Origin of -masu

Origin of -masu

This is a reprint of a post made by muchan on the sci.lang.japan newsgroup. This is but one of many such postings you'll find there. I suggest all serious users look into subscribing to this Usenet group.

This particular post was of interest to me due to several reasons. It refers to the end of the Edo-jidai (one of my favorite periods of history), the use of blunt forms in spoken Japanese, and the use of "de gozaimasu" (if you're a fan of Rurouni Kenshin, you know what I mean de gozaru yo ^_^ )

From: muchan (muchan@promikra.si)
Subject: Origin of -masu
Date: Tue, 20 Jan 1998 12:30:00 +0100

Another thread is talking whether "-masu form" is neutral or not. I think it's the time to make it clear.

Probably most of you learned -desu, -masu ending sentences at first. This form is quite recently became standard. It's probably from Choushuu dialect at the end of Edo-jidai, and later, Choushuu army became the kernel of Imperial army, it spread to be spoken by everyone in Japan.

At first, the origin of "-desu". It's quite evident, it's short form of '-de ari-masu'. (There were examples like "-goz-ari-mousu" --> "-gozansu" prior to "-desu")

According to my Iwanami dictionary, "-masu" comes from "mairasu". It changed "mawirasu" -> "marasuru" -> "massuru" -> "masuru" -> "masu", and it's conjugation pattern was 'confused' by mixing with pattern of "imasu" and "mausu".

The original verb "mairasu" is now "mairu". It means "to go where is higher/secread place" and so it is humble verb. So it was "humble sufix" of verb for a long time, and it now remains as "teinei" (polite) and "jouhin" (elegant/refined). It's no longer "humble suffix", and so it's naturally used with 2nd person subject.


Honorific or humble verb are not 'form of verb', but rather 'selection from semanticaly equivallent set of verbs. Japanese language is so hierarchy conscious and this humble/normal/honorific verbs represent social rank of subject. So in history, the higher rank of people could speak with humble verb for lower rank people, which is now 'almost obsolete' and sound arrogant. Now keigo usage is 'almost' restricted to use humble for oneselves and honorific for others.

choice of verb
{ blunt?, normal, humble/honorific }
{ kuu, taberu, (itadaku) meshiagaru } -- all plain form

adding auxilarity
{ ..(snip)... )

choice of sentence ending
{ blunt? plain(no adding), polite, square? official?}
{ -da, -de aru, -desu, -de arimasu }
{ teberu, tabe-masu }

choice of adding question '-ka'

choice of adding 'emotional/personal' taste
{ -ne, -sa, -yo, -na, -nee, -naa, -zo, }


So, as Loak's table suggests, there can be combinations of 'polite form of humble verb', 'plain form of honoriofic verb', etc. They are not 3 or 4 levels of speech.

But, for consistency when one honorific word is used, rest of speech should be equally honorific, so it's kind of level 'speech', indeed.

"-de gozaru", is old expression. "gozai-masu" was honorific but now it's just "more polite than -masu" or "noble", especially when said like "-zaamasu". It was funny my grandmother suddenly used "zaamasu" when she had visiters...


But,... I'm against the idea of thinking '-masu' as neutral, and without it 'blunt'. "Nothing added" is the plain.

I feel like we were discussing for nothing.
We didn't need to say which form of verb is more essential, but just we should have just say "essential is to learn _the conjugation_". Teaching only "-masu" form of speech spoils student to learn real usage of conjugated forms. My "Basic Things First" is so just against hiding information of verbal forms...

And so I'm strongly against calling plain form itself as "blunt".
(: ??? stubborn ??? :)
You don't have no reason to do so.


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