Journal of East Asian Linguistics

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 171–191 | Cite as

Honorification and light verbs in Japanese

  • Adrian Ivana
  • Hiromu Sakai


This paper deals with the syntactic structure of subject-honorific and object-honorific constructions in Japanese through a detailed examination of the morphological make-up of the so-called honorific form of verbs. The main claim is that the honorific form of verbs actually consists of separate morphemes, which include honorific prefixes, verb stems, nominalisation suffixes, and light verbs. We further argue that the honorific prefix o-, which has been generally disregarded in previous literature, is a functional category which heads its own projection. The proposed analysis solves a long-standing problem in the investigation of Japanese honorific constructions, as to why honorific verbs cannot be separated from light verbs, originally pointed out by Harada (1976). Furthermore, this analysis shows how the syntactic distinction between the light verbs naru and suru leads to the meaning difference between the subject-honorific and object-honorific constructions.


Honorifics Light verb Japanese Agreement 


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© Springer Science+Business Media 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of EducationHiroshima UniversityHiroshima-kenJapan

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