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In the song あの夢をなぞって (Ano Yume o Nazotte), the third line is

音の無い二人だけの世界で聞こえた言葉は「好きだよ」.

The translations to English give this as some variation of

In that soundless world with only two of us, the words I heard were "I like you"

Which parses the sentence like: (音の無い) (二人だけの世界), which I completely agree with. However, (音の無い二人)だけの世界 also seems possible to me.

The main question is: is there a concrete grammatical reason why 二人だけの世界 is modified as a whole unit, if so what is it?

I also wonder could one rewrite it so that 音の無い naturally applies to just 二人 in stead of the entire phrase?

So far, my thoughts on the subject:

  • Is there some precedence given to the possessive の, for example you tend to (or must?) group things with の before applying adjectives ?
  • 二人だけの世界 is a relatively common "set phrase" and it feels unnatural to me to break it up in this way. Could that be the only reason? Is that even a valid reason?
  • Is the particle だけ somehow responsible?
  • According to this answer, as well as other people I've heard online, Japanese modifiers tend to modify "As little as possible" and "As close as possible" which in this case appears contrary to the actual sentence.
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  • I think syntactically both are definitely possible, but the parse of a sentence is not only predicated upon the syntax but also semantics.
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Nov 21, 2021 at 2:45
  • Thanks @EddieKal for your reply and for adding the relative-clauses tag, which I'll now go and explore. I got a response from a native who said they felt like 二人だけ is its own freestanding word, whereas I was trying to interpret it as 二人 and the particle だけ. This would clarify everything.
    – Caden M
    Commented Nov 21, 2021 at 3:54
  • 音のない世界 and 二人だけの世界 are commonly collocated phrases, but 音のない二人 makes little sense. In this case, you have to use the "less compact" parsing strategy. So did you read this answer?
    – naruto
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 5:11

1 Answer 1

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Regarding the particular phrase, simply because '音の無い二人' does not make sense (as an ordinary Japanese phrase) and '音のない世界' is quite natural, '(音の無い) (二人だけの世界)' is the only possibility.

Generally there remain ambiguities on which adjective (etc) modifies which nouns. A famous example is '黒い目のきれいな女の子'. There are many possible readings for this (18 ways attributed to Hisashi Inoue, a famous writer, by this page).

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