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Review of  Voicing in Japanese

Reviewer: Mark Irwin
Book Title: Voicing in Japanese
Book Author: Jeroen van de Weijer Kensuke Nanjo Tetsuo Nishihara
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Subject Language(s): Japanese
Issue Number: 17.1589

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EDITORS: van de Weijer, Jeroen; Nanjo, Kensuke; Nishihara, Tetsuo
TITLE: Voicing in Japanese
SERIES: Studies in Generative Grammar 84
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2005

Mark Irwin, Faculty of Literature & Social Sciences, Yamagata


'This book presents a number of studies which focus on the [voice]
grammar of Japanese, paying particular attention to historical
background, dialectal diversity, phonetic experiment and phonological
analysis' (p. 1), with the initial version of some of the papers having
being presented at the Linguistics and Phonetics 2002 workshop at
Meikai University, Urayasu, Japan. Of the 14 papers in this volume,
ten deal with consonant (Part I) and four with vowel voicing (Part II),
with seven of the contributions to Part I dealing wholly or largely with
the well-documented allomorphic phenomenon of sequential voicing,
or 'rendaku' in the Japanese tradition (by which term the phenomenon
will be referred to henceforth). Perspectives within a variety of
theoretical frameworks are offered.

Part I of the volume opens with Kubozono's review (pp. 5-24) of past
work on rendaku. Within the space constraints available, a
comprehensive summary is necessarily impossible and the author
confines himself to a survey of the conditions which define the
phenomenon's synchronic domain. He deals first with 'Lyman's Law',
treating it as an example of the Obligatory Contour Principle and
arguing that its standard domain requires widening in some instances.
A second condition is the branching constraint, whose status
Kubozono questions for rendaku while offering supporting evidence
for this constraint in general from accentual phrasing. The final
condition examined is that of the mora, the most recent and perhaps
the weakest constraint on rendaku, where the author seeks to
integrate the behaviour of one specific morpheme, hon 'book', into a
wider framework in which it is claimed the prosodic word in Japanese
is optimally up to four moras in length.

Couched within the representational framework, Rice (pp. 25-45)
argues that the voicing features active in rendaku and post-nasal
voicing should not be considered as one single type. Instead, she
posits a 'dual mechanism' hypothesis, under which a laryngeal voicing
feature is identified with rendaku and a sonorant voicing feature with
post-nasal voicing. The author also considers problems highlighted by
her hypothesis which are inherent in recently proposed lexical
stratification models for Japanese.

Ohno (pp. 47-69) traces the historical orthography of what is known in
the Japanese tradition as the sei-daku distinction and which, in the
contemporary language, marks the voiced-voiceless feature in
obstruents. While 'provid[ing] neither new data nor new findings' (p.
47), he outlines the three historical stages of sei-daku orthography
and reviews the two main arguments which seek to explain them. The
author closes with brief summaries of the sei-daku distinction in the
modern language and the important issue of whether it may have
been one of prenasalization rather than voicing in the past.

Within the framework of Element Theory, Nasukawa (pp. 71-87)
presents an analysis of laryngeal source contrasts. Of the two
autonomous melodic categories available for cross-linguistic source
contrasts under this theory, the author claims that Japanese exploits
the category contributing prevoicing in representation of phonation-
type contrasts. Support for this claim is offered from assimilatory and
concatenating processes, early language acquisition and aphasic

Vance (pp. 89-103) provides a statistical analysis of rendaku
incidence in inflected words, i.e. verb+verb compounds and
compounds containing adjectives. Contrary to the established opinion
that verb+verb compound verbs tend away from and verb+verb
compound nouns tend towards rendaku, he reports that, in fact, in the
vast majority of cases rendaku does not occur in either. He also finds
that compounds containing adjectives tend overwhelmingly towards
exhibiting rendaku.

Fukazawa & Kitahara (pp. 105-121) re-examine work on Japanese
core-periphery vocabulary models (specifically Ito & Mester (1995,
2001)) developed to counter the problem of single invariant ranking in
Optimality Theory (cf. Rice in this volume, who re-evaluates essentially
the same body of work). They present three ranking paradoxes in
consonant voicing which they claim cannot be accounted for in these
models, arguing that etymologically motivated sub-lexica cannot exist
in Japanese phonological grammar and that these must be replaced
with sub-lexica based on standard morphophonological categories.

Yamane-Tanaka (pp. 123-156) draws parallels between synchronic
cross-dialectal variation in intervocalic prenasalized stops and their
probable diachronic development since the Old Japanese period.
After presenting an Optimality Theory analysis of these two continua,
she tackles the issue of prenasalization versus voicing in Old
Japanese and beyond (i.e. the historical nature of the sei-daku
distinction: see Ohno in this volume) and suggests that a gradual loss
of prenasalization has gradually led to an increased role for voicing

Zamma (pp. 157-176) undertakes a detailed examination of the
complicated rendaku patterning seen in Japanese surnames. He first
discusses the generalization put forward by Sugito (1965), that
accented surnames tend to undergo rendaku while accentless
surnames do not, as well as the suggestion made by Kubozono (this
volume) as to the influence of the onset of the final mora of the
preceding morpheme. He then moves on to examine these general
claims within the context of a much wider database of surname head
morphemes and concludes that their widely varying behaviour
presents considerable theoretical problems.

A survey of rendaku incidence in loanwords is offered by Takayama
(pp. 177-190), who argues that those few loanwords from the foreign
word group (the author eschews 'stratum') that exhibit rendaku do so
only because they have merged into non-foreign word groups due to
their phonotactics or their semantics (they represent 'an
unsophisticated object'). Takayama further claims that the larger
number of Sino-Japanese lexemes that exhibit rendaku can be
explained by setting up a 'vulgarized SJ' word group, which can be
differentiated stylistically from a 'formal SJ' word group and whose
members may be rendaku targets.

Part I of the volume closes with Suzuki's (pp. 191-204) presentation of
the results of his study into the problems of the automated speech
recognition of Japanese numeral-classifier compounds. Many
classifiers beginning in a voiceless obstruent (e.g. hon, cylinder-
shaped object) exhibit context-dependent (morphophonemic) voicing
after certain numerals (e.g. san.bon, '3...'), as well as context-
independent (free) variation (e.g. ichi ~ hito, 'one'), and both these
present performance problems for the author's Large-Vocabulary
Continuous Speech Recognition engine. The solution and the test
results that Suzuki puts forward show that the engine's performance
can be improved by making probability adjustments in order to cover
unseen data in the corpus.

Part II is opened by Maekawa & Kikuchi (pp. 205-228), who present
an interim report on their corpus-based analysis of vowel devoicing in
spontaneous speech, which utilizes some 23 hours of the Corpus of
Spontaneous Spoken Japanese containing approximately 427,000
vowel segments. Although, as the authors point out, it is often stated
in introductory texts that high vowels are devoiced between two
voiceless consonants, previous research has indicated that this is not
the case. Maekawa & Kikuchi's results are in broad agreement with
this research and show that such devoicing is not exceptionless in this
environment and that its rate varies considerably according to the
manner of the surrounding consonants. The authors also present their
statistical findings for the phenomenon of consecutive devoicing, as
well as for single devoicing in two atypical environments.

Kondo (pp. 229-245) investigates the duration and intensity of vowels
in the standard devoicing environment between two voiceless
consonants. Her experiment on duration shows that those vowels
which become devoiced are also shorter than their voiced
counterparts, the entire duration of the mora of which the vowel is part
also being reduced. Furthermore, her experiment on intensity
indicates that a vowel in a single devoicing environment which remains
voiced has a lower intensity than a vowel in a non-devoicing
environment: the same was not the case, however, for vowels in a
consecutive devoicing environment. From this she concludes that
devoiceable vowels are first reduced in length and intensity before
being devoiced. Kondo also examines the syllable constraints on
devoicing, in particular how desyllabification, demoraification and
resyllabification may control which vowel is devoiced in cases of
potential (but banned) triple consecutive devoicing.

Sugito (pp. 247-260) presents the results of acoustic and
physiological experiments on the effects of speech rate on devoiced
accented vowels in Osaka Japanese, whose accentual system is
radically different from that of standard Tokyo Japanese and where
vowels may be both devoiced and accented. In her acoustic
experiments with bimoraic HL-accented lexemes, she shows that
speech rate affects both vowel voicing and accentedness, with
devoiceable accented vowels occurring more frequently devoiced in
faster speech and, additionally, a tendency for the accentual pattern
to be perceived as shifting from HL to HH in the fastest speech. The
results of her physiological experiments suggest that this change in
accentual pattern may be due to the short duration of the second
vowel in the lexemes in question, whereby there was insufficient time
for sternohyoid muscle activity and thus no F0 fall, the perceptual
trigger for accentedness.

The final paper in the volume is that of Tanaka (pp. 261-278), who
examines the interaction of voicing and accent, specifically the
outcome of the 'in principle' incompatible situation of an accent-
bearing vowel being in a devoiceable position. This interaction is
investigated through reconsidering it in the wider perspective of a
general theory of prominence involving tone, length, sonority, accent
and voicing. From this may be derived the phonological Harmonic
Scale of Prominence which posits the order of prominence accent >
tone > sonority > voicing and where, furthermore, an element always
presupposes the existence of any element to its right (thus accent
presupposes tone, sonority and voicing). After examining the
interaction of accent with tone and of accent with sonority, the author
proceeds to that of accent with voicing, where he views accent shift as
a 'repair strategy for upholding harmonic completeness and
prominence'. However, Tanaka claims to have solved the problems
posed by the numerous examples of the accent not shifting and of the
vowel being both devoiced and accented by resorting to the notions of
sympathy and reranking within the Optimality Theory framework.


This collection of papers deserves a slot on the bookshelf of any
scholar of the Japanese language, particularly those whose research
focuses more specifically on phonology or phonetics, or to a lesser
extent the lexicon, orthographical history or automated speech
recognition. Those with no background in Japanese but with a strong
cross-linguistic interest in consonant voicing or vowel devoicing should
also find much of interest in this volume. What is particularly beneficial
about this collection is its undoubted usefulness as a portal for the
reader who is unable to access or understand the vast mines of
previous research material in Japanese on many of the subjects

The editors deserve much credit for bringing together a stimulating
and valuable selection of papers covering the many aspects of voicing
in Japanese (rendaku; post-nasal voicing; the diachronic relationship
between voicing and prenasalization in consonants; morphophonemic
voicing; the orthographical representation of voicing; vowel devoicing
and its relationship to accent, environment and intensity) from a wide
range of theoretical (representational, Element Theory, Optimality
Theory) and non-theoretical perspectives. Rendaku itself, with which
half the papers in this volume concern themselves, is examined with
reference to post-nasal voicing, inflected words, core-periphery
vocabulary models and vocabulary strata, anthroponyms, accent, and
laryngeal features.

In a volume that is part of a generative grammar series it is perhaps
unsurprising that the vast majority of papers deal with voicing from a
synchronic perspective, with only the contributions from Ohno,
Yamane-Tanaka and, to a certain extent, Takayama, offering the
reader a diachronic take on voicing and its historical development.
Since, as Blevins (2004: 3) has recently remarked, an 'essentially
ahistorical perspective leads to considerable redundancy'
because 'many patterns with a well-understood historical basis or
origin must be re-encoded in synchronic accounts', the relevant
dearth of diachronic analyses in this collection and its rather overly
ahistorical perspective is perhaps somewhat regrettable. This is
especially so with Part II of the volume, where, to the reviewer's
knowledge, relatively little diachronic research has been published on
the phenomenon of vowel devoicing and where the inclusion of a least
one paper examining this from a historical perspective would have
been useful.

Inevitably, in a volume with so many individual contributors, there are
areas where more judicial editing would have been preferred.
Although just under half of the papers are wonderfully free from any
typos whatsoever, and most of the remainder have only a small
number of minor errors, statistical discrepancies in tables and
potentially serious typos in examples and maps lurk in the papers by
Yamane-Tanaka and Maekawa & Kikuchi. A further two papers, those
by Fukuzawa & Kitahara and Yamane-Tanaka, are clearly in need of
native speaker editing. In the latter paper especially, the author's
argument is occasionally difficult to follow due to some weak English
and insufficient proofing. Yamane-Tanaka's paper also unfortunately
suffers from at least six endnotes being incorrectly referenced, as well
as the errors in tables and maps already pointed out above. This is a
shame, since, for the reviewer, this paper was one of the most
stimulating and original in the collection. On the more mundane level,
the 58 endnotes in Ohno's 15-page (omitting appendices,
acknowledgements and the endnotes themselves) paper is, by any
standard, rather excessive: do we really need to be told in an endnote
that 'lit.' is an abbreviation for 'literal translation'?

On balance, however, the rich and varied content this volume offers,
as well as the stimulation and leads for further research it provides,
more than outweigh the relatively minor gripes I have outlined in the
previous two paragraphs.


Ito, Junko & Mester, Ralf-Armin (1995). Japanese Phonology. In John
Goldsmith (ed.), Handbook of Phonological Theory, pp. 817-838,
Blackwell, Cambridge.

Ito, Junko & Mester, Ralf-Armin (2001). Covert generalizations in
Optimality Theory: the role of stratal faithfulness constraints. In
Proceedings of 2001 International Conference on Phonology and
Morphology, 3-33, Yongin, Korea.

Sugito, Miyoko (1965). Shibata-san to Imada-san: tango no
chookakuteki benbetsu ni tsuite no ichi koosatsu, Gengo Seikatsu
165: 64-72.

Mark Irwin is an associate professor at Yamagata University, Japan.
His research interests include the historical phonology of Japanese,
especially rendaku, gemination, Sino-Japanese and Japanese

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