Japanese Grammar

Topic-related Expressions: というのは, といえば, and だが

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Last time, you learned how to express difficulty and possibility, e.g. “iPhoneは使つかいやすい (iPhones are easy to use),” and “完璧かんぺき翻訳ほんやくはありえない (Perfect translations cannot exist).” In Japanese, the concept of topics is really important to make natural expressions. In this lesson, we would like to introduce topic-related expressions.

Explanation for the Usage of というのは, といえば, and だが

Table of Contents
…というのは: Introducing Things Listeners Don’t Know
…といえば (という + Conditionals): Change Topics
だが: Preliminary Remarks

In general, topics are set by the topic particle は. However, some phrases virtually work to make a topic just like は. And depending on the context, your speech will sound more natural if you utilize such expressions. Let’s learn how they work.

…というのは: Introducing Things Listeners Don’t Know

カタカナというのは 外来がいらい使つか文字もじのこと(だ / です)
Topic / Subject Predicate
Katakana are characters that [we] use for loanwords.

This is a combination among NounというNoun, the particle の (*functions as a replacement noun), and the topic particle は. If we reword the above example, it would be like “カタカナという文字は.” You can consider …というのは as a sentence pattern and use it to introduce things listeners don’t know. With this usage, people customarily use generic nouns like こと, もの, and ところ.

神社じんじゃというのはほんじんがおいのりをするところ(だ / です)。
Shrines are a place where Japanese people pray.
寿司すしというのはごはんにさかなせたもの(だ / です)。
Sushi is something that has fish placed on top of rice.
かかりちょうというのはしきやくしょくこと(だ / です)。
Kakaricho is a position in organizations.

You can abbreviate というのは to とは. The meaning will remain the same.

神社じんじゃとはほんじんがおいのりをするところ(だ / です)。
寿司すしとはごはんにさかなせたもの(だ / です)。
かかりちょうとはしきやくしょくのこと(だ / です)。

If you use というのは to remind listeners of something, you cannot abbreviate というのは. This is often used to explain intercultural concepts.

しょうというのはつよものつとはかぎらないもの(だ / です)。
As for games, the strong don’t always win.
やさしさというのはあい気持きもちをかんがえること(だ / です)。
Kindness is thinking of the feelings of other people.

Note: You cannot use というのは to explain characteristics or attributes. If that is the case, you should just use the topic particle は.

ほんじゅん較的かくてきゆう(だ / です)。
In Japanese, word order is relatively free.
キムチすこからい(です)。
Kimuchi is a little spicy.

…といえば (という + Conditionals): Change Topics

ほんのアニメといえば ジブリが にん(だ / です)ね
Topic Subject Predicate
As for Japanese animation, Ghibli is popular, isn’t it?
*Said when you respond to “I want to work for an animation firm in Japan.”

The function is to pick up a word or a phrase from prior conversation and set it as a new topic, which is similar to なら (contextual conditions). Since …といえば consists of という and ば-form, you can reword it with other conditional form like というと and といったら.

ジブリというと監督かんとく宮崎みやざき高畑たかはた有名ゆうめい(だ / です)ね。
As for Ghibli, the directors Miyazaki and Takahata are famous, aren’t they?
宮崎みやざきといったらかいてき有名ゆうめい監督かんとく(だ / です)よ。
As for Miyazaki, he is a famous director worldwide.
監督かんとくといえばぼくもアニメの監督かんとく目指めざしていたん(だ / です)。
As for directors, I used to aim to be a director for animation, too.

Only というと has a special function. If you attach は to it, you can pick up a word or a phrase while showing contrast.

宮崎みやざきかいてき有名ゆうめい監督かんとくだ。しかし、高畑たかはたというとかいではあまりられていない。
Miyazaki is a famous director worldwide. However, as for Takahata, he is not known throughout the world very much.

だが: Preliminary Remarks

らいしゅう旅行りょこうだが しゅうごうかん わった / わりました
Topic Subject Verb
As for the trip next week, the meeting time changed.

This is utilization of the functions of が, けど, けれど, and けれども. By using the function of preliminary remarks with nouns, you can virtually make it a topic. Depending on formality, please choose one of the four words.

明日あしただけどわたし学校がっこうやすむよ。
As for tomorrow, I will be absent from school.
去年きょねんのことですけれど、トヨタでストライキがありました。
As for things [that happened] last year, there was a strike at Toyota.
ほんせいですけれども来月らいげつ選挙せんきょがあるそうですね。
As for politics in Japan, [I heard] there will be an election next month.

You add ということ when you quote what someone said and make it a topic.

A. もうみのりは明日あしたまでです。
The deadline for applications is tomorrow.
B. りが明日あしたまでということですが明日あしたなんですか?
As you said the deadline is tomorrow, but what time tomorrow?

Summary

  1. …というのは is used to introduce things listeners don’t know.
  2. “という + Conditionals” is used to change topics.
  3. が, けど, けれど, and けれども can virtually set a topic by using the function of preliminary remarks.

Now, you know how to set topics by not using the topic particle は. Communication in Japanese often relies on the context since omitting subjects and objects are very common. Because of that, you should be able to clearly make topics in a proper way. No. 2 and No. 3 in the summary are very useful tips in conversation. Next, you will learn how to express limit.

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