A Comparison of Basic Patterns
Stephen J. Moody
A conversation consisting of neutral statements of known fact is likely to be a boring one. Much intrigue in human communication lies in examining evidence and using factual information as a basis for making interesting and often insightful inferences. This idea of making a conjecture based on some form of evidence, hereafter referred to as “evidentiality”, is an intriguing study and can teach us a great deal about language patterns and the way a culture judges perceived information. Roy Freedle stated the importance of evidentiality well.
[Evidentials] can, for one thing, show us much about what we might regard as ‘natural epistemology’, the ways in which ordinary people, unhampered by philosophical traditions, naturally regard the source and reliability of their knowledge. Simultaneously we can learn a great deal about an important ingredient of language itself, the ways in which languages agree and differ in their emphases, and in the kinds of devices they make available to their speakers (vii).
We are familiar with evidentiality in English by phrases such as “it looks like”, “it seems as if”, “I heard”, “he says”, “it appears that”, and “it resembles”. There are dozens of similar grammar patterns that can be included in this category. Of course, evidentiality is not unique to English and can be found in most forms of communication1. This paper seeks to describe a few of the basic evidentials unique to the Japanese language, how they are formed into grammatically correct sentences, and what different nuances are associated with each one.
Four specific evidentials will be studied in separate sections including yō, mitai, rashii, and sō. It is important to emphasis that these four constructions by no means compose an exhaustive list. They are intended merely to highlight the most common patterns to help the reader develop a general feel for Japanese evidentiality. The conclusions presented can be used to develop an understanding of how the Japanese make a conjecture based on observed information. We will examine a few of the disagreements concerning the grammatical classification of evidential particles. The paper will also argue that, when forming evidential patterns, there are exceptions to standard grammar rules as they might appear in introductory texts. We will see that, while there are many circumstances when different patterns mean the same thing, often it is the context which dictates when one construction is preferred over another.
An analysis will also be developed based on a theory presented by Akio Kamio, which he refers to as “territory of information” (see Kamio 1). This is the idea that certain grammar patterns are used based on the source of information, whether or not the speaker posses it, and what it refers to. It attempts to analyze information used when making an utterance and classify it as either inside or outside of the either the speaker’s or the listener’s territory of information. Kamio explains that “information falling into the speaker’s or hearer’s territory of information may be quite informally characterized as information that the speaker/hearer considers proximal, or ‘close’, to him/herself” (2).
As the subtleties of a language are difficult, perhaps impossible, to understand perfectly by memorizing a set of rules, it is hoped that the reader will be able to gain insight into the basics of Japanese evidentiality and then draw his or her own conclusions. This will allow the reader to gain personal insight and develop a deeper understanding of not only the Japanese language, but also its culture and the methods of communication utilized by native speakers. To this end, the paper seeks not to perfectly describe the rules and rigor of syntax and semantics, but rather to establish a comparison between several basic forms and provide a framework for determining what situations call for what patterns.
Among the most basic evidentials in Japanese are constructions the particle yō. An attempt to translate this word directly into English typically results in something similar to ‘seems’, ‘looks like’, or ‘appears’. Although these definitions get close to the actual meaning well enough to help a beginning student learn the language, a more advanced student will realize that achieving a concise translation is a much more involved process. We first look at how yō appears in typical Japanese sentences and then use this as a base to examine the precise meaning as it may be understood by a native speaker.
As a logical first step in determining what role yō plays in a Japanese sentence it is natural to first define its part-of-speech. This is, however, a slightly controversial task.2 The difficulty in classifying it comes from the fact that it really does not behave like any of the standard Japanese parts-of-speech. We will see that it occasionally makes sense to treat it like a meishi while other times it is behaves like a keiyōdōshi. This section argues that it is most appropriate to classify it as a jodōshi, but admit that functionally it tends to behave like either a meishi and or a keiyōdōshi.
The first thing that all students of Japanese learn is that yō must always be preceded by a phrase and cannot stand alone. It follows that many basic grammar books present it as an auxiliary particle, or something similar (see Makino and Tsutsui 547-64). However, an argument is often made should be treated like a meishi. Indeed, it would appear to function in this manner in many situations. This is demonstrated most effectively with a few simple examples:
1a) Jon wa Tōkyō ni iku yō desu.
It seems that John will go to Tokyo.
1b) Nihongo wa amerikajin niwa muzukashii yō desu.
It seems that Japanese is difficult for Americans.
1c) Aiko wa Takeru no koto ga suki na yō desu.
It seems that Aiko likes Takeru.
All of the modifying words in these three sentences, classified as dōshi (as in sentence 1a), keiyōshi (1b), and keiyōdōshi (1c), respectively, connect to yō using the rentaikei conjugation. This is how we would expect them to modify any other noun and it seems to be the basis from which linguistics may argue that yō is indeed a meishi.
However, another argument asserts that yō is really a keiyōdōshi. This is easily understood when one considers a scenario when yō itself modifies another word.
1d) Sumisu-san wa nihonjin no yōni hanashite imasu.
Mr. Smith is speaking Japanese like (appearing is if he is) a Japanese.
1e) Ano hito wa saru no yōna kao wo shite iru.
That person has a face resembling a monkey.
Thus yō appears to modify verbs by adding ni and nouns by adding na, which is precisely how a keiyōdōshi modifies other words (Makino and Tsutsui 547). In summary, to construct a sentence using yō, it is modified by attaching a word or phrase to the left side as if it is a meishi, but when it modifies other words on the right side, it is conjugated as if it is a keiyōdōshi.
The above argument admits there are times when yō behaves as several different parts of speech and this is probably why there is a lack of harmony amongst grammarians considering it’s appropriate classification. It is easy to see that it really cannot be satisfactorily labeled as one or the other. With this in mind, note that because yō cannot begin a sentence or stand by itself, it violates the rules of being jiritsugo altogether. So really the only part of speech left is jodōshi, and indeed this classification seems to be the favorite of most authors (see McClain 1, 80).
Martin presents a very intriguing analysis. He points out the subtle fact that yō may actually nominalize the phrase preceding it (911). Consider the following:
1f) Mae ni hanashita yōni ashita mise ni ikimasu.
As I told you before (in the manner in which I previously told you), I will go to the store tomorrow.
Thus the phrase mae ni hanashita ‘[I] told you before’ is nominalized by attaching it to yō. This is made more obvious by comparing it to a standard nominalizer, such as koto, in which case the phrase would become mae ni hanashita koto ‘the thing of telling you previously’. This is a neutral nominalization wherein what was originally a verb phrase is now treated in its entirety as a noun. By this same principle, mae ni hanashita yō is also a nominalized phrase. The only difference is the conjectural nature of the latter. Thus it could be translated as ‘the manner in which I told you before’. It can now be used as a modifier of other words, functioning precisely as if it is a keiyōdōshi3. In this sense, an analogy can be constructed in which koto turns phrases into meishi and yō turns phrases into keiyōdōshi, which is indeed an interesting idea.
Martin has broken down yō into three broad definitions, ‘as if S is so’, ‘in a way so that S is so’, and ‘in a way which agrees with S’ (741). This is perhaps the most standard definition. Yō indicates resemblance and is used to compare an agent to nouns, verbs, or adjectives. In this sense, it is a contrastive particle used in making comparisons by suggesting that one thing looks or behaves like something else (Vaccari 404).
Makino and Tsutsui also make an interesting argument by saying that yō is used for conjecture based on reliable first-hand information from which the speaker then makes some inference. When the speaker indicates that it seems as if John went to Tokyo, as in example 1a, the use of yō indicates the speaker feels confident this conjecture is accurate. Thus yō carries with it a high degree of certainty (552).
The territory of information principle can also lend a hand toward understanding the nuances of yō. Yō is based on reliable first-hand evidence and is thus information “owned” by the speaker in the sense that he has obtained it and understands what it is. This information is then used to make a logically based conjecture about something the speaker may not know. In English this may be expressed by saying, “Based on the observed facts, I conclude that it appears . . . .” This idea will become important in the following sections when we compare yō to other evidentials.
Having established the construction and meaning of yō, one of the most basic evidential forms in Japanese, this paper will now look at three other constructs which have comparable functions. It will describe them using a similar framework, but with references to the ideas just presented. There will be an occasional attempt to explicitly compare and contrast the various forms, but it should be noted that the ultimate decision on when to use a specific grammar patter is left to the reader’s discretion upon gaining an understanding of the nuances conveyed.
Occasionally considered the colloquial equivalent of yō4, mitai is the logical next-step in a development of evidential constructions in Japanese. As will be explained, mitai is indeed used in ways resembling that of yō. However, an argument will also be presented suggesting that such a claim is not very accurate. From a purely syntactical standpoint, mitai is analogous to yō, but the analogy is far from perfect. Mitai clearly differs in the nuances portrayed to the listener and there are situations when one is undoubtedly preferred over the other.
For reasons analogous to yō, mitai is sometimes presented as a keiyōdōshi and sometimes as a meishi. When mitai itself is used to modify another word, the former is valid. Consider the following:
2a) Sushi mitai na tabemono ga kirai desu.
(I) dislike food that resembles sushi.
2b) Tsuyu mitai ni ame ga yoku furimasu ne.
It rains often as if it is the rainy season.
2c) Ame ga furu mitai desu.
It looks as if it will rain.
When it modifies a noun, as in 2a, it uses the particle na, for a verb it uses ni, and when it ends a sentence it takes a form of the copula da. This is precisely the result we just observed with yō and is in keeping with the rules of keiyōdōshi.
If the analogy to yō is extended, we would be lead to conclude that when mitai is modified by other words it must function like a meishi. This is not the case and here the analogy breaks down. This can be seen by replacing mitai in the above sentences with yō as follows:
2d) *Sushi yōna tabemono ga kirai desu.
(I) dislike food that resembles sushi.
2e) *Tsuyu yōni ame ga yoku furimasu ne.
It rains often as if it is the rainy season.
2f) Ame ga furu yō desu.
It looks as if it will rain.
Although sentence 2f is correct, 2d and 2e suggest this is the exception and not the rule. The correct form of 2d would be to include the particle no between sushi and yō, yet no is not necessary for mitai. The same is true of the particle ni in example 2e. Unlike yō, mitai never functions quite like a noun and classifying it as a meishi is inaccurate. The conclusion is that is must be a jodōshi (McClain 68).
Therefore, the patterns used to modify mitai can be summed up with a few general rules. If it is in present tense, the copula da is dropped. In past tense, on the other hand, datta is still required. This is immediately seen in the phrase, sensei datta mitai ‘It seems (he) was a teacher’. Similarly, keiyōdōshi, when conjugated in the rentaikei form, drop na before modifying mitai, but keiyōdōshi in past tense still require datta (“Basic Grammar Page” 5).
The connotation expressed by mitai is very similar to yō, with both meaning ‘looks like’, ‘as if’, or ‘resembles’. However, there are clearly situations in which using one is correct while the other makes the sentence ungrammatical.
2g) Kare wa saru no yōni aruite imasu.
It appears that he is walking like a monkey.
2h) *Kare wa saru mitai ni aruite imasu.
It appears that he is walking like a mokney.
2i) *Kare wa saru no yō desu.
He looks like a monkey.
2j) Kare wa saru mitai desu.
He looks like a monkey.
The argument to follow is that yō suggests a logical inference whereas mitai suggests simple resemblance. Thus 2g is correct while 2h is not because the speaker is making an inference that the listener may or may not agree on. The conjecture belongs to the speaker based on information he perceives. The opposite case is shown in 2i and 2j where mitai is preferred. This is because the speaker is suggesting resemblance and is correct if we can assume the listener has also made the same conjecture.
As mentioned previously, mitai is sometimes defined as the colloquial version of yō. This argument may make it possible to uncover a pattern indicating when it is appropriate to use and when the more formal-sounding yō is preferred, but such a broad treatment is not correct. The above examples also lend support to this argument when one notices that 2g prefers yō while 2j prefers mitai. We would not expect such a result if mitai is merely the colloquial equivalent. It must be the case that the meanings of these two words diverge and hence the situations in which they can be used vary.
Mitai seems to be primarily involved in describing a resemblance by suggesting that one think looks like or behaves after the manner of something else (Martin 174). For an example, refer back to sentence 2j. Yō, on the other hand, seems to be used more to express inference based on a logical thought process stemming from evidence personally obtained by the speaker, as shown in 2g. The source of the information is the same as both use information that belongs to the speaker. The conjecture, however, is different. Mitai is preferred for a more neutral statement where the conjecture is one that is likely obvious to all participants in the conversation. Yō, on the other hand, is preferred when the speaker is making his own assertion. From a territory of information perspective, with yō both the evidence and the conjecture are owned by the speaker. With mitai only the evidence is owned by the speaker and the conjecture comes from outside his territory.
Another point that is interesting at a passing glance is Martin’s assertion that mitai carries with it a nuance of belittling the agent to which it refers. Hence the word which modifies mitai on the left often becomes a negative object of comparison (174).
2k) Anata mitai na hito ga kirai desu.
I don’t like people like you.
2l) ?Anata mitai na hito ga suki desu.
I like people like you.
According to Martin’s analysis, 2l is not grammatical because the sentence is stating a positive remark while the usage of mitai suggests the speaker is belittling the subject. Therefore it would be better to replace mitai with no yō, which sounds a little more formal and is therefore more appropriate in the given context. This argument seems to be hitting near the suggestion that mitai is informal relative to yō, but it is not entirely accurate as there are many positive contexts in which it is appropriate to use mitai. A few examples, discovered by using the internet to search for student essays and newspaper articles written by native Japanese speakers, illustrate positive contexts that mitai without a derogatory implication.
2m) Yappari Amerikajin wa kanji ga suki mitai desu.
Of course Americans seem to like Chinese characters.
2n) Watashi wa haha mitai ni otōto o sewa shite imau.
I am helping my little brother like (in a manner resembling) my mother.
Thus the reader should be aware of a possible informal connotation surrounding mitai, but this does not necessarily require it to not be used in positive conversation.
These two expressions are the most fundamental ways to state an evidential in Japanese. However, an analysis of evidentiality would not be complete if we concluded at this point. Two more words, rashii and sō, are also used very often to express uncertainty. These words will be developed using the same format as before, with the analysis concentrating on points that can be used to further illustrate differences between evidential forms.
In considering rashii, it is necessarily to make a slight paradigm shift. Yō and mitai were shown to form descriptions based on facts observed by the speaker. An inference is then made by either logically reaching a conclusion or stating a passing observation respectively. Rashii, on the other hand, involves a meaning closer to hearsay rather than inference. In this sense it is still evidential because the speaker uses rashii to convey information based on some form of evidence. However, it should be stressed that limiting rashii to just hearsay is inaccurate and therefore other possible nuances will be discussed.
Placing rashii into a sentence is a relatively simply task. As it cannot stand alone or begin a sentence, it makes sense to classify it as a jodōshi. However it can be conjugated to modify other words as one would typically conjugate a keiyōshi. It is modified by other words as in the following examples:
3a) Tomodachi wa mō ie ni kaetta rashii desu.
(It seems that/I hear that) my friend already went home.
3b) Sono uso wa hontō rashii desu.
That lie seems to be the truth.
3c) Kono eiga wa omoshiroi rashii desu.
(It looks like/I heard that) this movie is interesting.
The general pattern is to precede it with a verb or keiyōshi in the rentaikei conjugation. 3a shows that past tense is appropriate. 3b shows a situation wherein a meishi or keiyōdōshi is used to modify rashii. In both cases the modifier is attached directly, omitting any no or na particles as well as the copula da. Note that if it is necessary to use a modifier in past tense, datta is still used.
A potential difference between rashii and the evidentials discussed previously lies in the fact that it indicates evidence based primarily on what has been obtained via hearsay (Makino and Tsutsui 374). As such, rashii takes a weaker, more uncertain tone than does yō simply because it is not based on first-hand information as yō often is. However, it seems to take a stronger stand than sō, which will be discussed in the following section. In making the claim that rashii is hearsay, it is important to note that this does not mean the speaker is merely relaying information he has heard. Rashii is still inferential in nature because it presents information that is not necessarily what the speaker knows to be true, but rather what he has deduced to be true based on outside information. If rashii is to be interpreted as hearsay, than the speaker has presumably obtained evidence from someone else.
Although this is one correct explanation of rashii, the scope is much too narrow. Limiting the meaning to hearsay evidence alone is far from accurate. For example, both 3a and 3c can be interpreted either as information the speaker heard from other sources or information deduced from evidence actually observed. The latter interpretation would not be considered hearsay. Thus rashii is somewhat ambiguous when compared to the English ‘I heard’ or ‘I saw’. The following are a few more examples demonstrating this conjectural use of rashii taken from Japanese newspapers.
3d) Chūgakusei rashii gakkō shinbun
A school newspaper that looks/appears like a junior high [newspaper]
3e) Keiei o okonatteiru shain no shigotoba rashii
[It] looks like an office belonging to an accounting employee.
3f) ?Eieijiten o jisan suru jukensei wa hotondo inai rashii
It appears that there are no test takers carrying an English dictionary.
It is unclear whether or not 3f is hearsay or conjectural when taken out of context. However, the reader should note that it is perfectly appropriate to interpret this sentence as conjectural if the situation allows for it.
Another difference between yō and mitai seems to be in the strength of the assertion. Yō and mitai indicate the inference comes from evidence close to the speaker which he has reasoned through, while rashii is more uncertain and the information is somewhat removed from actual evidence. It seems the speaker is making a conjecture based on what he has heard or otherwise intuitively knows as opposed to a hard, clear observation. The information is not possessed by the speaker, but he is aware that it exists and is making his own conjecture based on it.
Kamio develops his territory of information theory by suggesting that many situations using rashii occur when the information is not owned by either participant in the conversation. The speaker is suggesting something that he heard or otherwise inferred, but of which he does not have first hand knowledge. He thinks it is true, but is still trying to get at the source of the facts. Furthermore, rashii is not of necessity looking for confirmation from the listener, suggesting that the source of the information may lie out of the listener’s territory as well (50).
Considering the examples presented above, it is noticed that natural occurrences of rashii come primarily at the end of sentences and seem to feel like an afterthought which adds to the speaker’s apparent uncertainty. Also, when appearing in newspapers, it is difficult to find it unless it arises as a direct quotation or in the headline of an article. If we can assume that newspaper articles are written with the purpose of relaying factual information, it would make sense that rashii would not appear in the body of the article. If it is indeed suggesting information that is not known to either party, then it would be ungrammatical to use it when making a conjecture based on solid fact. In such a case yō would be preferred.
An example common to make grammar texts highlights one other realm of meaning captured by rashii.
3g) Otoko rashii otoko
A manly man
This formation suggests that the arguments presented here are still not adequate. Rashii can apparently be used to suggest resemblance (or the lack thereof) when comparing two agents. However, the above explanations may be able to offer some insight into this example. If rashii is indeed an inference based not on a fact, but what the speaker intuitively knows to be true, then 3g can be interpreted as the speaker suggesting that the man in question appears to be a good representation of what the speaker knows a man to be. Hence translations such as “manly man” or “a man who is a prime example of what a man should be” seem to be accurate. This suggests situations when rashii will no doubt be preferred over other evidentials, none of which convey this same nuance.5
As with yō, sō is often treated in grammar books as if it functions like a noun. As was also discovered with yō and mitai, such an analysis is not entirely accurate. The pattern with all evidentials we have considered shows that they cannot stand alone or begin a sentence and are probably best classified as a jodōshi. The evidential sō is no exception6 .
Makino and Tsutsui provide a very clean and concise analysis of the formation of grammar patterns involving sō. In an argument common to many linguists, they split the analysis up into two constructions, referred to as “hearsay sō” and “conjecture sō” (409). The previous formation is demonstrated in the following examples:
4a) Ame ga furu sō desu.
I heard it will rain.
4b) Sono udedokei ga takai sō desu.
I heard that wristwatch is expensive.
4c) Sumisu-san wa nihongo ga jōzu da sō desu.
I heard Mr. Smith is good at Japanese.
4d) Omoshiroi hanashi datta sō desu.
I heard it was an interesting talk.
As the reader may be able to deduce, the above constructions are generalized with a few simple rules. A phrase in the rentaikei conjugation is used to modify sō on the left. In the case of a meishi or a keiyōdōshi, the copula da is used instead of the particles na or no. Past tense conjugations are also perfectly appropriate as shown in 4d.
Now consider different versions of the prior examples in which the formation has been altered slightly:
4e) Ame ga furi sō desu.
It seems like it will rain.
4f) Sono udedokei ga taka sō desu.
That looks like an expensive wristwatch.
4g) Sumisu-san ha nihongo ga jōzu sō desu.
It appears that Mr. Smith is good at Japanese.
4h) *Omoshiroi hanashi datta sō desu.
It seemed like it was a good talk.
In this formation, the renyōkei conjugation is used and in the case of keiyōdōshi, the copula da has been dropped. The difference here is in the meaning presented to the listener, which will be described in the next section. The point to notice is that in this formation it appears that sō no longer nominalizes the phrase but rather becomes a part of the single word preceding it, creating a new word in and of itself. It is also informative to note that 4h is ungrammatical not due to the construction, but due to the intended meaning. In this case sō retains the meaning first discussed and should be translated as in 4d. Sō can also be used itself to modify other words. This is seen in the following:
4i) Ame ga furi sō na tenki
Weather that looks as if it will rain
The names attributed to these two formations by Makino and Tsutsui give insight into the meanings associated with each one. In the first construction, sō exclusively indicates hearsay evidence. Thus the first four examples indicate statements that the speaker may not be sure of, but heard from some primary or secondary source. It also appears to be information that the speaker is merely relaying without any personal inference. The hearsay element makes it appear in contexts similar to rashii. This result is particularly interesting when one notices this formation of sō is strikingly similar to that of rashii. However, to use sō in a situation of inference, the evidential sō is used instead. Thus the 4e through 4h would be used in situations similar to yō and mitai.
Another interesting point is realized when considering the ungrammaticality of the following sentence.
4j) *Ame ga furu sō deshita.
I heard (in the past) that it will rain.
The incorrectness of this statement may come from the fact that even hearsay sō is inferential in nature. The speaker is still making a prediction, but it just happens to be that the evidence was obtained from someone else. The utterance itself is still referring to some future event.
Hearsay sō is clearly relaying information not possessed by either the speaker or the listener. Thus it lies out of the territory of information of both participants in the conversation. Conjecture sō, however, seems to be based on information known by the speaker, but of which he is unsure. Thus the conjecture is made based on some first-hand observation, although it is also likely that the listener also has access to this information, as is the probably case with 4i. Both participants make the observation and based on that information, the speaker makes an inference.
This leads to the interesting conclusion that, at least to a certain degree, sō is an all-purpose evidential. It can be used to express hearsay, inference, and observation. The distinguishing point lies in the formation and context of the sentence in which it appears. This seems to be the reason many grammar books handle both patterns as two completely different words, and indeed this is the best way to handle it (see Makino and Tsuitsui 408 and McClain 50, 74).
By this point the reader should have developed a feel for the differences between the most common evidential forms in Japanese. These differences appear both in the manner in which the sentences are constructed and in the nuances they convey. All evidentials are similar to the extent that they are to express an idea based not on something that the speaker knows but rather on information he has obtained from some other source. A conjecture is then made by reasoning through implications of the evidence presented.
Because there exist many different ways to infer information, there are likewise many different ways for one to express evidentiality. Yō presents a statement of high certainty that has been inferred by the reader after logically examining the evidence he posses. Such evidence typically comes from direct sources or indirect sources that are known to be trustworthy or close to the actual evidence. Mitai is similar in that it expresses an idea inferred from evidence and carries a nuance of only slightly weaker certainty. It also carries feeling of informality relative to yō. Both can be used to form comparisons, justified by the fact that a comparison is merely the speaker’s conjecture based on what has been observed.
Rashii is also used to express appearance and inference, but does not feel as certain as yō or mitai. It is also used to indicate the speaker has received his information in the form of hearsay from secondary source, but carries a nuance of inference that goes beyond the constraints of simply relaying outside information. Sō has several difference meanings depending on how it is formed within the sentence. It can take on a meaning that explicitly states the speaker is making a conjecture based on hearsay. Other formations can change sō into an idea that suggests inference or conjecture similar to yō. However, when sō is used the certainty level is notable lower than that of yō7.
It should also be mentioned that the four evidentials presented in this paper by no means form a comprehensive list. Aoki suggests that tte can be also be used to express hearsay and no da can be used to show inference based on fact. He also presents garu from the point of view of evidentiality (224). Makino and Tsutsui argue that darō can also be classified along with evidentials since it is often used to present the speaker’s conjecture about what he thinks will happen (552). Further research of these patterns would no doubt be an interesting and insightful study, revealing not only how inference is expressed, but also into what implications this may have concerning the methods of communication in Japanese.
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Vaccari, Oreste, and Enko Elisa Vaccari. Complete Course