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A simple example:

日本語勉強時間

In theory, there could be several interpretations possible:

[日本語勉強] 時間

日本語 [勉強時間]

[日本語] [勉強] [時間]

Are there any general rules on how to deal with this kind of ambiguity?

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    Your example is a bit weird, but in general the answer is context. This kind of ambiguity exists in English as much as it does in Japanese, but rarely is it not obvious what is meant from the context. Commented Jan 3, 2021 at 15:45
  • 1
    Possibly related: japanese.stackexchange.com/q/46817/5010 (I can think of only one sane interpretation of this phrase...)
    – naruto
    Commented Jan 3, 2021 at 16:03
  • Thanks, @naruto, that really helped. Commented Jan 3, 2021 at 16:07

1 Answer 1

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It depends.

(A's B)'s C:

  • 財布の中の500円玉
    a 500 yen coin in the wallet
  • パパのパパのパパ
    dad's dad's dad
  • 不思議の国のアリス
    Alice in Wonderland
  • 日本語の勉強の時間
    time to study Japanese

A's (B's C):

  • 大阪の道の駅
    Roadside stations in Osaka
  • ニューヨークの自由の女神
    The Statue of Liberty in New York
  • 円周率の3番目の数字
    the third digit of π

Whatever 🤷:

  • 今日の東京の天気
    today's weather in Tokyo / weather in Tokyo today
  • 本物の恐竜の写真
    pictures of real dinosaurs / real pictures of dinosaurs
  • ピンク色の熊のぬいぐるみ
    pink stuffed bear / stuffed pink bear

Ambiguous:

  • ハワイの宝の地図
    the map of Hawaiian Treasure / the treasure map in Hawaii
  • 彼の親についての話
    his story about parents (in general) / story about his parents
  • ピンク色の犬の尻尾
    the pink tail of a dog / the tail of a pink dog

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