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LINGUIST List 23.5246

Thu Dec 13 2012

Review: Phonology; Phonetics: Labrune (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>

Date: 13-Dec-2012
From: Mark Irwin <mark.irwin.1967gmail.com>
Subject: The Phonology of Japanese
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-773.html

AUTHOR: Laurence Labrune
TITLE: The Phonology of Japanese
SERIES: The Phonology of the World’s Languages (Oxford Linguistics)
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2012

Reviewer: Mark Irwin, Faculty of Literature & Social Sciences, Yamagata University

This 296-page monograph is an updated and modified version of Labrune (2006).
It examines the phonology of Japanese (modern standard Japanese, a.k.a. Tokyo
Japanese) across seven chapters (proportion of the total monograph in
brackets): Introduction (8%), Vowels (11%), Consonants (15%), The Phonology of
Consonant Voicing (10%), Special Segments (3%), Prosodic Units (12%), Accent
(30%). There is also a bibliography (6%) and index (3%).

After considering the theoretical background (general framework = generative
phonology with a dash of structural phonology), Chapter 1, ‘Introduction’,
offers a brief outline and history of the Japanese language, its writing
system, the stratification of its lexicon, and previous western literature on
Japanese phonology.

The bulk of Chapter 2, ‘Vowels’, examines vowel insertions and deletions,
vowel devoicing, vowel length and ‘the problem of diphthongs’. A small amount
of space is also devoted to ‘old and dialectal vowel systems’, the
distributional characteristics of /e/, and the relative frequency of vowels.

After a general overview of the consonant system, in Chapter 3 L. devotes a
section, or part of a section, to each of the Japanese consonants. The
greatest space is devoted to /h/, the velar nasal, and to /r/. The chapter
closes with a look at what L. terms the ‘new consonants’. In fact, what she is
actually treating are, for the most part, new MORAS, or what Irwin (2011:
71-76) would describe as the ‘contemporary moras’ found in loanwords.

Chapter 4, ‘The Phonology of Consonant Voicing’, is divided into three major
sections. The first, ‘General Properties of Japanese Voiced Obstruents’, looks
at their distribution and frequency, co-occurrence restrictions, lack of
gemination, instability, historical development and orthographic
representation (both past and present). The second section examines ‘Rendaku’,
its triggers, blocking factors, and possible correlations with accent. The
third section looks briefly at ‘Post-Nasal Voicing’.

The brief Chapter 5, ‘Special Segments’, treats the mora nasal, the mora
obstruent (‘gemination’) and vowel length, as well as their origin and

In Chapter 6, ‘Prosodic Units’, after examining the mora and the syllable, L.
offers a ‘strictly binary model of the basic prosodic unit in Japanese’ (i.e.,
a denial of the syllable), and then closes with examinations of the foot and
the prosodic word.

Chapter 7, ‘Accent’ is the final, though meatiest, of all the chapters,
occupying almost one-third of the volume. It is subdivided into seven
sections: General Principles of Tokyo Japanese Accentuation; the Accent of
Simplex Words (further subdivided into Yamato words, verbs and i-adjectives,
Sino-Japanese lexemes corresponding to a single Chinese character (i.e.
Sino-Japanese mononoms or ‘ichijikango’), Western loans, a lengthy ‘constraint
based account of the accent of Western loans’, and ‘other types of simplex
words’); the Accent of Compound Words (‘compound nouns with a [modifier-head]
structure containing only one accent nucleus’, a lengthy ‘constraint-based
account of compound noun accentuation’, compound nouns containing two accent
nuclei, Yamato dvandva compounds, compound mimetics, two-character fixed
Sino-Japanese compounds (i.e. Sino-Japanese binoms or ‘nijikango’), compound
verbs, and numeral compounds); the Accentuation of Phonological Phrases;
Dialectal and Sociological Variation in Accent; Tone or Accent?; and an
Overview of Accent Studies in Japan.

Apart from a few typos, the volume is mercifully free of textual and
formatting errors, though the fact that the author is not a native speaker of
English is very obvious in places (especially Ch. 1). Here, more judicious
editing would have been welcome. Beyond this, we find: ‘whether rendaku is
still productive is a matter of controversy’. There is surely little
controversy here -- it is clearly productive. To take only one example of
many, Paul the Octopus (2008-2010), famous for correctly predicting the
results of all Germany’s games in the 2010 soccer World Cup, was dubbed by the
Japanese media the ‘yogendako’ ‘octopus prophet’. Unquestionably a neologism,
here ‘tako’ ‘octopus’ undergoes rendaku in line with the majority of other
compounds in which it appears (‘yudedako’, ‘sudako’, ‘mizudako’, etc.). In the
same chapter (p. 121), there exists no ‘robust tendency’ whereby a final mora
beginning in a voiced obstruent in the first element blocks rendaku in the
second (cf. Vance & Irwin 2012). To claim that the ‘graphemes for the nasal
mora /N/ … are the only [‘kana’] whose origin is unknown’ (p. 135) is
incorrect (see, for example, Okumura 1972). ‘London station’ (p. 139), sadly,
does not yet exist. The bulk of Ch. 6, dealing with the status of the syllable
in Japanese, is broadly similar in content to Labrune (2012). Finally, the
reviewer was startled by what he can only describe as the bizarre claim that
‘[t]he progressive disappearance or near disappearance of labials in the
phonological system might be related to a search for a certain immobility or
facial impassibility’ (p. 92). This notion appears to date back to Wundt
(1900) for Iroquoian.

In her Introduction (p. 1), L. states her aims to be twofold: to ‘present the
actual “state of the art” of Japanese phonology’, as a ‘synthesis of [the] two
major research streams’ of traditional Japanese ‘kokugogaku’ and Western
scholarship; and to ‘offer new analyses and data concerning some of the
central issues of Japanese phonology in a theoretically oriented approach’.

In her first aim, L. largely succeeds, providing one accepts a priori that
there are issues over which the two major research streams disagree. Many
‘kokugogakusha’, for example, regard what is spoken in Okinawa Prefecture and
the far offshore islands of Kagoshima as ‘Okinawan’ dialects of Japanese (as
do the mass media, whose influence should not be taken lightly), while the
vast majority of Western scholars regard what is spoken in this area as a
number of different languages belonging to the Ryukyuan language family. L.’s
presumably deliberate decision to take the latter line means that any
discussion of dialect variation (e.g. in Chapter 7) must ignore Ryukuan and
cannot reflect Okinawan-inclusive mainstream ‘kokugogaku’ scholarship. But
this is a minor quibble: L. recognizes that these ‘two ways of doing
linguistics … usually ignore each other’ (p. 2) and her attempt to make the
twain meet is laudable.

L. also succeeds in her second aim of offering new theoretically-based
analyses but, ultimately, one has to wonder to what end. In her Introduction,
L. states that the volume is ‘intended for a general audience of students with
no specialized knowledge of the Japanese language, and non-linguist
Japanologists who want to obtain up-to-date information in the field of
Japanese phonology’ (p. 2). Although the Japanese phonologist can learn much
from this volume, it is difficult to imagine a non-linguist ‘-ologist’ of any
hue, let alone a mere student with no specialized knowledge of the Japanese
language, benefiting from a volume which presumes too much and whose frequent
excursions into theoretical exegeses muddy even further already murky waters.
There IS competition out there -- in the name of Vance (2008) -- and Vance
(2008) wins hands down in any race for non-specialist readership. This
reviewer can’t help concluding that L.’s volume would have been more readable
and more accessible without the theory.

Irwin, Mark. 2011. Loanwords in Japanese. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John

Labrune, Laurence. 2006. La Phonologie du Japonais. Leuven and Paris: Peeters.

Labrune, Laurence. 2012. Questioning the universality of the syllable:
Evidence from Japanese. Phonology 29: 113-152.

Okumura, Mitsuo. 1972. Kodai no on’in. In Nakata, Norio (ed.), Kōza nihongoshi
2: oninshi, mojishi. Tokyo: Taishūkan, pp. 58-171.

Vance, Timothy. 2008. The sounds of Japanese. Cambridge: CUP.

Vance, Timothy & Irwin, Mark. 2012. The first statement of Lyman’s Law. Paper
presented at the 25th Paris Meeting on East Asian Linguistics, École des
Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris.

Wundt, Wilhelm. 1900. Völkerpsychologie I: Die Sprache. Leipzig: W. Engelmann.

Mark Irwin is an associate professor at Yamagata University, Japan. His
research interests include the phonology, sociolinguistics, historical
linguistics and sociohistorical linguistics of the Japanese language.
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