Posted: Nov 26, 2017 12:38 am
by don't get me started
In Japanese there are a variety of different ways to talk about things where 'be' or any of its forms would be used in English.
There is a copula desu です which basically affirms existence.

Hon desu (本です。)That is a book. (In answer, perhaps, to the question 'What is that?'.)
Desu is the basic polite form. The plain for is 'da'. (だ)

Hon da 本だ That is a book.

Past forms are deshita (でした)and datta (だった) respectively.

There is another class of verbs that cover the same area as English be.
These are iru (いる)and aru (ある)
These two make a distinction between animate things and inanimate things.
Hito ga iru (人がいる) There is a person
Inu ga iru (犬がいる) There is a dog
Tori ga iru (鳥がいる) There is a bird

Hon ga aru (本がある) There is a book
Kuruma ga aru (車がある)There is a car
Ie ga aru ( 家がある) There is a house

The iru/aru verbs use used to indicate not just existence but presence.
1) Tokyo wa hito ga oi desu (東京は人が多いです) There are a lot of people in Tokyo
Anno heya no naka ni dareka ga iru ( あの部屋の中に誰かがいる)(There is somebody in that room.)

The first sentence indicates the existence of a lot of people in Tokyo.
The second one indicates the presence of someone in the room, with existence being implied as necessary by presence.

English 'be' is used in all of these examples whereas Japanese has the choice of desu, iru, and aru.

Although the animate/inanimate distinction seems a bit weird to English speakers, there is a faint mapping of this in English possessives.
Japanese uses the particle 'no' (の) to indicate possession.

John no hon (ジョンの本) = John's book.
haha no boushi ( 母の帽子) My mother's hat
inu no shippo (犬のしっぽ) The dog's tail

Ie no yane ( 家の屋根) The roof of the house
nihon no shyuto ( 日本の首都) The capital of Japan
eiga no owari ( 映画の終わり) The end of the movie

You'll notice here that although the Japanese particle 'no' appears in all of the sentences, in English an animate possessor tends to go with the 'apostrophe plus s pattern', inanimate possessors tend to go with the 'Noun of Noun pattern'. Now, this is a tendency rather than an iron rule. It is not impossible to say 'The house of my father', but the most common way to express this relationship of animate possessor to the possessed thing is ' My father's house.'

The animate/inanimate distinction seems to be one of the underlying binary categorization systems of human cognition, bubbling up here and there in different ways in different languages, as a hard distinction in Japanese 'be' verbs and as a weak distinction in English possessives.