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Subject: dimensions and shapes in Japanese
From: TAKASUGI Shinji (tssf.airnet.ne.jp)
Date: Fri, 21 Nov 2003 17:02:00 GMT
References: 1, 2, 3, 4

> But how can something one-dimensional be thick necessarily, at least, two-dimensional?

What I mean by one-dimensional is a nearly one-dimensional thing, which is large in one dimension and small in the other two dimensions, such as a bar and a rope.

Shapes are grammatically important in Japanese.

1細長い (hosonagai)長い (nagai)
短い (mijikai)
太い (futoi)
細い (hosoi)
厚い (atsui)
薄い (usui)
本 (hon)
2平たい (hiratai)大きい (ôkii)
小さい (chîsai)
厚い (atsui)
薄い (usui)
枚 (mai)
3-大きい (ôkii)
小さい (chîsai)
個 (ko)

The smallest dimension words for one-dimensional things are used only for belt-shaped things.

All the Japanese dictionaries I have checked explain 細長い (hosonagai) as 細い (hosoi, thin) and 長い (nagai, long), which is not correct.

長い ひも (nagai himo)
短い ひも (mijikai himo)
細長い ひも (hosonagai himo)
*長い 石 (nagai ishi)
*短い 石 (mijikai ishi)
細長い 石 (hosonagai ishi)

a long rope
a short rope
a long stone
*a short stone

* Asterisks mark ungrammatical phrases.

長い (nagai) means for a one-dimensional thing to be long; 細長い (hosonagai) means for a thing to be one-dimensional. The English long means both. A thing is more one-dimensional when the ratio of its length to its width is larger.

平たい (hiratai) means for a thing to be two-dimensional. However, I have long been thinking about the real meaning of it, and I've found it's not good to define it as two-dimensional. Have a look at the images below:

The left image is clearly 細長い (hosonagai). The right image can be described as 平たい (hiratai). I have concluded that the latter means being small in one dimension, opposite of the former, which means being large in one dimension. If 平たい (hiratai) is used in the three-dimensional space, it means two-dimensional, but if it is used in the two-dimensional space, it means one-dimensional perpendicular to 細長い (hosonagai).

Consequently we can say a three-dimensional thing in a four-dimensional hyperspace is 平たい (hiratai), but we don't have a word for a two-dimensional thing in a four-dimensional hyperspace.

Reference: ≪物≫と≪場所≫の意味論 (Mono to Basho no Imiron), 久島 茂 (KUSHIMA Shigeru), 2002.

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