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Review of  Japanese Discourse Markers

Reviewer: Sufumi So
Book Title: Japanese Discourse Markers
Book Author: Noriko O. Onodera
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Japanese
Issue Number: 16.2263

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Date: Tue, 26 Jul 2005 11:39:35 -0400
From: Sufumi So
Subject: Japanese Discourse Markers

AUTHOR: Onodera, Noriko O.
TITLE: Japanese Discourse Markers
SUBTITLE: Synchronic and Diachronic Discourse Analysis
SERIES: Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 132
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2004

Sufumi So, George Mason University

This monograph reports an empirical study on linguistic phenomena known as
discourse markers or expressions that serve discourse-pragmatic functions.
It is organized systematically with chapter 1 introducing the issues
examined in the study, the conceptual framework, the data and the analytic
approach, chapter 2 reviewing the relevant literature, chapters 3 through
6 presenting findings of the analyses, and chapter 7 presenting a summary
and conclusion of the study. Each chapter is accompanied by 4 to 19 notes
given at the end of the book and 11 pages of references and a list of
linguistic data used for the study are also provided. Two indices, one by
people's names and the other by subjects, are also available.

The author studied the functions and historical changes of the Japanese
conjunctions 'demo' and 'dakedo' (equivalent to 'but' in English) and the
interjection 'ne' and its variants (similar to such expressions as 'you
know' in English), which are now used as discourse markers. The main
question of the study is how structures and functions of these linguistic
items have changed, from the clause-final connectives to the sentence-
initial discourse markers in the case of the former and from the sentence-
final particles to the sentence-initial discourse markers in the case of
the latter. Conceptually the study, which falls into the new linguistic
subfield of historical pragmatics, is informed by four diverse areas of
linguistics, that is, discourse studies and pragmatics, historical
linguistics, typological studies, and syntax and semantics of conjunctions
and interjections.

The author set out on this study with several goals: (a) to describe the
functions and structures of the linguistic forms in question as used at
each time stage in Japan through synchronic analysis, (b) to reveal the
processes of their functional and structural changes in history through
diachronic analysis, (c) to explain why or how such changes might have
occurred, (d) to explain those changes within the framework of
grammaticalization, (e) to explain the same changes from different angles
drawing on such notions as linguistic typology, productivity, and
conventionalization of conversational implicatures, and (f) to show the
usefulness of Schiffrin's (1987) ideas of the evolutionary development of
discourse markers in explaining such linguistic phenomena in Japanese.
Accordingly, the book has a descriptive and an explanatory part, the
former of which should be appealing to users of Japanese including native
speakers and nonnative learners of Japanese and the latter of which must
be of value for students and scholars of linguistics interested in
historical development of pragmatic features or universality of linguistic
phenomena. As a Japanese language teacher, I have found the information
about the linguistic features in question and the author's arguments
fascinating and I am planning on integrating such information into my
language teaching.

The author has achieved all of the above goals with the meticulous and
thorough work and the clear writing. In the process of describing and
explaining the linguistic phenomena in question, a number of original
propositions are put forth. In my view the following are particularly
important among others:

(1) The so-called adversative conjunctions 'demo' and 'dakedo' in present-
day Japanese do fulfill discourse/pragmatic functions such as point-making
devices in question/answer sequences, claiming the floor, opening the
conversation, and changing the topic and sub-topic. The last two are
unique to Japanese data.

(2) The main reason for the abovementioned pragmaticalization of 'demo'
and 'dakedo' is the presence of the element 'd' of the respective initial
morphemes 'de' and 'da'; it is the result of combined effect of
grammatical and discourse processes. The grammatical process took place
because of the element 'd' that enabled 'demo' and 'dakedo' to become
initial textual markers. Because of their use in the utterance-initial
position, they came to serve the expressive function as discourse markers.

(3) Interjections such as 'ne' and 'na' as used in modern Japanese which
carry no semantic meaning within themselves, are all discourse markers of
involvement in that they are used by the conversation participant to
involve him/herself in what is being said in the conversation.

(4) The reason for the evolution of the above interjections into discourse
markers is that 'ne' and 'na' served the highly communicative expressive
function even as sentence-final particles. Thus, the pragmaticalization of
these sentence-final particles as utterance-initial discourse markers was
only natural.

The above four points lead to the author's summative proposition that the
historical process of 'demo' and 'dakedo' as discourse markers entails
grammaticalization and pragmaticalization while pragmaticalization (but
not necessarily grammaticalization) constitutes the process of evolution
of 'ne' and 'na' into discourse markers. Intricate relations between
grammaticalization and pragmaticalization are expressed well in the
following statement of the author: "Language changes. Grammaticalization
is one of such changes. And the motivation of grammaticalization seems to
lie in the human communicative strategies. Many discourse functions of
language were found through the observation of language in use. Likewise,
grammaticalization is also seen in changes in use" (p. 218).

In sum, this volume makes an important contribution to not only advancing
our understanding of such common expressions as 'demo' and 'ne' used in
daily conversations but also shedding new light on the general process of
pragmaticalization by bringing in Japanese data.


Sufumi So is Term Assistant Professor of Japanese at George Mason
University (Fairfax, VA), where she directs the Japanese Language Program.
Her research interests include Japanese language pedagogy and acquisition
of second language writing. Her scholarly contributions in these areas
have appeared in edited books and journals such as Journal of Second
Language Writing, RELC Journal, and ADFL Bulletin.