JOK Notebook

A Lack of Correspondence

Last time I presented a sample sentence that puzzled me to some degree: 

How Dying People and Those Who Attend to Them Can Be Happy When Thinking of the End of Life

死ぬ (しぬ: to die); 人 (ひと: person); 看取る (みとる: to attend to a dying person); 幸せ (しあわせ: happy); 終末期 (しゅうまつき: terminal stage); 考え方 (かんがえかた: way of thinking)

I've already told you some things about it: 

• The –逝く is an auxiliary verb that means “parting.” 

• The 死に逝く (more commonly written as 死にゆく) means “going farther away” from the speaker and toward the distant world of the dead. 

• Whereas 死ぬ simply translates as “to die,” 死にゆく implies that the person is already moving in that direction and that the death will happen shortly.

When my proofreader "Lutlam" explained the use of the auxiliary verb here, he started from the fundamentals. I often feel annoyed when people lay out the basics that one already knows (my husband and I call this "first-principling someone," as in "That idiot first-principled me again!"). But I struggle with auxiliary verbs, so I welcomed the partial refresher course. Here it is:

A Change of Distance

The auxiliary verbs –いく (-ゆく) and –くる are antonyms: 

With -いく (-ゆく), something or someone is getting farther away.
With -くる, something or someone is getting closer.

This change of distance can be physical, temporal, or mental. Here's how that plays out: 

• A change of physical distance:

走っていく: to run away 
走ってくる: to come running 

• A change of temporal distance:

生きていく: to go on living from now until some point in the future, which is perceived as getting further away from the present moment
生きてきた: to have lived from some point in the past until now, which is perceived as getting closer to the present moment

Note that when it comes to having lived, the act started in the past, so people usually use the past tense –きた, not -くる.

• A change of mental distance:

死んでいく: to die, which involves going from this world to the world of the dead) 
生まれてくる: to be born, which means coming from somewhere to this world

Auxiliary Verbs in Action

With all this established, let's return to the title that prompted this discussion:

How Dying People and Those Who Attend to Them Can Be Happy When Thinking of the End of Life

In this context, our keyword indicates a change of "mental" distance, as a dying person is still in this world but will soon depart for the distant world of the dead. 

That sentence came from essay 1475 on 逝 (to die; go). The same essay includes an example with what Lutlam calls the "temporal" kind of –くる, which has turned into –きた:

Since my brother suddenly died two years ago, my sister-in-law has bravely kept running the small jewelry store he left her, and she’s doing it without anyone’s help.

兄* (あに: elder brother); 急逝 (きゅうせい: sudden death); -年 (-ねん: counter for years); 前 (まえ: ago); 義姉 (ぎし: sister-in-law); 一人で (ひとりで: by oneself, without anyone’s help); 遺す (のこす: to leave); 小さな (ちいさな: small); 宝飾店 (ほうしょくてん: jewelry store); 健気 (けなげ: brave); 守る (まもる: to protect)

In this case the -てくる is about time, indicating that a process (i.e., 守る) began in the past and has continued to the present. The English translation reflects this with “has ... kept.”

A Lack of Correspondence

All of this is clear enough, but the explanation made me rather uneasy because I initially learned about auxiliary verbs from Naoko Chino's Japanese Verbs at a Glance. She also presented three types, but when I compared her explanation (pp. 115–118) with the above breakdown of the various types of auxiliary verbs, I didn't see a clear correspondence. Was I simply missing it? Perhaps the two explanations covered the exact same territory but with different names for the categories. Or did Chino cover one set of three whereas Lutlam listed a different three? 

I then consulted A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar (pp. 151–153) and that discussion presented six variations on the theme of how of -ていく conveys a change of state.

Six more? Or more of the same? I really couldn't tell what was overlapping and what was new. How many types of -ていく (or -てくる) are there, anyway?! Frustrated and confused, I turned to Lutlam, who consulted four dictionaries and listed each of their notes on -ていく and -てくる. More information?! How thoughtful of him but ... what a mess all this is! 

Auxiliary verbs have confused (and therefore bothered) me for years because when I consult Chino, I often find a mismatch between the sentence at hand and her explanation. I realize now that it's time to create my own comprehensive list of the various meanings of -ていく and -てくる so that, once and for all, I can master auxiliary verbs! 

But as therapists are so fond of saying, "Our time's up for today"! At least I'm not charging you hundreds of dollars after abruptly shutting down our discussion! 

To soften my departure, here's a preview of the newest essay:

Catch you back here next week!


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