Japanese epistemic sentence-final particle kana : Its function as a ‘mitigation marker’ in discourse data

Yuka Matsugu

Abstract

The Japanese language is known for its sentence-final particles (SFPs hereafter) that express modality. Although modality would seem to be inseparable from context, only a limited number of studies have explicated the nature of SFPs based on data from conversations. This paper discusses the functions of SFP kana, based on 272 occurrences of the particle from over 7 hours of recorded conversation. I propose that kana, which is commonly defined as a doubt marker, frequently functions as a mitigation marker. My investigation also explores how speakers use this function beyond the sentence level. It suggests that traditional descriptions of the syntactic environments in which SFPs occur are not always substantiated by how kana is actually used. Yet, seemingly unsystematic uses of kana are quite systematic in terms of its semantic and pragmatic aspects. These findings suggest that in studying Japanese sentence-final particles, it’s important to study naturally occurring conversations.

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