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It is known to Japanese learners that the Japanese verb isn't affected by the subject (number or gender). Today, a linguistics professor of my university told me he heard from his teacher that ancient Japanese had some kind of plural declension.

I tried to search on google and on this site but couldn't find any information. So I'm asking if you know something about it.

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    Are you sure that your professor was talking about plural conjugation for verbs? If so, my honest feeling is that it sounds groundless. I wonder which period your professor referred to as “ancient Japanese.” Suffixes for nouns which signify plurality such as たち, ら, and ども have existed and still exist in Japanese, and this might be called “some kind of plural conjugation,” although showing plurality is not required grammatically like English. Dec 19, 2012 at 22:10
  • I'm sure he meant the plural conjugation of verbs in comparison to English. The idea was that Japanese used to address other people using third person (plural?) only, which made plural and singular meaningless. Dec 19, 2012 at 23:06
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    I cannot follow the logic. Japanese does not have the distinction among first person, second person, and third person, but why does it make the distinction between singular and plural meaningless? Dec 19, 2012 at 23:24
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    Also, if the distinction between singular and plural was meaningless, doesn’t it imply that Japanese did not have plurality conjugation? Why should we have some meaningless grammatical elements? I am afraid that I am totally missing the point of your logic. Dec 19, 2012 at 23:26
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    Is it possible you could ask the person who originally said it for more information?
    – user1478
    Dec 20, 2012 at 15:06

2 Answers 2

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(This is my comment with small changes in wording.)

Japanese have some suffixes for nouns which signify plurality such as たち, ら, and ども, and this might be referred to as “some kind of plural declension,” although showing plurality is not required grammatically like English.

If your professor was talking about conjugating a verb according to the number of its subject in Japanese in some old period, I would say that that sounds like a groundless claim. As far as I know, there is no evidence that Japanese had the conjugation like that. (But I am not a linguist.)

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Notice that he said "declension", i.e., a noun suffix etc. Probably -ra and -tachi were much more productive in Old Japanese, and what little I know of older Japanese it seems to be the case.

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    I am not sure what the distinction between conjugation and declension is when used in the Japanese grammar, but I am afraid that you are misled by the edits which other people made to the question. The original question said “conjunction,” which was probably a typo for “conjugation.” Feb 2, 2013 at 4:39
  • @TsuyoshiIto, "declension" refers to changes in nouns depending on case, number, gender, etc., while "conjugation" refers to changes in verbs depending on tense, aspect, number, etc. Some linguists have described 格助詞 as "case suffixes", so Japanese nouns would have "case declensions" in this model. Most folks now seem to view 格助詞 as independent particles, and to view Japanese nouns as unchanging and without declension. Dec 17, 2020 at 19:00

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