Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Gita Martohardjono

Committee Members

William McClure

Samer Al Khatib

Subject Categories

Anthropological Linguistics and Sociolinguistics | Applied Linguistics | Discourse and Text Linguistics | First and Second Language Acquisition | Semantics and Pragmatics


Main-Clause Omission, Japanese, Hebrew, Interlanguage Pragmatics, Speech Act, Mitigation


Typically, linguists study things that people actually say, but this dissertation focuses on what people do NOT say; specifically, it deals with main-clause omission. This paper presents an empirical study on main-clause omission constraints in Japanese after the concessive particle ga (‘although’/’but’), the first known controlled experiment of its kind in the literature. It investigates, from a pragmatic and discourse-analytic perspective, intuitive judgments regarding the allowance of main-clause omission in Japanese, in an attempt to reveal whether Japanese Native Speakers (JNS) use main-clause omission as a pragmatic strategy, as is suggested in the literature. If they do, then what triggers main-clause omission in Japanese and whether this pragmatic strategy is rule-governed and systematic are further areas of interest and investigation.

Moreover, this study presents a comparative analysis regarding the behavior around main-clause omission in natural conversation in both Japanese and in a language that is rarely directly compared to it in the literature: Hebrew. The reason for this comparison is that these two languages contrast pragmatically: Japanese is considered to be one of the most “high-context” languages in the world—i.e., a language where a lot of the information is internalized in the speaker, and very little is said explicitly, meaning a language that encourages omission in general; Hebrew, on the other hand, is considered to be one of the most “low-context” languages in the world—i.e., a language in which most of the information is expressed explicitly, and omission is discouraged (Hall, 1976, p.79, 98).

Lastly, predicting a difference in behavior around main-clause omission between the two languages, this study looks at Hebrew native speakers who are learners of Japanese, in an attempt to reveal whether the Japanese native speakers’ behavior around main-clause omission is learnable or not by Hebrew native speakers (HNS).

Results from experiments conducted on 40 participants—20 native speakers from each linguistic group—show that main-clause omission is not acceptable among Hebrew native speakers (HNS), but is widely acceptable, in certain contexts, among Japanese native speakers (JNS). Results also reveal that JNS use the omission as a pragmatic strategy, not randomly but systematically, and that the speech act of Mitigation in the subordinate clause is a crucial trigger for main-clause omission. Further, they reveal a sharp disparity in the cultural interpretation of main-clause omission: JNS view it as a strategy to show respect and politeness toward the listener, while HNS view it as an expression of disrespect. A follow-up experiment on 20 HNS who are advanced Japanese language learners (JLL) reveals that despite cultural and discourse pragmatic differences, the widely employed strategy of main-clause omission among JNS is learnable among non-native Japanese speakers. The study concludes that incorporating discourse pragmatic strategies of this kind into language textbooks and curricula, especially for speakers with different communication tactics, such as JNS and HNS, would contribute to higher proficiency of the target language and its cultural norms. Ultimately, the results strengthen the claim that discourse pragmatics are rule-governed, have systematic constraints, and are learnable.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Saturday, May 30, 2020

Graduate Center users:
To read this work, log in to your GC ILL account and place a thesis request.

Non-GC Users:
See the GC’s lending policies to learn more.