective. – Ben Roffey Feb 16 '18 at 11:01
  • Ah, of course. I understand now. I knew ように was an adverb but I'd totally forgotten that an adverb can modify adjectives... not JUST verbs. Kinda ironic that forgetting my English grammar messed up my Japanese. Thank you all for your help. – Hyperglyph Feb 16 '18 at 21:26
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Some quick thoughts to try to help guide you.

  • Miso itself is not something that one pickles. Miso is already pickled, in a sense, as it is created by fermenting and mashing soybeans (and/or rice and other grains).
  • The で in the middle could be interpreted here as the conjunctive or て form of the copula だ / です. This construction basically means "[thing before] is, and ...", as a means of connecting two sentences.
  • After the で in the middle, there's a comma, and then the next noun phrase is marked by a new instance of は -- introducing a new topic. Consequently, the final verb さける applies to this new topic -- in this case, to the くちばし.

See if the above gives you any insight into how to understand your sample Japanese sentence, and let us know how it goes.

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