As mentioned in this post,

が started as an attributive case particle, became a subject particle, and then turned into a conjunctive particle.

and in modern Japanese it has its main uses as both a conjunctive particle and a subject marker.

While the answer in that question covers its evolution from an attributive particle to a subject particle, how did the use as a conjunctive particle arise? If anything, I would expect "wa" to have evolved as the conjunctive particle instead of "ga" since it already plays a role in contrastive nuance.

  • This is a great question – and thanks for following up with that example from the source kandyman recommended. – Nanigashi Oct 2 '20 at 17:52

I would direct you to 'A History of the Japanese Language' (Frellesvig, 2010, p245) to see an explanation with examples. I must admit that his explanation is rather technical, but I have tried to paraphrase below.

According to the above source, the usage of が as a conjunctional particle emerged in Early Middle Japanese (EMJ). As you mention, が had previously been used as a subject marker. This subject marker function evolved to apply to cases in which a sentence had two clauses, one of which was a "headless nominalized clause" (a type of relative clause). Where が would previously have marked a noun head as the subject, it began to mark these headless clauses. Frellesvig claims that we can interpret the usage in two ways: (a) as が functioning to mark a type of relative clause, or (b) as が joining two coordinate clauses. It is (b) which we recognize as the conjunctive marker function that we see in Modern Japanese.

  • 2
    Thanks, that makes sense. I pulled up the source you cited, and it also offers the following example (from Genji: Makibashira) which helps makes things more concrete: >kami ito kiyora nite naga-kari-keru ga wake-tori-taru yau nite ochi hosorite >髪いと清らにて長かりける 分けとりたるやうにて落ち細りて Which can be interpreted in (a) as ga marking the headless nominalized clause "kami ito kiyora nite naga-kari-keru", or in (b) as ga serving as a conjunctive connecting the two clauses (cont. in next comment) – 1110101001 Oct 2 '20 at 0:40
  • 2
    a) "[Her] hair, which had been very beautiful and long, had fallen out and become thin as if it had been taken away" b) "Her hair had been very beautiful and long, but (now) it had fallen out and become thin as if it had been taken away." On headless nominalized clauses, the book later states (p. 364) "... nominalizing no took over the nominalizing functions of the OJ/EMJ (Old Japanese/Early Middle Japanese) adnominal and came to be used in all contexts where the OJ/EMJ adnominal formed headless nominalizations" – 1110101001 Oct 2 '20 at 0:40

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