In Lesson 10 and Lesson 35, a major issue in Japanese grammar was avoided involving the word です, which is a rather new word in Japanese. We have clearly been using it early on in our studies thus far, and it is a word you are bombarded with on a daily basis. Its usage, though, perhaps due to the introduction of “standardization” and the prescriptive logic that ensued which was not longer after the word came into existence, there is little consensus on how to address the issue this lesson will try to tackle objectively.
1. 得るは、捨つるにあり。 Set phrase
When you receive something, you have to consequently throw something else away.
Grammar Note: 捨つる is the old 連体形 of 捨てる.
Now you know where the trouble making word comes from. You also know what its original grammatical restraints were. Great. What, then, would you say about 新しいです and any other example of 形容詞＋です? There really wasn’t a history of using a polite copula phrase with nominalized phrases. This gives us more evidence to show that 新しいです would not be grammatical because there is no precedent for it to be. If it were, would the adjective not need to be in the 連体形? Sadly, the 連体形 and 終止形 look identical. But again, 新しきです never existed, and if the grammar would have allowed such a phrase, it would have been used because the original 連体形 of adjectives was still being used occasionally when です came about. Thus, we have to view this as 終止形＋です.
The violation of Japanese grammar is apparent. Why, then, did it come about? We know that 形容詞＋のです is an option, but the meaning is often different. Yes, there are times in which it helps avoid one’s です・ます調 be less monotone, but it most frequently gives a meaning of 強調. This is different than merely wishing to show politeness with 形容詞. Another option is using 連用形＋ある, which allows you to add politeness without being grammatically awkward. Where are the ramifications of this choice?
We get forms like the following.
The first option is stretching things as far as natural speech is concerned in Standard Japanese of today. It is, though, grammatically sound. Adding an intervening particle, though, does make it viable in speech. In the negative form, it is not really awkward, and using an intervening particle makes the option all the more viable and common. The last option is an old respectful form. We see this construction in older speech and in set phrases like ありがとうございます. However, because it has for the most part died out within the last 70 years or so, it is unfair and unwise to claim that this should be the one and only right answer to the grammar debate.
Another option to avoid 形容詞＋です is paraphrasing. The above situation is a form of paraphrasing, but consider the following with another adjective 暑い.
3a. 暑いです。 〇・△・X (All judgments exist among speakers)
3b. 暑い一日でした。 〇
Of course, the meanings are not all the exact same, but they are more or less the same.
Now, let’s broaden our discussion to all potentially grammatically unsound combinations of adjective or adjective-like phrases with です.
We have in addition to 新しいです, 新しかったです. We also see ～ないです, ～たいです, and even だったです. Some think that using the past tense of adjectives with です is grammatically the same as with non-past tense. If the speaker likes one, the speaker likes both and vice versa. As is the case with ～ないです, though, using です after an auxiliary gives off the sense of a last-minute addition to make one’s phrase polite. Thus, it clearly marks the phrase as a polite phrase found in casual speech that should not be mimicked in more formal situations such as being a program announcer on television. All of this is fine, but in a linguistic sense, that is not proof of this use of ですbeing wrong. Now, because of the fundamental grammatical problems presented above, many Japanese researchers (Teramura 1982, Takubo 1992, etc.) agree that 形容詞＋です cannot be viewed as a proper predicate phrase of Japanese although it is was is taught in most Japanese text books as such (Morii 1972). Although “wrong” in the sense of speech style being wrong is a practical explanation from a sociolinguistic angle, an academic approach as this is still respectable.
～たいです does not normally get heat, but it too disappears in really formalized speech with tactics resembling the paraphrasing from above. だったです is, unlike every other example, deemed to be wrong by a majority of speakers as a simpler and ubiquitous alternative exists: でした. But, you would be surprised how many people still use it. To be completely fair, then, it is grammatically OK to perhaps 30% of the population.
To add another wrench into the problem, even among people who think 形容詞＋です is bad, they’re fine with it if it is followed by particles like が, か, or ね, all of which are conjunctive or final particles. Some may point to the use of なら, でしょう, だろう as counter examples, but the grammar for なら has existed for a long time because it is actually 連体形＋ copula, and the latter two follow the same presupposed grammar, though finding a transitional form for them is not possible.
As a non-native speaker, this debate may be used to insult you or unfairly critique your language skills. Now that you know that this is a possibility, it’s important to take all of this information and create a guideline for how it is actually being used in Japan now and by whom.
You have people young and old using 形容詞＋です. On April 14, 1952, the Ministry of Education recognized it as being acceptable. Adults in their twenties and thirties using it at the time would be in their 70s-90s today. So, clearly, even a decent percentage of the older population use it. Also, the use of it began to extremely skyrocket even more among those born in the 1970s. 45 years have passed since then, meaning most young people today feel nothing is wrong with it at least in the spoken language.
In reality, register restrictions for when you use 形容詞＋です are more important to properly using it. In strict formal writing, it is essentially non-existent. After all, such style of writing tends to be grammatically conservative. However, in the spoken language and writing styles such as those found in blogs, it is extremely common.
The people who are more likely to think that this pattern is incorrect are those who are said to be more sensitive to proper language use, people reading and writing primarily in formal registers. These people are frequently eloquent in their manner of speaking. However, it is important to note that the dialogue sections of even early Modern-Japanese works which laid the foundation for Modern Japanese literature provide a lot of examples of 形容詞＋です. Some examples even go beyond what is typically accepted to be correct today.
But self-awareness also involves self-reflection, so you mustn’t simply go recklessly abusing your willpower and ego. You must possess the resignation that you have to bear full responsibility for your own actions.
From 蒲団 by 田山花袋
I answered that it was best to rest well and look at the sky
From 坊ちゃん by 夏目漱石
At the end of the day, it is best to ignore these people because they are not willing to realize that the language has already changed for quite some time to allow it in (casual) polite speech titled towards the spoken language.