LINGUIST List 23.5246

Thu Dec 13 2012

Review: Phonology; Phonetics: Labrune (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 13-Dec-2012
From: Mark Irwin <>
Subject: The Phonology of Japanese
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Laurence LabruneTITLE: The Phonology of JapaneseSERIES: The Phonology of the World’s Languages (Oxford Linguistics)PUBLISHER: Oxford University PressYEAR: 2012

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

INTRODUCTIONThis 296-page monograph is an updated and modified version of Labrune (2006).It examines the phonology of Japanese (modern standard Japanese, a.k.a. TokyoJapanese) across seven chapters (proportion of the total monograph inbrackets): Introduction (8%), Vowels (11%), Consonants (15%), The Phonology ofConsonant 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 = generativephonology with a dash of structural phonology), Chapter 1, ‘Introduction’,offers a brief outline and history of the Japanese language, its writingsystem, the stratification of its lexicon, and previous western literature onJapanese phonology.

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

After a general overview of the consonant system, in Chapter 3 L. devotes asection, or part of a section, to each of the Japanese consonants. Thegreatest space is devoted to /h/, the velar nasal, and to /r/. The chaptercloses with a look at what L. terms the ‘new consonants’. In fact, what she isactually 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 majorsections. The first, ‘General Properties of Japanese Voiced Obstruents’, looksat their distribution and frequency, co-occurrence restrictions, lack ofgemination, instability, historical development and orthographicrepresentation (both past and present). The second section examines ‘Rendaku’,its triggers, blocking factors, and possible correlations with accent. Thethird section looks briefly at ‘Post-Nasal Voicing’.

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

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 andthe 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 sevensections: General Principles of Tokyo Japanese Accentuation; the Accent ofSimplex 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 ‘constraintbased account of the accent of Western loans’, and ‘other types of simplexwords’); the Accent of Compound Words (‘compound nouns with a [modifier-head]structure containing only one accent nucleus’, a lengthy ‘constraint-basedaccount of compound noun accentuation’, compound nouns containing two accentnuclei, Yamato dvandva compounds, compound mimetics, two-character fixedSino-Japanese compounds (i.e. Sino-Japanese binoms or ‘nijikango’), compoundverbs, and numeral compounds); the Accentuation of Phonological Phrases;Dialectal and Sociological Variation in Accent; Tone or Accent?; and anOverview of Accent Studies in Japan.

EVALUATIONApart from a few typos, the volume is mercifully free of textual andformatting errors, though the fact that the author is not a native speaker ofEnglish is very obvious in places (especially Ch. 1). Here, more judiciousediting would have been welcome. Beyond this, we find: ‘whether rendaku isstill productive is a matter of controversy’. There is surely littlecontroversy here -- it is clearly productive. To take only one example ofmany, Paul the Octopus (2008-2010), famous for correctly predicting theresults of all Germany’s games in the 2010 soccer World Cup, was dubbed by theJapanese media the ‘yogendako’ ‘octopus prophet’. Unquestionably a neologism,here ‘tako’ ‘octopus’ undergoes rendaku in line with the majority of othercompounds in which it appears (‘yudedako’, ‘sudako’, ‘mizudako’, etc.). In thesame chapter (p. 121), there exists no ‘robust tendency’ whereby a final morabeginning in a voiced obstruent in the first element blocks rendaku in thesecond (cf. Vance & Irwin 2012). To claim that the ‘graphemes for the nasalmora /N/ … are the only [‘kana’] whose origin is unknown’ (p. 135) isincorrect (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 syllablein Japanese, is broadly similar in content to Labrune (2012). Finally, thereviewer was startled by what he can only describe as the bizarre claim that‘[t]he progressive disappearance or near disappearance of labials in thephonological system might be related to a search for a certain immobility orfacial 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 theactual “state of the art” of Japanese phonology’, as a ‘synthesis of [the] twomajor research streams’ of traditional Japanese ‘kokugogaku’ and Westernscholarship; and to ‘offer new analyses and data concerning some of thecentral issues of Japanese phonology in a theoretically oriented approach’.

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

L. also succeeds in her second aim of offering new theoretically-basedanalyses 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 withno specialized knowledge of the Japanese language, and non-linguistJapanologists who want to obtain up-to-date information in the field ofJapanese phonology’ (p. 2). Although the Japanese phonologist can learn muchfrom this volume, it is difficult to imagine a non-linguist ‘-ologist’ of anyhue, let alone a mere student with no specialized knowledge of the Japaneselanguage, benefiting from a volume which presumes too much and whose frequentexcursions 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. Thisreviewer can’t help concluding that L.’s volume would have been more readableand more accessible without the theory.

REFERENCESIrwin, Mark. 2011. Loanwords in Japanese. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: JohnBenjamins.

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 nihongoshi2: 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. Paperpresented at the 25th Paris Meeting on East Asian Linguistics, École desHautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris.

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

ABOUT THE REVIEWERMark Irwin is an associate professor at Yamagata University, Japan. Hisresearch interests include the phonology, sociolinguistics, historicallinguistics and sociohistorical linguistics of the Japanese language.

Page Updated: 13-Dec-2012