Japanese Yo: Its Semantics and Pragmatics

McCready, Eric
Japanese Yo: Its Semantics and Pragmatics

01 (2006)
This paper presents an analysis of the Japanese sentence-final particle yo in a dynamic modal semantics. The particle is argued to have an underspecified meaning dependent in part on discourse structure and causal relations.

Introduction and Overview
This paper takes a formal approach to the semantics and pragmatics of the Japanese sentence-final particle yo, an example of which is shown in (1).

(1) Taroo-ga    kita yo
     Taro-NOM   came YO
     ‘Taro came.’

Yo is one of the class of Japanese particles known as the sirase ‘notification’ particles (cf. Masuoka and Takubo 1989), along with zo and ze. The sirase particles are said to mark new information and further emphasize the sentence they appear in, in some sense making it stronger. I will combine these two facts about yo in a dynamic semantic analysis. The paper begins with a consideration of some facts and relevant data about yo. I then, in section 3, present the formal framework I use in my analysis: a dynamic system involving sets of epistemic possibilities based on the semantics of Asher and McCready (2004). The final part of the paper considers another use of yo on which it has a modal interpretation; I show that this interpretation constitutes a nonlocal dependency on other parts of the discourse, and that it can be handled compositionally by making use of underspecification at the discourse level.