The Grammaticality of Politeness Marker ~です

第217課: The Grammaticality of Politeness Marker ~です

The use of ~です as a politeness marker evolved from its origin as the polite form だ, but instead of being restricted after nouns and adjectival nouns, it eventually gained the status of politeness marker when directly following adjectives and auxiliary adjectives at the cost of its literal identity as a copula verb.

Its copular root is what causes some speakers to this day to view ~です as ungrammatical despite how this usage has followed its own trajectory. This lesson will delve into the history of ~です as well as showcase the various situations it can be seen in.

Early Instances of です & Its Predecessors

The etymology of です is most likely that it is a contraction of でございます. Intermediate forms such as でござんす, でが(ん)す, and でげす could be found in the speech of the late 1800s and early 1900s in Tokyo, and they can still be heard in dialects to do this day as well as in 武家言葉-esque speech. However, です itself can be seen as far back as after the Muromachi Period in the 1600s. At that time, it was limited to specific speech styles, such as those used in Noh theatre and 狂言 prose. In fact, despite its honorific origins and eventual, generally polite future, it was often used to sarcastically be polite in the beginning.

1. 爰元 (ここもと) にかくれもなき大名です
Here before us is our infamous daimyo.
From 秀句傘 by 虎明狂

2. ええ寝ていて空を見る方がいいですと答えて
I answered that it was best to rest well and look at the sky
From 坊ちゃん by 夏目漱石 

3. 聞いたこともないお人ですなあ。
I’ve never heard of that person before.
From 宮本武蔵 by 吉川英治.

4. 老人は呼吸を計って首をあげながら「私ももとはこちらに屋敷もって、永らく御膝元でくらしたものでがすが、瓦解がかいの折にあちらへ参ってからとんと出てこんのでな。
The old man sought out the right moment, lifting up his head saying, “I once had a residence here where I had spent much time here in the shogun’s turf, but during the collapse I had gone away, and I just haven’t come out here since at all.
From 吾輩は猫である by 夏目漱石

5. ええ顔を洗うたんびに鵝鳥がちょうめ殺されるような声を出す人でござんす
He’s the one who makes this sound like a goose is being strangled all the time whenever he washes his face.
From 吾輩は猫である by 夏目漱石

Copula Verbs Follow Nominal(ized) Phrases

Historically, copula verbs in Japanese could only follow nominal phrases. Nominalized phrases counted, and very common way was to use the 連体形, which would then potentially be followed by the copula. This is parallel to the ~のだ structure in Modern Japanese. 

6. 得るは、捨つるにあり。 Set phrase
When you receive something, you have to consequently throw something else away.

Grammar Notes:
1. 捨つる is the Classical Japanese 連体形 of 捨てる.
2. The copula verb here is にあり, which is usually seen contracted as なり. The insertion of the particle て after に then interacting and fusing with あり eventually led to the birth of だ – にてあり → にてぁ → んでぁ → ぢゃ → じゃ → だ.

Other Means of Forming Polite Adjectival Forms

Before the invent of “adjective + です,” the pattern “adjective + のです” was used, which uses the nominalizing の, thus allowing です to be grammatical on the ground that it was being used as a copula verb. However, as the more traditional means of making an adjective polite were waning, の would be deleted entirely if its semantic function was not so evident in light of です showing up as an expedient way to be polite. Due to the strong tone that のです can give, dropping the の could lessen the tone, and with this in mind, expedience coincided with a more efficient means of still being adequately polite.

7a. 新しくあります  (Only more natural with intervening adverbial particles like は・も.
7b. 新しゅうございます (Very formal but composed of technically West Japanese dialectal grammar.)
7c. 新しい(の)です (Less peculiarities provides for efficient polite speech in the modern era.)

7a. stretches the bounds of natural speech, but an intervening particle or incorporating the negative makes it more viable – ex. ~珍しくはありません (it isn’t rare at all).
7b. ~うございます utilizes the contracted 連用形 of adjectives followed by the polite auxiliary verb ~ござる; this is still used heavily utilized in set phrases such as ありがとうございます and occasionally employed in incredibly honorific speech.
7c. ~です presents itself as the best politeness marker for adjectives in polite speech (丁寧語), with 7b. in contrast presenting itself as honorific speech (敬語). When の is inserted, the adjective is said to be in its 連体形 form, but when の is not present, the adjective is said to be in its 終止形, treating ~です as a final particle.

Another option to avoid “adjective+です” is paraphrasing. Although paraphrases may certainly be natural sentences in their own right, thinking they are obligatory is also a stretch with です no longer serving as a copula verb when it functions as a politeness marker.

8a. 暑い一日でした。 
8b. 暑くなってきましたね。
8c. 暑く感じます。

In addition to adjectives, the use of ~です as a politeness marker after other auxiliaries – those which conjugate as adjectives – has come into question for the same reason that a ‘copula’ ought not follow them. Those that concede to allowing a polite marker as a opposed to a literal ‘copula’ to modify an adjective may still not approve of です for feeling like a last-minute means of being polite. This, however, is an argument of how polite です truly is and not a statement on its grammaticality. Therefore, its presence diminishes in highly honorific speech and writing, is not a statement negating its legitimacy.

The Use of ~たです

Although “形容詞 root+~かったです” has been acceptable for some time, the parallel “形容動詞 root +だったです” has only become noticeable in recent years – 30% of native speakers using it to some compacity. The latter is deemed ungrammatical by the majority of speakers because ~です ought not directly follow the auxiliary verb ~た – though the same could be said about the former – and also because でした already serves the role.

Why ~かったです is standard is truly an anomaly. Traditionally, politeness should be marked before tense. This is the true reason why it ought not be grammatical as well as why だったです is not as acceptable as でした; its interpretation as a copula verb in either case is not the reality. The consequence of this original syntactic arrangement of affixes is that the ‘traditionally correct polite adjective’ form for conversation ought to be ~うございました, which is incredibly long. Thus, ~かったです must have come from the simplification of ~かったのです. Note that the reason for why ~いでした does not exist as the literally parallel structure to 形容詞 root + でした is because this would inevitably cause でした to both be a copula and a politeness marker.

9. まるで新書のように{新しいでした X・新しかったのです 〇}。
It was as if it were new like a new book.

~です Following Verbs

Although the use of the politeness marker ~です after the 終止形 of adjectives is attached, it is not attested for verbs is deemed ungrammatical, but this is only the case in Modern Japanese. In fact, in early Modern Japanese works, this was somewhat common, albeit in dialectal polite speech.

10. けれど自覚と云うのは、自省ということをも含んでおるですからな、無闇むやみに意志や自我を振廻ふりまわしては困るですよ。自分のったことには自分が全責任を帯びる覚悟がなくては
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 

The Peculiarity of ~ませんでした

Although the use of ~です after verbs in the 終止形 is not so attested in plain speech, this cannot be said for polite speech due to the existence of ~ませんでした. However, this is less irregular than it appears because the ~ん is the contracted form of ~ぬ, which may be interpreted as the 連体形. In which case, ~でした would be following a nominalized phrase. If ~ぬ were instead analyzed as the 終止形, it would be irregular for having ~です conjugate for tense, but at least the ordering of affixes for their syntactic purpose would be in line with tradition. Both factors possibly aid in the grammaticality of the structure. Regardless of what ~ぬ would be in, ~ませぬでした can be found in Early Modern Japanese.

11. 寂しゅうございませんでした。
I wasn’t lonely.

12. 汽船の輸送力は、開戦当初の使用船腹の概ね四分の一を保持するに過ぎませぬでした。
Steam boat transport capacity only maintained approximately 1/4th of the usable ships at the start of the war.

13. 怪我人はいませんでした。
No one was injured.

The Non-Zero Conjugational Power of ~です

Although ~です is viewed solely as a politeness marker, that does not mean it is void of conjugational power. In fact, ~でしょう is an example of its 未然形 combining with the suppositional auxiliary verb ~う, and ~ですこと is an example of its 連体形 connecting to こと, albeit as a final particle. In both situations, tense/aspect is not being altered as that is what is lost when it becomes a politeness marker. Instead, only the modality or the mood is being changed.

14. 昔は赤十字なんてものもなかったでしょう。
In the past, there wasn’t anything like the Red Cross, you see.

15. まあ、お綺麗ですこと!(古めかしい女性語)
My, how pretty!