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I just came across the phrase そこはかとなく, which weblio translates as:

特にどこがどうと言うわけではないが、雰囲気として感じられる様子などを表す表現。
Expresses the idea of feeling something as a mood, and not for any particular reason.

This page proposes that the phrase originates from something like 其処は彼となく, that is, "in such a way that that thing there is not a certain person". This seems plausible, but my confusion was when I looked into the reading for the phrase.

It seems that the は is to be read literally as ha, and not as the particle は wa, which seems totally unexpected.

My question: Is は really read as ha in this phrase? And if so, is it actually the topic marker read in an unusual way, or is it something else entirely?

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  • Ah, yes. I linked to this Chiebukuro question already in my question above.
    – jogloran
    Sep 17 at 7:58
  • Ah, sorry! So the linked chiebukuro question suggests this は may not be the particle-wa, but I don't have any good source. I hope someone who owns a large authoritative directionary has a good answer for this.
    – naruto
    Sep 17 at 11:16
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From an ordinary modern speaker's point of view,

  • It is pronounces sokohakatonaku; and
  • There is absolutely no awareness that the は is a topic marker.

新明解語源辞典 supports the 2nd option of the linked chiebukuro answer : そこはかと = そこ(pronoun) + はか (目当て)+ と, based on the fact that 日葡辞書 has an entry for socofacato, so that は is not a particle (because it would be socowacato if it is).

I'm not sure to what extent this argument is valid. そこはかと seems to appear already in the tale of Genji (11th century) while 日葡辞書 was compiled 1603-04. It could be that the etymology was simply forgotten by then.


Personal opinion:

  • Even before looking up all these, I pronounce it like そこ/はかと/なく
  • The accents are the same: そこ[はかと]{HHL} and [はかが]{HHL}いく (which uses the same はか=目当て).
  • The accent is different for 其処[は彼]{LH}となく (according to me)

I know nothing about how the accents have changed over these 1000+ years, and the above may not be good reasons, but anyway I そこはかとなく feel that this theory looks more plausible.

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  • Huh, I always hear it as そこはかとなく{LHHHHHL} or そこ{LH}・[はかとなく]{LHHHL} Sep 17 at 16:25
  • 1
    FWIW, the big 国語大辞典 from Shogakukan has an entry for そこはかとなし, which clarifies that this is composed of そこはかと and なし, which is apparently the regular negative. They also have an entry for そこはかと, which in turn clarifies that this is composed of pronoun そこ and はか with the meaning of 目当て that the Shinmeikai mentions. My local copy of Daijirin shows a pitch accent of 【6】, indicating [そこはかとない]{LHHHHHL}. Sep 17 at 17:31
  • Interesting. I had no idea there was a vocabulary item はか meaning 目当て. That would explain why it's pronounced the way it is.
    – jogloran
    Sep 17 at 20:05
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    @DariusJahandarie I think you're right. Corrected. I followed the dictionary はか=目当て, but the modern はかがいく means make good progress. はか is written 量/計/果/捗. Maybe you know 捗る, which should have the same root.
    – sundowner
    Sep 17 at 23:04

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