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Review of  An Introduction to Japanese Linguistics

Reviewer: Peter Backhaus
Book Title: An Introduction to Japanese Linguistics
Book Author: Natsuko Tsujimura
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Japanese
Issue Number: 18.1030

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AUTHOR: Tsujimura, Natsuko
TITLE: An Introduction to Japanese Linguistics
SUBTITLE: Second Edition
SERIES: Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing
YEAR: 2006

Peter Backhaus, German Institute for Japanese Studies, Tokyo


To start with a clarifying note, ''An Introduction to Japanese Linguistics''
is not an introduction to the discipline of linguistics in Japan, but a
linguistic introduction to the Japanese language. It is intended to serve
''as a descriptive source and a theoretical foundation for an audience that
includes students and scholars in linguistics as well as those who are
interested in the Japanese language more generally'' (xiii). The book was
first published in 1996. The second edition, which is under review here,
has been considerably revised and contains several new features. It is over
100 pages longer than the 1996 edition. It consists of an introductory
chapter and seven main chapters on phonetics, phonology, morphology*,
syntax, semantics*, linguistic variation*, and language acquisition** (* =
considerably revised; ** = newly added). Each of the chapters ends with a
list of suggested readings and an exercise section.


Chapter 2 provides a brief account of the phonetic inventory of Japanese
and the basic phonetic terminology used to describe it. Consonants and
vowels are discussed in separate sections, each starting with an account of
the sounds of the English language.

Chapter 3 is about phonology. It discusses the most fundamental phonemic
rules in Japanese such as the devoicing of high vowels, assimilation of
syllabic /n/, different phonetic realizations of /s/ and /t/, and verbal
conjugation rules. It also deals with the problem of sequential voicing
(''rendaku'') and discusses at length the differences between mora and
syllable, a topic that will recur on various occasions throughout the book.
Other characteristics of the Japanese sound system discussed are
accentuation, phonemic rules in forming mimetics, patterns of loan word
integration, some properties of casual and fast speech, and constraints on
word length.

Chapter 4 is an introduction to Japanese morphology. It starts with an
account of the basic morphological categories. After a general introduction
to morpheme types, Tsujimura discusses issues of word formation. These
include affixation, compounding, reduplication, clipping, and borrowing. In
this context, she also introduces the role of the head in word formation
patterns (Righthand Head Rule). The second edition comprises additional
sections on transitive and intransitive verb pairs, another topic to be
taken up several times in the course of the book; nominalization of verbs,
adjectives, and whole phrases; and formation rules for noun-verb and
verb-verb compounds. Particularly this latter issue is discussed at some
length with regard to morphosyntactic problems such as transitivity and
argument structure. Despite some unavoidable redundancies, the new sections
fit in well with the other parts of the chapter.

The subject matter of chapter 5 is syntax. Though in this chapter no
noteworthy additions have been made, it remains the core chapter of the
book, covering more than 120 pages in total. It starts with introducing
some of the key notions in syntactic theory and exemplifies how they map
Japanese syntactic structures. The second section briefly discusses
transformational rules, mainly focusing on English. Word order and
scrambling are examined in the next section, which revolves around
differing theories concerning the hierarchical deepness of Japanese
syntactic structure. Subsequent sections discuss null anaphora and zero
pronouns; characteristics of the Japanese reflexives ''zibun'' and
''zibun-zisin''; properties of the Japanese subject and two ''diagnostic
tests'' to identify it; passives, causatives, and causative passives;
relative clauses; unaccusative and unergative verbs; and light verb
constructions (verbal noun + ''-suru''). The closing section, called ''Further
Issues on Phrase Structure'' is intended as a brief update on more recent
developments in phrase structure rules, mainly X' Theory and its
application to Japanese. This section must be understood against the
backdrop that, as Tsujimura acknowledges in her introduction to the chapter
(206), the analyses provided do not always reflect the most current
developments in syntactic theory. However, as a general introduction to the
properties of Japanese syntax and its linguistic analysis, the chapter can
be considered more than sufficient.

Chapter 6 deals with semantics. It has been completely revised and -- as a
result -- is much more clearly structured than in the 1996 edition. The
first section on word and sentence meaning is intended to introduce the
reader to some semantic basics including meaning relationships between
words (homonymy, polysemy, antonymy), truth conditions, metaphors and
idioms, deictic expressions, and mimetics. The next section examines tense
and, particularly, aspect. As a matter of fact, it focuses on verbs and
verbal morphology, including forms such as ''-te iru'', ''-te aru'' and ''-te
simau'', and compounds such as ''-hazimaru/hazimeru'' and ''-owaru/oeru'', among
others. The analysis also casts light on some interesting interfaces with
syntax (argument structure) and morphology (verb inflections). The third
section examines some more syntax-semantics relations of the Japanese verb
and in cross-linguistic perspective. Most welcome in this chapter is a
newly added section on pragmatics. It starts with Grice's cooperative
principle and points out how intentional deviation from his four maxims can
be construed as meaning beyond the sentence level. Pragmatic
characteristics of Japanese that are discussed are the organization of
information structure by means of the particles ''-wa'' (topic) and ''-ga''
(subject), among others, and the predicate morphology ''desu'' (formal) vs.
''da'' (informal). No direct reference to politeness phenomena is made at
this point, probably because the issue is taken up in a separate section in
the next chapter. The section ends with presenting some fascinating
examples of relative clauses that demonstrate the relevance of contextual
information with regard to both meaning construal and grammaticality of an

Chapter 7 is on language variation. It has been reorganized to some extent
as well. It starts with a section on regional variation that reminds the
reader that Japanese comprises much more than the so-called standard
language spoken in the greater Tokyo area. The residuary two sections deal
with sociolinguistic problems: ''Styles and Levels of Speech'' is an extended
version of the section called ''Honorifics'' in the first edition.
Particularly important are some new paragraphs commenting on the
considerable gap between ideological norms about honorifics and their real
usage. The concluding section on gender differences makes a similar point.
After discussing the most frequently quoted gender markers (personal
pronouns, sentence-final particles, beautification, etc.) Tsujimura refers
to some recent empirical research suggesting that many of the classical
gender differences in Japanese do not hold water when the linguistic
practices of ''real people'' are considered.

The newly added Chapter 8 deals with language acquisition phenomena, i.e.,
how children learn to speak Japanese. The first section works out various
regularities in Japanese children's language with regard to moraic
structure, the lexicalization of mimetics, and the marking of tense and
aspect. This theme is followed up in the next section, which is on speech
errors resulting from overgeneralizations. Issues discussed include
inflectional morphology in negation, case particles (indiscriminate use of
''-ga'' to mark the first NP in a sentence), and prenominal modification
(over- and undergeneralization of ''-no''). Theoretical approaches to verb
acquisition are dealt with in the next section, which juxtaposes the
syntactic and the semantic bootstrapping hypothesis and discusses problems
of each of the two when applied to Japanese. The closing section is on
acquisition phenomena in the realm of pragmatics that attest to children's
amazingly high awareness of issues such as honorifics and gender
distinctions from an early age on. Since this new chapter deals with issues
from each of the linguistic levels discussed in the previous chapters, its
attachment at the end of the book has been a wise decision.


''An Introduction to Japanese Linguistics'' is an extensive and
well-organized linguistic account of the Japanese language that will serve
as an extremely helpful source of reference to everyone interested in
Japanese and its linguistic analysis. Among the many creditable points of
the book is that the discussion frequently centers around some linguistic
problem (e.g., mora vs. syllable, rendaku patterns, transitive vs.
intransitive verbs) that re-occurs in the later parts of the book. This way
of organization is very stimulating in that it invites the reader to look
beyond one single linguistic level of analysis in order to understand a
linguistic phenomenon. Another strength of the book is its well-balanced
use of English examples and its general focus on common points rather than
differences between the two languages.

With special regard to the second edition, I have already mentioned that
the revisions, particularly in the chapters on semantics and on linguistic
variation, clearly enhance the quality of the book as a whole. The same
holds true for the new chapter on language acquisition. Further noteworthy
in this respect is that the exercise sections and the lists of suggested
readings have been updated and adapted to the new contents. The new edition
thus is clearly more than a mere reprint of the 1996 version.

On a general note, some readers may be surprised by the striking
differences in coverage of the linguistic subfields. Thus, syntactic
problems are discussed on over 120 pages, whereas the language variation
chapter covers only 20 pages, ten less even than in the first edition.
However, since Tsujimura explicitly mentions this discrepancy in her new
Preface (xiii), we may be looking forward to the book's third edition. In
this context, it should also be mentioned that a brief introduction to the
Japanese writing system would be highly welcome. Though the primary goal of
the book is ''to examine spoken Japanese'' (xiii), many readers would
certainly profit from some background information on its graphic
representation as well. Moreover, this would certainly add to the general
understanding of phenomena such as the moraic structure of Japanese,
rendaku rules, or the integration of English loan words. The discussion of
these issues at times appears unnecessarily complicated owing to missing
references to the Japanese writing system.

In the same vein, it would be desirable to include a brief paragraph
stating more explicitly that the Kunrei rather than the Hepburn
transliteration system is used (mentioned only once on p. 5 in brackets),
but that Japanese loan words in English are usually based on Hepburn rules.
This would prevent confusing readers not too experienced with Japanese, who
may be puzzled by the co-occurrence of terms like ''susi'' and ''sushi''
throughout the book. One last suggestion for future editions of the book is
a brief bilingual glossary of technical terms, which would certainly be
highly appreciated by both Japanese and English readers.

All in all, it can be said that the second edition of ''An Introduction to
Japanese Linguistics'' is not only a stimulating and well-structured
textbook, but an essential source of reference to everyone interested in
the linguistic analysis of Japanese.


135: tambo => tombo
145: tuagu => tunagu
152: yobosu => oyobosu
156: uketori-zha nai => uketori-zya nai
163: pizza => piza
165, 166, 167, 168: neji-mawasi => nezi-mawasi
179: we have observed the meanings => we have observed that the meanings
181: donarii-tukeru => donari-tukeru
199: te-suri => te-suki (??)
299: tamar-ase-ta => tomar-ase-ta
347: reito-syokuhin => reitoo shokuhin
424: ''window'' surface are realized => ''window'' are realized
430: kire-zya arimasen => kirei-zya arimasen
449-60: sudden shifts to Hepburn transliteration
457: kare => kara

Peter Backhaus studied linguistics and Japanese Studies at Heinrich Heine
University Dusseldorf (M.A.) and Duisburg-Essen University (Dr. phil.). He
presently is a research fellow at the German Institute for Japanese
Studies, Tokyo, where is doing research on communication between staff and
residents in Japanese nursing homes ( Recent publications
include "Linguistic Landscapes: A Comparative Study of Urban
Multilingualism in Tokyo" (Multilingual Matters, 2007).

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