AUTHOR: Yamaguchi, Toshiko
TITLE: Japanese Language in Use
SUBTITLE: An Introduction
Julie Bruch, Dept. of Languages and Literature, Mesa State College
This book examines both written and spoken Japanese discourse, including aspects
of language and culture and analyses of pragmatics. It is a follow-up to a text
published earlier the same year entitled _Japanese Linguistics, An
Introduction_, which outlines linguistic structures of the language. Together,
the two texts are an attempt to cover a broad range of topics that will be of
interest to both advanced students of Japanese and specialists in Japanese
The book is divided into five chapters: 1) ''Pragmatics I,'' which discusses forms
that express speaker intentions explicitly via performative speech acts and
signals of modality, 2) ''Pragmatics II,'' which focuses on the indirect messages
conveyed by certain utterances within varying contexts, 3) ''Discourse,'' which
explores questions of coherence, cohesion, conjunction, and clausal linkage,
among others, 4) ''Language and culture,'' which outlines the domains of gender,
in- and out-groups, politeness, honorifics, and age differences as expressed in
linguistic forms, and 5) ''Radio talk,'' which shifts the focus to conversational
analysis, covering conversational openings and closings, as well as strategies
for engaging in and sustaining conversation.
There are careful notes at the beginning of the book explaining how Japanese
texts are presented and romanized and how phonological and phonetic
transcriptions are arranged. The reader will find nearly 150 authentic texts
within the chapters that illustrate the various points of language use. These
texts range from cartoons, such as ''Doraemon,'' to excerpts from children's
stories and novels to newspaper articles, and in the final chapter, a
fifteen-page transcription of radio talk. Some of the texts are transliterated,
some are translated, and others remain in Japanese, depending on their level of
difficulty and their significance to the point being explained.
Each chapter contains explanations interspersed with analytic activities for
readers based on the sample texts presented. Author's commentary follows some of
the activities, while others are left for the readers to work through on their own.
The book ends with a comprehensive list of references ranging from the year 1951
to the year 2006. This is followed by indices in both English and Japanese.
It must be said that the author takes great care to ground the reader in the
larger linguistic theory before zooming in on the specific points of Japanese in
each chapter. This is done in a fairly simple yet effective presentation of
definitions of basic linguistic terms, such as: pragmatics, speech acts,
reference, demonstratives, implicature, metaphor, metonymy, discourse, ellipsis,
interactional particles, honorifics, clipping, and reduplication. The author
does her readers a great service by including the Japanese terms for most of the
technical linguistic lingo. Other works analyzing Japanese linguistics have
tended to present the working terminology only in English, thereby limiting
readers' ability to learn to ''talk linguistics'' in Japanese as well as talk
about Japanese linguistics.
Frequently, the ground-setting definitions are connected to brief overviews of
theory, with references to important literature from such representative
scholars as Searle, Austin, Jespersen, Grice, Makino, Shibatani, and Halliday.
This helps readers without specific linguistic training to more fully access the
concepts and their origins.
Overall, the authentic texts used for illustrative purposes throughout the book
are extremely useful. Their genre is varied as is their register and their level
of difficulty. This creates a balance between more challenging and simpler texts
while maintaining reader interest. The typeset used for many of the texts,
however, is in the form of very old-fashioned, small, light print and is
difficult to read. Some of the comic strip texts seemed to be smeared, and the
smaller furigana were illegible.
The activities provided for analysis were conceptualized in a way that
encouraged readers to engage as co-interactants in the author's own analyses.
The activities were present in sufficient number so as to help ground readers in
each concept before leading them to further related concepts. While most of the
activities were worthwhile, such as the ''complete the table'' exercise associated
with ''orders and requests'' (Chapter 1, Activity 6), others, such as the analysis
of multiple referents of the word ''hikouki'' (Chapter 2, Activity 2) were
unconvincing (or perhaps lacking in clarity), and the quest to rearrange the
steps listed in a recipe (Chapter 3, Activity 1) seemed trivial. The author's
commentary following some of the activities was effective both in helping to
clarify and in encouraging further thought, but the commentaries might have been
better located in an appendix - it was too tempting to look at them before doing
In Chapter 1, Yamaguchi discusses expressions, word forms, and word endings that
indicate the speech acts of explaining, judging, and ordering or requesting. She
carefully and clearly delineates the subtle differences in illocutionary force
inherent in possible variants within each mode. Her discussion covers variants
a) explaining (''no da kara da wake da mono da koto da'')
b) judging (''darou deshyou hazu da –ta garu te shimau to omou rashii mitai sou
da kamo shirenai kashira'')
c) ordering and requesting (variety of imperative verb suffixes, including:
''-nasai…-na….-te kudasai….choudai….-te kure….-te rasshai….-te wa dame, -te wa
ikemasen….-n da yo)
The differences in effect of the variants above are felt at such a subconscious
level that Yamaguchi's attempts to make them explicit are to be applauded. She
succeeds quite well in explaining how the interaction of formality, gender, and
social status of interlocutors are implicitly linked to the resulting meaning
While it must have been extremely difficult to decide from among the wealth of
interesting forms in Japanese the particular subtopics to include and which to
exclude, some suggestions for additions follow.
With regard to the use of ''kashira'' to indicate uncertainty together with an
emotional reaction such as surprise, or alternately, a sense of expectation (p.
21-23), it would have been an interesting addition had Yamaguchi taken the
opportunity provided by this discussion to also delve into the intriguing
illocutionary effects of the negative variant ''jya nai kashira.''
Another addition that might have been valuable in the discussion of command
forms is the question used as command, e.g., ''kikenai no?'' (with the resulting
force of ''listen!).
And finally, in the discussion of ''-te rasshai'' implying anger or determination
(p. 33), the explanation was insufficient in distinguishing why that same force
is not present in expressions such as ''itte rasshai.''
Chapter 2. introduces examples of indirect meaning that arise from the
combination of utterance and context. The author includes discussions of the
deictic, anaphoric and cataphoric uses of demonstratives from the ''ko-, so-, a-''
series. She provides an interesting discussion of how these demonstratives serve
not only a physically proximate purpose, but also indicate psychological proximity.
Next, the effect of co-text on word meaning is discussed. The example of
''sensei'' referring to a specific person or alternately to a job, depending on
the predicate with which it occurs is crystal clear, and other additional
examples using titles would have been beneficial. The use of variants of
referent for the word ''hikouki'' (airplane) and ''ranchi'' (lunch) that followed in
the activities were less clear and too similar to parallel variations in meaning
in English (and all other languages?) to say much in particular about Japanese.
Perhaps this is a more general commentary on human cognitive patterns as
expressed in language.
In the ensuing discussion of the relevance of setting (use of ''omae'' between
different types of speakers), conventional and conversational implicature
(negative vs. positive interrogatives), and figures of speech (metaphor, simile,
personification, and metonymy) used to avoid making direct statements or
describe the unknown, Yamaguchi quite accurately portrays some of the nuances to
be found in Japanese, but to English speakers, her examples seem a bit
anti-climactic since not many of them are uniquely Japanese, but rather have
close similarities to their English counterparts (and probably other languages
as well). This chapter did not accomplish much beyond pointing out the existence
of similarities between Japanese and other languages, without finding many
examples of uniquely Japanese uses, although perhaps that in itself is valuable.
Chapter 3 shows additional similarities between Japanese and English by showing
temporal sequencing indicators that create coherence in texts. The discussion
becomes very interesting when Yamaguchi explains cohesive devices such as:
''tame….tsujuite….sore wa….towaie….mo….to'' and the whole series of demonstratives
that were discussed earlier as showing psychological referents. Both overt and
covert connecting devices are discussed. Especially interesting is the
discussion of the meanings implied by not explicitly expressing the subject of
the sentence vs. explicitly expressing the subject. The conjunctions
''soshite….suru to….sono toki ni….shikashi….demo'' were further examples of the
expression of subtly nuanced differences in logical relationships unique to
This chapter continues with a contrastive analysis of clausal links, including:
''-te'' and ''renyou'' forms such as ''kigakawari.'' The variety of messages implied
by these forms can range from temporal relation to simple enumeration, to
prerequisite relation, but Yamaguchi also explains how the overall psychological
effect varies as well.
Next, the classic topic of ''wa….ga'' arises. This topic has been covered so
extensively elsewhere that it would be challenging to bring a fresh perspective
to the topic. However, Yamaguchi brings insight, simplicity, and clarity to the
topic, which contrasts with some previous studies of ''wa'' and ''ga.'' She succeeds
in finally helping the reader to feel that this mysterious duo can be explained
The chapter ends with an outline of the use of past vs. present tense forms in
journalism and their pragmatic effects, and later with a discussion of the use
of ellipsis. Yamaguchi states that Japanese makes great use of ellipsis,
especially when pragmatically retrievable information is present, and she also
makes reference to the idea of suppression of already activated information to
explain the occurrence of ellipsis. While the first suggestion probably holds
true for many languages, her second suggestion regarding activation vs.
suppression of already activated information seems to this reviewer to stem from
a Western perspective, and may not accurately capture the roots of ellipsis in
Japanese. This might be one area for further thought and discourse. Regardless,
the distinction she makes between the Western unit of discourse being the
episode as opposed to the Japanese unit being the paragraph (a psychological
segment) is an important and intriguing idea that also deserves further exploration.
Chapter 4 begins by distinguishing between dominant, micro, and sub-cultures as
an introduction to the five domains of Japanese culture selected by the author
for discussion. The first domain is that of gender as expressed in lexical items
(''oyaji'' vs. ''otoosan''). Next are pronouns, prefixes (''o-''), and sentence final
particles. Yamaguchi includes the factors of formality and age in her discussion
as well as the historical evolution of pronouns (overwhelmingly undergoing
pejoration). She also mentions the fact that the prefix ''o-'' can be used for
irony, e.g., ''o-benkyou'' (study), referring to something that is not getting
done. She states that in general there is a wider range of pronoun usage
available for males (allowed to use formal, informal, and offensive forms), but
that young women are found more and more to engage in male usages of these
forms. The sentence final and word final interactional particles
(''ne….yo….no….wa….ze….zo….sa….na'') are laid out in a wonderfully useful,
four-page chart together with multiple example sentences. Near the end of this
section, Yamaguchi discusses the expressions ''itchimatta'' and ''itchatta''
(meaning ''They are gone''), used respectively by men and women. Beyond gender
differences, should regional dialect have also been a part of the discussion here?
Next, there is an in-dept exploration of ''uchi'' and ''soto'' relationships (in-
and out-group membership) as expressed in terms of address, kinship terms,
names, and politeness markers. The discussion is cleverly conceptualized,
clearly articulated, and includes plentiful examples of who uses what when.
There is another of Yamaguchi's wonderful charts (p. 141) summarizing this
information. It is interesting, however, that Yamaguchi left blank the slots for
''Out to In'' terms of address for niece and nephew. She could have added
''meikkosan'' and ''oikkosan'' to fill out the chart. A footnote explaining the
omission would have been informative. There are interesting similarities
suggested for the use of terms of address within the family hierarchy and the
company hierarchy, and dissimilarities are also pointed out. In the activity
with accompanying commentary (p. 150), Yamaguchi notes that a wife may call her
husband ''otoosan'' (father) and her daughter ''oneechan'' (older sister) due to the
fact that titles are determined according to the status of the youngest member
of the family. It would be interesting to add to this discussion the fact that
an older sister can also address her younger brother as ''boku'' (me), even if he
is not the youngest member of the family.
Following this is a very revealing analysis of polite verb endings used to
indicate social distance. An interesting point that Yamaguchi makes is that
polite sentences may contain exclamations within themselves that are exempt from
polite form; in effect, they function as self-talk. A detailed outline of
respect forms in contrast to humble forms is next, with another helpful chart
(p. 154). Yamaguchi claims, in a fascinating discussion, that humble honorifics
may be more numerous than respect honorifics and that honorifics are used
independently of formality.
The chapter closes with an outline of ''wakamono kotoba'' (young people's talk),
which is representative of an evolving sub-culture and which shows up in the
form of extensive neologizing accomplished by the processes of clipping (''kimoi''
from ''kimo-chi-waru-i), bilingual affixation (''binisuto'' from ''konbini'' and
''-suto'' as in people who frequent convenience stores), reduplication
(''rabu-rabu'' from English ''love-love''), extension of meaning (''oishii'' to mean
''lucky, advantageous''), and new types of indirectness. Certain of Yamaguchi's
examples of young people's talk seem at this point to have become standardized
into the language as a whole over the course of the last twenty-five years since
''wakamono kotoba'' became a phenomenon to study in Japan. More up-to-date
examples, such as ''yabai'' meaning ''cool, wonderful'' might have been included as
well. Yamaguchi also suggests that various examples of ''new grammar'' are
evolving among the young, which certainly is true. The specific examples of this
provided by her, however, may be limited to the domain of ''restaurant talk''
rather than to the age domain.
Chapter 5 examines linguistic and para-linguistic aspects of naturally occurring
talk such as backchanneling, hedges, laughs, phatic communication, and other
social indicators. One interesting finding from the fifteen-minute transcription
of radio talk she analyzes is the fact that ''acknowledging'' type replies are
much more frequent than ''comment'' or ''disagree'' type replies. In addition,
somewhat in contrast to the stereotype of indirectness being preferred in
Japanese, she shows that direct questions and answers overwhelmingly outnumber
indirect ones. She goes on to show the relatively extreme ubiquity of back
channeling in Japanese conversation. Other interesting findings include the fact
that hedges are more dependent on context than on gender, the fact that laughter
can play various roles, and the fact that repetitions of previous utterances are
used as a means to focus on particular information. Yamaguchi might have taken
the opportunity here to also explore the repetition of previous utterances in
their role as possible hedging strategies or politeness forms. The radio talk
transcript would provide ample fodder for further study, especially in making
further comparisons between English and Japanese.
All in all, this volume is a deeply analytical, yet easily accessible overview
of aspects of Japanese not covered in a grammatical description. It covers a
wide expanse of interesting territory in surprising depth, bringing interesting
insights while leaving room for thought and analysis by individual readers. This
book is a valuable contribution to the field of pragmatic analysis in general as
well as a new look at pragmatic and cultural aspects of Japanese, many of which
have not been discussed elsewhere.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
The reviewer, Julie Bruch, began a start-up program in Japanese at Mesa State
College in 2006, where she also teaches Linguistic Diversity. In 2003-2004, she
was Fulbright scholar at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan. Her research
interests include pragmatics of Japanese and cross-cultural comparisons based on
language. Her dissertation was on conversational implicature in Japanese.