ISSN: 2158-7051





ISSUE NO. 7 ( 2018/1 )













The paper draws a parallel between the usage of the negative genitive in Russian, in which there is an exchange of the accusative form of a noun for a genitive one in negation, and a similar phenomenon in Japanese – the use of the topic marker -wa instead of the original accusative marker -o. Simultaneously, a use of the topic marker -wa is shown, in which case its function resembles that of the genitive marker -no.


Key Words: Russian language, Japanese language, genitive of negation, sentence topic.


The Slavic Genitive of Negation


There is a phenomenon in Slavic languages called negative genitive (genitive of negation). It is expressed in exchanging the accusative form of the direct object after a verb of negation for a genitive form or in exchanging the subject’s nominative form again for a genitive form. In Polish, the exchange is mandatory, in Old Bulgarian, as in Russian, it is frequent, and in Czech and Serbo-Croatian it only exists in literary language, and in definite conditions at that (Feuillet 2006: 558; Dalewska-Greń 1997: 439). Examples from Polish (Moravcsik 1978: 264; Dalewska-Greń 1997: 436):


Mam          czas       ‘I have time’ – as against:

have-1sg   time-acc


Nie   mam        czasu      I don’t have time’;

neg  have-1sg  time-gen


Widziałeś         wczoraj   Ewę?

see-2sg-past    yesterday Eve-acc

Did you see Eve yesterday?’– as against:


Nie    widziałem     wczoraj     Ewy      I didn’t see Eve yesterday’;

neg   see-1sg-past  yesterday  Eve-gen


Tu      są        okulary        The glasses are here’ – as against:

here  are-3pl  glasses-nom


Tu     niema             okularów    The glasses are not here’.

here  have-neg-3sg  glasses-gen


Of the subject genitive in Russian, the most general idea is this one – the accusative marks definiteness, a concrete refrence, and the genitive expresses non-referentiality, indefiniteness or unknownness. Thus contexts are achieved in which, with negation, it is one time the genitive is mandatory, and at another the accusative (Paducheva 2006: 24-28, 41; Dalewska-Greń 1997: 436-437):


Оn  ne  chitaet    gazet

he  neg reads      newspapers-gen

he (on principle) does not read any newspapers’ (here the genitive signifies a class) – but:


Оn  ne   chitaet    gazetu

he  neg  read-3sg newspaper-acc-def

he is not reading the newspaper’ (the genitive here signifies a concrete object).



Polozhi         soli      Put a little salt (a certain quantity) – but:

put-imp-2sg salt-gen


Polozhi         sol      Put salt!’ (an undefined quantity);

put-imp-2sg salt-acc


Koshka  ne   est        vetchiny

cat        neg eats       ham-gen

The cat does not eat ham’ (never) –


Кoshka ne   est       vetchinu

cat        neg eats     ham-acc

The cat is not eating or does not eat ham’ (now or ever);


Ne   em       vetchiny I do not eat ham’ (at all) – but:

neg eat-1sg ham-gen


Ne   em       vetchinu

neg eat-1sg ham-acc

Ham I do not eat’ (as opposed to other kinds of food);


Ne   lublu   gromkoy  muzyki

neg like-1sg loud-gen   music-gen

I don’t like loud musicbut:

Ne   lublu  sovremennuyu       muzyku

neg like-1sg contemporary-acc music-acc

‘I don’t like contemporary music’ (as opposed to other kinds of music).


Negation in Japanese


Besides the Slavic languages, other Indo-European and non-Indo-European languages in Europe comply to the rule of the negative genitive – Lithuanian, Latvian, Gothic, Estonian, Basque, etc. What is interesting, however, is that in Japanese, distant from Europe, such a phenomenon can also be observed. According to Kamiya (Kamiya 1988: 82, 87), in negative sentences  the accusative marker -о can be replaced with -wa, which marks the topic (the theme or logical subject in asentence):


Hon-o      yomimasu I’m reading a book’ – but:

book-acc  read-1sg


Zasshi-wa       yomimasen

magazine-top  read-1sg-neg

I don’t read a magazine/magazines’;


or, again (TL 2002: Japanese):


Eigo-o         hanasemasu-ka?Do (you) speak English?’ – against:

English-acc speak-?


Eigo-wa       hanasemasen (I) don’t speak English’.

English-top  speak-neg


According to Akiyama (Akiyama 2002: 42) the marker -wa in such examples expresses a contrast as in the Russian examples, mentioned above, with an alternation of genitive and accusative:


Ne  em       vetchinu

neg eat-1sg ham-acc

Ham I do not eat (as opposed to other kinds of food)’ – against:


Ne   em        vetchiny I do not eat ham at all’ and:

neg eat-1sg ham-gen


Ne     lublu  sovremennuyu       muzyku

neg  like-1sg contemporary-acc music-acc

I don’t like comntemporary music’ (as opposed to other kinds of music) – against:


Ne   lublu  gromkoy  muzyki I don’t like loud music’.

neg like-1sg loud-gen  music-gen


Akiyama  (Akiyama 2002: 42) thinks that the contrast in Japanese is expressed notwithstanding the presence or absence of negation:


’(I) eat fish but I don’t eat meat’, literally: concerning fish, I eat, but concernin meat, I don’t eat’

      Sakana-wa tabemasu-ga, niku-wa   tabemasen.

fish-top       eat-but          meat-top  eat-neg


Akiyama adds (ibid.) that the  object in respect of which a contrast is made may not be indicated but still the contrast is there (it‘s even more important that the subject marker -ga here plays the role of the conjunction ‘but’ with which a contrast is expressed, too):


Terebi-wa mimasen

TV-top     watch-neg

(I) don’t watch TV (although (I) like doing something else)’.


The topic marker -wa (Kamiya 1988: 67) “is often used in negative sentences to oppose positive to negative ideas”. The subject is also prone to marking with -wa in negation (Akiyama 2002: 43):


Tegami-ga kimashita The letter has arrivedbut:

letter-sub    come-past


Tegami-wa   kimasen    deshita

letter-top       come-neg past

The letter hasn’t arrived’.


That can also happen in constructions similar to the Polish one indicated (Tu nie ma okularów The glasses are not here), where -wa replaces the subject marker (Kamiya 1988: 67), similar to the genitive in Polish:


Haizara-ga     arimasu There are ashtrays’ – against:

ashtray(s)-sub  are


Machi-wa       arimasen Matches (however) there aren’t’.

match(es)-top be-neg


The Japanese -wa and -no


It’s clear that in the Japanese examples the topic marker -wa appears as a counterpart to the Slavic genitive endings after a negative verb. The striking similarity between the shown Russian (and Polish) examples on the one hand and the Japanese on the other is supplemented with yet another peculiarity of the Japanese topic marker -wa. In single cases it may resemble, at least apparently and in a definite context, the possessive function of the Japanese genitive. In Japanese, possession is expressed by the genitive marker -no. So, from zō elephantthere will be


zō-no hana ‘elephant’s noseorthe nose of the elephant’.


But in the next sentence (after Schmalstieg 1980: 166-167):


Zō-wa          hana-ga     nagai,

elephant-top  nose-sub    long


which translates as ‘the elephant’s nose is long’ orthe elephant has a long nose’ and actually literally means ‘concerning the elephant, its nose is long, as the author also points out, it’s hard to determine which is the subject – zō-wa or hana-ga. Here the topic marker -wa may be perceived as a genitive case marker, too. In any case, however, the sentence cited is semantically the same (at least in some contexts) as a sentence with a genitive marker -no:


Zō-no            hana-ga   nagai.

elephant-gen  nose-sub long


More such examples (after KEJLPD 1996: 109, 110, 187):


Kare-wa chooshi-ga  ii

he-top     form-sub   good

‘He is in a good form’ = His form is good (my noteI. I.);


Kono tegami-wa hizuke-ga nai

this    letter-top    date-sub   is-neg

‘This letter has no date’ = ‘This letter’s date is absent’ (my noteI. I.).


Replacing -wa with -ga changes the meaning of the sentence  (Shibatani 2002:274, 293, 297):


Zoo-wa hana-ga nagai ’an/the elephant is such that its trunk is long’but:


Zoo-ga hana-ga nagai ’it is the elephant whose trunk is long’;


Kakehi sensei-wa hige-ga rippa da ’Prof. Kakehi is such that his beard is impressive’ – but:  


Kakehi sensei-ga hige-ga rippa da ’it is prof. Kakehi whose beard is impressive’.


The Japanese subject marker -ga is sometimes used to indicate the direct object after passive verbs (Akiyama 2002: 44-45) – probably a remainder from an old passive construction of the sentence which can also be interpreted as a possessive construction in which possession is again expressed with -wa, as in the cited example ‘the elephant’s nose is long’:


Marī-san-wa, tenisu-ga   jōzu desu

Mary-ms-top  tennis-sub good is

Mary is good at tennis’ = Mary’s tennis is good’ (my noteI. I.).


In addition, in some cases the possessive meaning of -wa is doubled by the possessive marker -no (Akiyama 2002: 42):


Asagohan-o   tabeta-no-wa   haji  ji          deshita

breakfast-acc eating-gen-top   8   o’clock   is-past

the time (I) ate breakfast was 8 oclock’/’breakfast-eating (time) was at eight o’clock’.




I may say, in conclusion, that the striking typlogical resemblance between Slavic and Japanese, concerning negation, is hardly haphazard. It is probably a reflection of ancient syntactical processes that have already faded off in contemporary languages. That allows for the possibility for the initial semantics of the negative Indo-European genitive to have been linked to the topic (regarding Indo-European as a topic oriented language see Lehman 1976: 450; Schmalstieg 1980: 166-188), and later additional semantic variations arose, as in any grammatical phenomenon. The same holds true for the Japanese morpheme -wa.

The present paper aims at stating a supposition and not making categorical inferences. Still, the material shown reasonably gives us food for thought and the reason for further researching the matter.




acc – accusative;

def – definite;

gen – genitive;

imp – imperative;

KEJLPDThe Kenkyusha English-Japanese Learners Pocket Dictionary;

neg – negative;

nom – nominative;

past – past tense;

pl – plural;

sg – singular;

sub – subject;

TL – Transparent Language;

top – topic;

toptopic marker;

1 – first person

2 – second person;

3 – third person;

4 – interrogative.





Akiyama 2002: N. Akiyama, C. Akiyama. Japanese Grammar. Barron’s. China.

Dalewska-Greń 1997: H. Dalewska-Greń. Języki słowiańskie. Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN. Warszawa Feuillet2006: J. Feuillet. Introduction à la typologie linguistique. Honoré Champion. Paris.

Kamiya 1988: T. Kamiya. Speak Japanese Today. Tuttle Publishing. Tokyo, Rutland, Singapore.

Lehman 1976: W. Lehman. From Topic to Subject in Indo-European. In: Subject and Topic (Editor: Charles Li). Academic Press. New York, San Francisco, London, p. 447-456.

Moravcsik 1978: E. Moravcsik. On the Case Marking of Objects. In: Universals of Human Language. 4. Syntax. Stanford, p. 249-285.

Paducheva 2006: Paducheva, E. Genitiv dopolneniya v otricatelnom predlozhenii. In: Voprosy yazykoznaniya. 6, p. 21-43.

Schmalstieg 1980: W. Schmalstieg. Indo-European as a Topic-prominent Language. In: W. Schmalstieg. Indo-European Linguistics. A New Synthesis. Pennsylvania State University Press. Pennsylvania.

Shibatani 2002: M. Shibatani. The Languages of Japan: The Ainu Language. The Japanese Language. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

KEJLPD 1996 : The Kenkyusha English-Japanese Learner’s Pocket Dictionary (Editor: Sh. Takebayashi). Oxford University Press. Tokyo.

TL 2002 : Transparent Language 2002: 101 Languages of the World. Transparent Language, Inc.



*Ivan G. Iliev - PhD., Associate Professor, Plovdiv University, Bulgaria e mail: ivan_iliev20002000@yahoo.com