Part 1

It appears I’m being devoured by a number of final projects/assignments (four!), all of them related to linguistics, so I decided to take some time aside to post some H!P-related linguisticizing of my own.0

This is a brief examination of the exhortative-participle construction in Japanese English (English as spoken in Japan; cf. American English or Australian English), or perhaps it is peculiar only to Hello! Project English: that is, the construction which places an exhortative particle (let’s) next to a verb in its present-participle form (as in let’s dancing) as opposed to a verb in its infinitive form (let’s dance), which is typical of most varieties of English. If we suppose that this is a genuine product of a variety of English that differs from most others in this regard, then this particular construction is deserving of continued study as part of an effort to illuminate the rules that constrain natural human languages and the processes by which languages evolve.1

This interesting construction appears in this video of Disney-brainwashed2 Morning Musume, which was kindly brought to my attention by Celestia at Bikkuri Project:

In this clip we observe the utterances “let’s singing” and “let’s dancing”. Alone, they may simply be an indication that Hello! Project English permits the present participle in an exhortative context; yet we also find “let’s enjoy”, featuring an infinitive rather than a participle. Assuming that all three constructions are products of the same grammar, despite being spoken by three separate individuals, we can hypothesize that Hello! Project English permits either the infinitive or the present participle following an exhortative particle. In the absence of additional data3, there is no way to disprove this hypothesis.

However, for the sake of argument, let us imagine instead that both infinitive and participle are permitted, but that they arise in complementary distribution: where one is allowed, the other is prohibited. If this is true, we would expect the constructions *let’s sing, *let’s dance, and *let’s enjoying to be ungrammatical in this dialect.4

I can think of two alternative explanations for this distribution. The first is prosodical. We may easily observe that both sing and dance are monosyllabic while enjoy has two syllables with primary stress on the second. The explanation for finding “let’s enjoy” alongside “let’s dancing” may simply be that Hello! Project English prosody has a preference for an unstressed syllable following an initially placed stressed syllable, which may sound abrupt and unpleasant by itself. In this case, the infinitives dance and sing are avoided in favor of their prosodically preferred present-particle parallels dancing and singing; enjoy, however, has an existing syllable preceding the stressed one, so there is no prosodical rule to disfavor its use. Under this hypothesis, we would predict this distribution of allowed and disallowed constructions: let’s feeling happy/*let’s feel happy; *let’s destroying/let’s destroy.

The other possible explanation concerns thematic relations. Both sing and dance are verbs that require an agent: Singing and dancing are actions deliberately performed by an animate entity. The verb enjoy, on the hand, does not have an agent. Instead, it requires an experiencer: An entity experiences the feeling described but does not deliberately perform an action. Perhaps it is the case that verbs that require an agent appear in participle form and those that do not require an agent appear in infinitive form (other hypotheses along these lines are also possible). Under this hypothesis, then, we would predict the following distribution: *let’s feeling happy/let’s feel happy; let’s destroying/*let’s destroy.

The examples given are contrastive and in the presence of experimental data could be used to test and distinguish the two hypotheses given. I am, however, not a native speaker of Hello! Project English and cannot provide such experimental evidence myself. Given the limited amount of available resources5, I am afraid I must leave this problem as a mystery for now, though future inquiries may yield fruitful conclusions.6

(Update! I have made some progress on this problem, so there will be a Part 2! Stay tuned…)


0 Actually, I’m procrastinating, but don’t tell anyone that. ;-)

1 No, it is not particularly enlightening to dismiss these idiosyncratic constructions as “bad grammar” out of hand and to demand that their users “learn English”. That’s kind of an elitist attitude, I might add. Someone should found a support group called Prescriptivists Anonymous. You know, for people like your middle-school grammar teacher, if they were the type that insisted on avoiding the use of they to refer to a singular antecedent, or that instead of who to introduce a relative clause modifying a human subject, or like instead of as to introduce a clause rather than a noun phrase, like I’m doing in this very sentence sentence fragment.)

2 That the anthropomorphic rodent so deified therein remains protected by copyright in the United States is an utter embarrassment and a disgraceful perversion of the spirit of the Constitution’s provision “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries,” but that is besides the point.

3 Hey, I’m lazy.

4 An asterisk (*) preceding a construction indicates ill-formedness.

5 Like I said, I’m lazy.

6 Disappointing, I know. If you want something more substantial, though, I suggest my latest remix, “The☆Kiss!☆Kiss!☆Peace!”, which appears with an accidentally awesome exemplification of the choreographical merits of the Seizure! Dance.