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Review of  Japanese

Reviewer: Richard Zuber
Book Title: Japanese
Book Author: Shoichi Iwasaki
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Japanese
Language Family(ies): Altaic
Issue Number: 14.2769

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Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2003 17:00:53 +0200
From: Richard Zuber
Subject: Japanese

Iwasaki, Shoichi (2002) Japanese, John Benjamins Publishing Company,
London Oriental and African Language Library

Richard Zuber, CNRS, Paris

The book under review appeared in the series of London Oriental and
African Language Library. It contains 360 pages consisting of 14 chapters
with the following headings:
1. Overview
2. Writing System[s]
3. Sounds
4. Words
5. Morphology
6. Argument Structures
7. Tense and Aspect
8. Grammatical Constructions
9. Noun Phrases Structures
10. Embedding
11. Information Structure and the Sentence Form
12. Discourse and Grammar
13. Pragmatics and Grammar
14. Sample Texts

The aim of the London Oriental and African Language Library is to make
available a series of reliable and up-to-date descriptions of the
grammatical structure of major Oriental and African languages, in a form
accessible to non-specialists. Following the policy of the series[,] the
language material in the book is in roman script, with full glosses and
translations. Of course, concerning Japanese this is in some sense
natural since 'romani' the traditional system of "writing" Japanese in
roman script, is a way of rendering a rather complicated and rich
Japanese writing system in a way which makes it more accessible in the
early stages of language learning for foreigners. The system of
Romanisation used in the book is a modified Hepburn system, which is by
now a classical way of "writing" Japanese in 'romaji' The resulting
Roman script allows the reader to understand most examples without
entering into the details of the modification. It is a pity, however,
that other "real Japanese" writing systems are not used in the book. This
could be done at least in the last chapter where different samples of
texts illustrating various grammatical structures described in the book
are given. In this case, the use of 'kanji' , i.e. the Chinese
characters, with both syllabaries, 'hiragana' and 'katakana', in
addition to 'romaji' would be very appropriate.

As the above list of contents indicates, the book covers a very wide
range of linguistic material and presents extensively basic grammatical
constructions of Japanese. They are well illustrated by many examples[,]
most of which are invented. So in that sense, one can say that it gives
an up-to-date and living description of Japanese profitable for
non-specialists of Japanese. Given this general purpose of the book and a
great variety of grammatical material that it covers, it is obviously not
difficult to find various points which may be criticized. I will make
basically only general remarks and very few more specific ones.

The book is supposed to be a theory-neutral introduction to current
linguistic research on Japanese. Probably there is a sense in which one
can say that one is theoretically neutral in linguistic description but
in this case I do not think that this means that one can ignore the
difference between syntax and semantics or use vague expressions, sloppy
and useless definitions or unverifiable statements. My impression is that
it happens very often in the book. Thus we find : "The common nouns refer
to physical entities or abstract concepts" (p. 33), "Adjectives describe
the state that an entity is in" (p.37), "Adverbs are non-inflecting
words whose function is to modify verbs, adjectives, nominal adjectives,
other adverbs as well as sentences" (p.40), "Interrogative nouns: This
type of noun takes the place of a noun whose identity is unknown (p. 35),
"quantifiers and classifiers "enumerate" objects (p. 52), "transitive
event" (p. 125), "reciprocal events" (p. 160), "transitive situations"
(p. 163). Similarly, when trying to explain indirect passive with
intransitive verbs, a peculiarity of Japanese, the author says (p. 133)
"The indirect passive depicts some psychological impact, usually
identified as "(psychological) adversity"[...]. The degree of
psychological adversity increases counter-proportionally to the degree of
psychological involvement of the referent of the passive subject in the
event depicted".

Professional linguists, representing great part of potential readers of
the book, do not need to be reminded what an adjective or an adverb is
and other readers surely will not learn much from such definitions and

More perplexity causes the affirmation that there is no
countable-uncountable distinction (among common nouns, p.33). I take it
that the author has in mind the distinction sometimes referred to as
"mass-count" distinction. It is not clear whether any language makes such
a distinction formally in its common nouns vocabulary. Usually it is made
indirectly by the distinction of two types of determiners (in English
many vs much) or by the impossibility of applying numerals to mass terms
or making natural plurals from mass terms. Since Japanese does not have a
grammatical plural this last criterion cannot be used. It is also true
that the determiner/modifier 'takusan' can be translated by "much" and
"many" (as 'sushi' can mean "little" and "few"). We observe, however,
that other determiners are not ambiguous in that way. For instance '
shooryoo' (a small amount) can apply only to mass terms. For many
speakers this is also true with 'tairryoo' (a large amount). More
importantly, Japanese is known to have a number of classifiers. Among
them the author distinguishes (p. 53) 'quantifiers' (a very
inappropriate term, I believe). Among quantifiers we have for instance '
hai' (cups of), 'hon' (bottles of) 'saji' (spoonful of), etc. So
the distinction between, on the one hand, classifiers used to count
specifically pre-classified objects, denoted by count terms exclusively,
and, on the other hand, 'quantifiers' (in the author's terminology)
used precisely in connection with mass terms, indicates that the
distinction count-mass must exist in Japanese as well. Concerning
classifiers more generally it is a pity that nothing is said in this
context about their relationship with pluralities, reciprocity,
distributivity, group formation, etc.

For reasons of personal interest, I had a longer look at those parts of
the book which concern conditionals and related constructions. They are
essentially treated in chapter 12, devoted to discourse and grammar. The
difficult topic of "pure conditionals" is well treated even though more
examples would be useful. Concerning the concessive conditionals I have
the following remark. The author indicates that the '-te' verbal form
followed by the particle 'mo' (also) indicates the the concessive
conditional ("even if"). This is true (for more on this see Fuji
Yamaguchi 1989, 1990). The question we would like to have answered,
however, is why we use in this case the particle 'mo' and not 'sae'
usually meaning "even". This is important because on the one hand we have
also conditionals of the type "Also if" and, on the other hand, we find
that 'sae' when following a noun means "only if" in the context of the
verb in the 'ba' form. It can also mean "if only" after a verb with

To conclude I want to say something about the bibliography. It includes
basic references in English and many in Japanese, although none in other
languages. It is a pity that many publications to which reference is made
in the body of the book do not figure in the bibliography at the end.
This is the case for instance with Nishigauchi 1992 or Shibatani 1991 (p.
218). Furthermore, I am surprised that no work of Ogihara is mentioned.
It also seems to me that Kuroda 1979 should be included in the

Fuji Yamaguchi, S. (1989) Concessive Conditionals In Japanese: A
Pragmatic Analysis of the S1-TEMO S2 construction, Proc. of the 15th
annual meeting of the Berkeley Linguistic Society, 291-302

Fuji Yamaguchi, S. (1990) Counterfactual Concessive Conditionals in
Japanese, in Hoji, H. (ed.) Japanese-Korean Linguistics, CSLI, 353-367

Kuroda, S-Y. (1979) The semantics of the Japanese topic marker wa,
Lingvisticae Investigationes III:1, 75-85
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Richard Zuber studied mathematics, philosophy and linguistics. At present he is a senior research fellow at the National Center for the Scientific Research in Paris.