Is verb ending ない shortened to ん?

15

8

Off the top of my head I remember hearing these sentences, which I assume are just shortenings:

すみません, 分からん

絶対許さん!

Along with these two I've seen in sentence examples:

もう我慢できん

彼にはその文の意味が理解できんかった - this one is a little funky, since there is no complete ない->ん conversion, but instead なかった->んかった

Is this kind of shortening common? Can one always shorten a verb-ending ない to ん?

Daniel Safari

Posted 2014-05-30T21:55:57.897

Reputation: 2 428

2

it's dialectical, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kansai_dialect#Negative

– 無色受想行識 – 2014-05-30T21:57:11.617

11No, it is used everywhere. – l'électeur – 2014-05-30T22:49:28.040

Answers

15

The ん negative ending is a contraction of sorts of classical negative ending ぬ, precursor to modern ない. It's still pretty common. As illustration of this, the Microsoft IME gives 食べん as a valid conversion option after typing in taben, or 飲まん for noman.

Note that する with the negative ん is not しん, but instead せん, as again the negative ん is from classical ぬ, and the classical negative form of する is せぬ.

(蛇足: I think this せん was another layer of pun in the shortened name of the title character in Spirited Away.)

In addition, the ん in the polite negative ending ません is this same ぬ > ん contraction. ます for the most part conjugates in a similar way as する, with the classical negative ませぬ.

Occasionally, modern ない itself will contract to just ん without coming from the classical ぬ, as in the common informal contraction じゃん from ではない, or as in the なかった > んかった shift mentioned in the question. As a verb ending, though, negative ending ん is usually from classical negative ぬ.

Edit:

じゃん is sometimes explained as a contraction of ではない, where では becomes じゃ and ない becomes ん. Phonologically, the first half is well-established and accepted where で + は shifts to じゃ, but the ない > ん shift remains unexplained. A more likely sound shift would be based on the older phrases ではあらぬ or ではあらむ. あらぬ aranu is the older verb-based version of modern negative ない nai, meaning "[there | it] isn't", while あらむ aramu with an m sound is the older version of modern presumptive あろう arō, meaning "isn't [there | it]", confirming with the listener.

Semantically, modern じゃん is used either in a negative sense, or in a confirmation sense, matching these two older verb forms.

Phonetically, both あらぬ and あらむ were known to contract to あらん aran. So ではあらぬ / ではあらむ > じゃあらん. The corruption of -あらん to -あん can be observed in the slang of some modern speakers, such as 分からん > 分かん. So じゃあらん > じゃん.

So ultimately, I don't think there is any diachronic (i.e. historical) foundation for ない itself turning into ん directly. Instead, we see the precursor to ない, classical ぬ, turning into ん via clearly observable contraction processes.

Eiríkr Útlendi

Posted 2014-05-30T21:55:57.897

Reputation: 24 171

1@Erikr Utlendi: This is a very informative answer but do you have any comment on how it is most commonly used among speakers of 標準語? Off the top of my head I would have said it was for concluding sentences in abrupt decisive manner. – Tim – 2014-05-31T00:16:00.767

Ah, yes, in terms of social register, this is a step below the plain ない ending: more informal, more casual. My sense is that this is not necessarily decisive, but definitely informal. Consider two friends talking: 「公園に行く?」「分からん。宿題もあるし。」 Here, 分からん could be construed as similar to English dunno: informal speech, but not necessarily rude if used in the correct social context. – Eiríkr Útlendi – 2014-05-31T00:25:04.163

Also, Kansai still keeps the older ぬ, while already quite long ago Kantō started using ない. In fact Kantō never ever used ぬ as the negative: the classical one was なふ (conjugated as 四段, some believe ない came from the 連用形 of that). So it seems very likely ん is a (contraction of a) Kansai loan, and gets all the connotations Kansai loans get. – ithisa – 2014-05-31T01:43:07.220

Some of Kansai keeps it, not all - the stereotypical Kansai negative is -へん, a soundchanged form of the above-mentioned せぬ. – Sjiveru – 2014-05-31T01:53:24.017

(also, the theory I'm aware of is that -ない is from 無い - this explains better why -ない works like an adjective.) – Sjiveru – 2014-05-31T05:19:15.983

@Sjiveru Of course that's the most obvious theory, but it's interesting that throughout Japan's history the location of the ぬ・へん vs なふ・ない division was so consistent. My point still stands that Kantō never used ぬ. – ithisa – 2014-05-31T08:22:56.370

@user54609 I'd be interested to see a map of the distribution of なふ. I know for a fact that ぬ and へん aren't coterminous, though. – Sjiveru – 2014-05-31T22:36:59.620

@user54609, Sjiveru, Shogakukan notes: [打消を表す「ない」の]起源は、上代東国語の助動詞「なふ」であるとする考え方がある。ただし、「ない」は文献上室町末から関東方言としてあらわれるが、上代との間を結びつける証例は得られない。→なう。 The origin [of nai expressing negation] is thought by some to be the ancient eastern Japanese dialect auxiliary verb nafu . However, nai citations appear as Kantō dialect from the late Muromachi period [1336–1573], and no evidence can be found to tie this to ancient Japanese. → nau. – Eiríkr Útlendi – 2014-06-02T19:21:15.500

@Sjiveru, user54609, then under nau, Shogakukan notes: (活用は「なは・○・なふ・なへ・なへ・○」。動詞の未然形に付く。打消の助動詞「ず」の未然形「な」に継続の助動詞「ふ」が付いてできたものと考えられ、助動詞「ない」の祖形かといわれる)上代東国方言。打消の意を表す。…ない。*万葉‐三四二六「会津嶺の国をさ遠みあは奈波(ナハ)ば」 Conjugates as naha, -, nafu, nahe, nahe, - . Attaches to the imperfective form of verbs. Thought to be derived as the imperfective form na of negation auxiliary zu to which attached the continuative auxiliary fu ; said to be the predecessor of auxiliary nai. – Eiríkr Útlendi – 2014-06-02T19:28:43.620

1Given the differences in conjugation, and the sizable historical lacuna, I'm much more inclined to think that auxiliary nai from older nashi was basically as use of the adjective, rather than as any direct derivative of nafu. I'm certainly open to the possibility that nashi arose as some kind of adjectivization of nu. I am also quite curious now as to what was used to mark negatives in the Kantō between the last citation of nafu and the first citation of nashi. – Eiríkr Útlendi – 2014-06-02T19:34:28.747

I was wondering if -napu wasn't -n- + -ap-, thank you ^_^ – Sjiveru – 2014-06-02T19:56:31.860

@EiríkrÚtlendi "A History of the Japanese Language" speculates something like 書きはない > 書きゃない > 書かない with the match with 未然形 being a coincidence. This of course happened far after なし became ない. I personally find this far-fetched... – ithisa – 2014-06-03T02:23:23.357

I still don't think that なき/なし would be used before both merged to ない though. There are exactly zero citations of 未然形+なし or 未然形+なき. – ithisa – 2014-06-04T01:25:58.720

@user54609: Interesting addendum in Shogakukan: 近世後期の江戸語では、打消は「ない」より「ぬ」が一般的であるが、国定教科書では尋常小学読本(明治四〇年)以来、「ない」が優位を占めるようになり、今日普通の口語文では、特別の場合のほか、ほとんど「ない」である。 In late modern Edo speech, the negative nu was more common than nai , but since [the adoption of] the ordinary elementary reader as national textbook (in Meiji 40 [1907]), nai became dominant, and in today's regular verbal speech, outside of special cases, nai is almost always used. So yes, as an auxiliary, it looks like older classical forms naki, nashi were probably not used. FWIW, I also find Frellesvig's theory far-fetched. – Eiríkr Útlendi – 2014-06-04T15:23:16.273

@EiríkrÚtlendi It would still be incredibly interesting to see what Kantō used after なふ and before ない. Edo speech is really a mix of Kantō and Kansai, so using ぬ is not indicative of Kantō speech. At least in the Muromachi period, we have clear citations that west uses ぬ while east uses ない, in addition to many things still reflected (さ・へ, ーた・った, せ・し for 未然形 of する, 〜う・〜く, etc) – ithisa – 2014-06-05T02:10:13.473

1Unfortunately people seemed to stop writing down Kantō Japanese after the Old Japanese period, with standard Classical Japanese being purely based on Kansai Early Middle Japanese. – ithisa – 2014-06-05T02:10:56.843

4

It is 〜ない being shortened to 〜ん, but only under certain circumstances. Specifically, it's in cases where Type I verbs ending in 〜る use the 〜ない form. For example:

  • 分からない -> 分からん
  • 知らない -> 知らん
  • 蘇らない【よみがえらない】 -> 蘇らん

Also related to this is 〜aんない, which is more of a simple slurring wherein ら gets dropped. For example:

  • 分からない -> 分かんない
  • 知らない -> 知んない
  • 蘇らない -> 蘇んない

Kaji

Posted 2014-05-30T21:55:57.897

Reputation: 5 112

For the curious, my IME did produce the forms for 蘇る without any difficulty. Wanted a third example verb and it was the first one that came to mind offhand. Slightly surprising one, really, since most -eru verbs are Type II... – Kaji – 2014-05-31T00:31:58.360

5蘇る is a compound, derived from 黄泉{よみ} "land of the dead" + 帰{かえ}る "to return from somewhere". Since source verb 帰る is 五段, so too is 蘇る. – Eiríkr Útlendi – 2014-05-31T00:37:19.870

Ah, that makes sense. I'd never known the etymology for it previously. – Kaji – 2014-05-31T00:43:09.453

The ん in じゃん may be from ない, but the verb-ending ん doesn't appear to be. Shogakukan's etymology for verb-ending negative ん notes: 「打消の助動詞「ず」の終止形と連体形とが共に「ぬ」となり、その変化したもの」. The pattern of ぬ changing to ん also agrees with established phonetic shifts in Japanese, whereas there is less of a clear mechanism for ない to become ん. For that matter, あらぬ was used classically as the negative for ある, so じゃん could conceivably derive from ではあらぬ instead of ではない, which would make more sense phonetically. – Eiríkr Útlendi – 2014-05-31T00:45:47.890

@EiríkrÚtlendi: FYI, よみ can also be written as 陰府. – istrasci – 2014-07-17T18:16:58.227