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Review of  Japanese Linguistics

Reviewer: Hiroshi Matsumoto
Book Title: Japanese Linguistics
Book Author: Toshiko Yamaguchi
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Japanese
Issue Number: 19.2103

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AUTHOR: Yamaguchi, Toshiko
TITLE: Japanese Linguistics
SUBTITLE: An Introduction
PUBLISHER: Continuum
YEAR: 2007

Hiroshi Matsumoto, Soka University of America

This book aims to present an introductory survey of Japanese linguistics. It
examines the structure of the Japanese language focusing on the following seven
major areas of linguistics: (1) phonetics, (2) phonology, (3) lexicon, (4)
writing systems, (5) morphology, (6) (lexical) semantics, and (7) syntax. Other
essential and more ''macro'' areas of Japanese linguistics (all pertinent to the
use of the Japanese language), such as (8) pragmatics, (9) discourse, (10)
culture, and (11) conversation, are included in a companion volume written by
the same author, _Japanese Language in Use: An Introduction._

This volume was written primarily as a textbook of introductory Japanese
linguistics for English-speaking undergraduate students who have completed
intermediate-level Japanese (as a second/foreign) language studies and want to
grasp more advanced and systematic knowledge of the language. No previous
knowledge about linguistics is assumed.

Chapter 1, ''Speech sounds,'' provides a brief overview of Japanese phonetics,
such as the structure of the vocal tract and various classifications of speech
sounds. As for classifications of Japanese speech sounds, Yamaguchi shows four
major classifications: (1) voiced versus voiceless, (2) consonants versus
vowels, (3) place of articulation, and (4) manner of articulation. Like other
chapters, Chapter 1 includes some tasks/activities, commentary, exercises, and
notes to help readers traverse the area of Japanese phonetics.

Chapter 2, ''Sound structure,'' presents Japanese phonology to explain several
important principles that govern the production of speech sounds. After
introducing the notion of phonemes as the smallest units of phonology, the
chapter shows the Japanese phonemic inventory composed of (a) twelve consonants,
(b) special consonants (/N/ and /Q/), (c) five vowels, (d) semivowels (or
''glides,'' that is, /j/ and /w/), and (e) the special vowel (/R/).

With occasional recourse to Vance (1987), Yamaguchi then discusses four pivotal
concepts of Japanese phonology: (1) assimilations, (2) alterations, (3) mora (or
moraic structure), and (4) pitch accent. As for assimilations (that is, making a
sound similar to its neighboring sound), pertinent phenomena such as allophones,
regressive and progressive assimilations, vowel devoicing, vowel gemination, and
sequential voicing are explicated with examples. Sound alterations, on the other
hand, occur by altering a sound in a morphological process, such as verb or
adjective conjugations. As part of sound alterations, the concept of sandhi (or
''onbin'' in Japanese) is exemplified by showing six patterns in which the final
consonant of a Japanese past-tense verb is changed into Ø, /N/ or /Q/, like (a)
''nuk-u'' (to pull) --> ''nu-i-ta,'' (b) ''am-u'' (to knit) --> ''aN-da,'' (c) ''hakob-u''
(to carry) --> ''hakoN-da,'' and (d) ''matu'' (to wait) --> ''maQ-ta,'' and (e)
''ara(w)u'' (to wash) --> ''araQ-ta.''

Regarding moraic structure, the author shows six combinations of Japanese
sounds: (I) V, (II) CV, (III) CyV, (IV) N, (V) Q, and (IV) R, and explains why
the perception of mora is important in the Japanese language. For instance,
foreign loanwords undergo a phonological change based on moraic structure when
they become part of the Japanese lexicon (e.g., the English word ''dessert''
/dIsə:rt/ changing into the Japanese word / Finally, the notion of
pitch accent is introduced as language specific to Japanese (apart from ''stress
accent'' in English and ''tone accent'' in Chinese). Four basic pitch patterns in
an entire Japanese word, (i) L (Low), (ii) HL (HighLow), (iii) LH (LowHigh), and
(iv) LHL (LowHighLow) are shown with an occasionally used homonym of /ha'si/
(HighLow: chopsticks), /hasi'/ (LowHighLow: bridge), and /hasi/ (LowHigh: corner).

Chapter 3, ''Vocabulary,'' presents an overview of the lexicon of the Japanese
language. First, the chapter shows four vocabulary strata of the modern Japanese
language lexicon: (1) native-Japanese words (NJ or ''wago''), (2) Sino-Japanese
words (SJ, or ''kango''), (3) foreign loan words (FL or ''gairaigo''), and (4)
hybrids (or ''konshugo''). With recurrence to insights from historical linguistics
studies by Ono (1974) and Shibatani (1990), Yamaguchi explains how Sino-Japanese
words and foreign loanwords were adopted into the Japanese language lexicon
during various historical periods of Japan. As for foreign loanwords, the author
shows seven patterns of adoption into the modern Japanese lexicon: (a) direct
transfer (such as banana --> ''banana'' and ski --> ''suki''), (b) shortened forms
(such as department store --> ''depāto'' and television --> ''terebi''), (c)
grammatical reduction (like corned beef --> ''kōnbīfu'' and frying pan -->
''furaipan''), (d) semantic narrowing (for example, bargain --> ''bāgen''), (e)
semantic broadening (my home --> ''maihōmu''), (f) Japan-made western words (such
as ''pēpādoraibā'' and ''naitā''), and (g) adopting an alternative (for example, the
lexicon ''ranchi'' [lunch] is used in a restaurant while the word ''chūshoku'' is
mainly used at home).

The chapter then shows how the text type (for instance, newspapers and
scientific magazines, women's magazines, and personal letters) can affect the
choice of vocabulary among native-Japanese, Sino-Japanese, foreign loan words,
and hybrids. It also discusses how the Japanese lexicon changes over time.
Finally, the chapter presents how the Japanese lexicon is enriched by mimetic
words, which comprise (a) phonomimes (onomatopoeia or ''giongo''), (b) phenomimes
(''gitaigo''), and (c) psychomimes (''gijōgo''). To help readers better understand
the above important elements of Japanese lexicon, ample amount of
exercises/tasks and commentaries are included.

Chapter 4, ''The writing system,'' examines the orthography of the Japanese
language, comprising Kanji, Hiragana, Katakana, Roman letters, numerals, and
symbols. As for the use of Katakana, the author elucidates five important
functions: (1) writing foreign loanwords, (2) use of non-traditional Katakana
(such as the dash to transcribe long vowels), (3) providing the pronunciation of
words, (4) accentuating words that can otherwise be written in Hiragana or
Kanji, and (5) euphemisms (such as ''toire'' instead of ''benjo''). Then, the
chapter shows some historical changes in the Japanese writing system that took
place after World War II due to the shift from the traditional way of using
Hiragana (rekishiteki-kanazukai) into that of present-day Japanese. This chapter
contains an ample amount of authentic text examples, activities/tasks, and

Chapter 5, ''Word structure,'' focuses on the area of Japanese morphology. In this
chapter, Yamaguchi examines the following five components of Japanese
morphology: (1) morphemes, (2) ideographs/ideograms, (3) affixation, (4) nominal
compounds, and (5) verbal compounds. Regarding affixation, the author
categorizes Japanese prefixes/prefixation into those (a) specifying size,
degree, and frequency (such as ō- in ''ōame'' and chō- in ''chōomoshiroi''), (b)
serving to emphasize/accentuate (e.g., do- in ''domannaka''), and (c) expressing
negation (e.g., mu- in ''mukanshin''), and suffixes/suffixation into those (a)
indicating profession (such as –ka in ''sējika'' and –shu in ''kashu''), (b) adding
the meaning of nationality or language (e.g., -jin in ''Amerikajin'' and -go in
''gaikokogo,'' (c) specifying period (e.g., -ki in ''shishunki''), (d) expressing
feeling or point of view (such as -kan in ''jinsēkan''), (e) adjectivization (by
adding the suffix -teki to a noun as in ''kagakuteki''), (f) nominalization (by
attaching one of the three suffixes, -sa, -mi or -ge, as in ''kanashisa,''
''omoshiromi,'' or ''osoroshige'') (g) changing a noun into another noun (e.g., -ka
in ''sēyōka'' and -sē in ''dokujisē''), and (h) plural marking (e.g., -tachi and –ra).

The author then explicates the topic of Japanese compound words including not
only nominal but also verbal compounds. As for nominal compounds, Yamaguchi
shows seven classifications based on the relationships between E1 (the first
element) and E2 (the second element): (1) E1 opposes Es (such as ''oyako'' and
''daisho''), (2) E1 parallels E2 (e.g., ''shikō'' and ''tēshi''), (3) E1 is repeated
(''hitobito'' and ''ayayama''), (4) E1 modifies E2 (such as ''hanabatake'' and
''aozora''), (5) E2 is part of E1 (e.g., ''sancho''), (6) E1 acts on E2 (that is, E1
[as a verb/verbal element] modifying E2 [as a noun] like ''satsujin'' and
''dokusho''), and (7) E2 acts on E1 (E2 [as a verb/verbal element] modifying E1
[as a noun], such as ''inasaku'' and ''nichibotsu'').

As for verbal compounds (V1 + V2), the author presents four major
classifications: (1) V1 (as a core element) modifying V2, (2) V2 (as a core
element) modifying V1, (3) V1 and V2 signifying semantically equal events, and
(4) V1 and V2 fused (the compound generates different meanings that have nothing
to do with each verbal element). While explaining various verbal compound
patterns in the Japanese language (such as ''V1-dasu,'' ''V1-hajimeru,'' ''V1-owaru,''
''V1-komu,'' ''V1-tsukeru,'' ''V1-kakeru,'' and ''V1-tsudukeru''), the author discusses
various aspects, including inceptive, initiative, terminative, intensive, and
continuative. Like Chapter 4, this chapter contains an ample amount of authentic
text examples, activities/tasks, and commentaries.

Chapter 6, ''Word meaning,'' addresses the domain of semantics in Japanese
linguistics, more specifically, lexical semantics. This chapter presents two
important topics of lexical semantics: (1) lexical relations and (2) meaning
components. As for lexical relations, the chapter discusses various examples of
Japanese homonymy, synonymy, polysemy, antonymy, hypernyms (vs. hyponyms), and
meronymy. Many authentic texts in Japanese from Asahi on-line newspaper are
shown to present the examples in real contexts. Then, the chapter shows three
adjectives of ''samui,'' ''tsumetai,'' and ''suzushii'' to show how the semantic
differences among various lexical items can be identified by utilizing the
notion of semantic components. In all, six activities are included in this chapter.

As the final section of this volume, Chapter 7, ''Sentence structure,'' examines
the area of Japanese syntax focusing on the following six elements: (1) the
distinction between ''ga'' and ''wa'' as the markers of subject and topic, (2)
particular types of verbs, (3) states and actions with the verb-te forms, (4)
case particles, (5) basic sentence patterns and spoken language, and (6) noun

First, the author introduces two basic sentence structures in Japanese: (a)
subject and predicate (SP) structure and (b) topic and comment (TC) structure.
In the former structure, Japanese sentences take the particle ''ga'' as the
subject marker. In the latter, the particle ''wa'' is used as the sentence topic
marker. Other topic markers than ''wa'' (such as ''koso,'' ''towa,'' ''toieba,'' and
''tte'') are also mentioned. Second, the author examines various particular types
of verbs in Japanese. They include (i) spontaneity (or change of state) verbs,
(ii) direct passive verbs, (iii) indirect passive verbs, (iv) causative-passive
forms of verbs, and (v) donative verbs. Various example sentences are provided
to explain each category of particular type verbs in Japanese.

Third, the author examines the te-forms of Japanese verbs. The te-forms of verbs
can refer to both (A) states and (B) actions, in other words, both stative and
active events. As for states, Yamaguchi examines the te-forms of intransitive
verbs, such as ''magatte-iru,'' ''yaburete-iru,'' and ''hiraite-iru.'' As for actions,
the author examines the following five patterns with the verb –te forms: (B-1)
verb te-forms + iru (signifying five aspectual meanings: progressive, durative,
resultative, habitual, and iterative), (B-2) verb te-forms + aru (referring to
resultative), (B-3) verb te-forms + oku (signifying the completion of an action
as a preparation for the near future, (B-4) verb te-forms + shimasu (meaning the
completion of an action or the speaker's regret), and (B-5) verb te-forms + iku
(referring to actions away from the speaker, such as ''aruite-iku'') and verb
te-forms + kuru (meaning actions coming closer to the speaker (such as
''aruite-kuru''). One activity containing many examples is provided to further
show more example sentences for the readers.

Fourth, Yamaguchi examines case particles in Japanese, which are attached to
nouns in a sentence. They comprise ''ga,'' ''o,'' ''ni,'' ''de,'' ''to,'' ''e,'' and ''no.''
Their main role is to specify the noun's grammatical and semantic relation to
other units of the sentence. The author elucidates case particle (i) ''o'' as
marking ''receiving an action'' (such as ''huku o kiru,'' and ''hon o yomu''), (ii)
''ni'' as marking ''direction of an action,'' (for example, ''Midori san ni atta,''
and ''basu ni notta''), (iii) ''ni'' and ''de'' as indicating ''location'' (such as
''kaisha ni tsutomeru,'' and ''Akita de umareta''), (iv) ''de'' as marking
''instrument'' (''hashi de gohan o taberu''), (v) ''ni'' as indicating ''participation''
(for instance, ''kaigi ni sankasuru''), (vi) ''to'' as marking ''reciprocity'' (such
as ''Midori san to kekkon suru''), and (vii) ''ga'' as signifying ''experiencer''
(''Nihongo ga wakaranai'' and ''Koibito ga hoshii'').

Fifth, Yamaguchi shows fifteen basic classifications of Japanese sentences
depending on the use of particles. In addition, she shows the crucial role
ellipsis and context play in spoken Japanese sentences. Finally, the author
examines the topic of noun modification while pointing out that it has two major
functions. One is to represent the relations encoded in case particles (in other
words, ''grammatical'' function), such as ''Mariko-san ga tsukutta keeki wa totemo
oishii'' and ''Mukashi sundeita machi no namae o wasureta''). The other function of
noun modification is to represent ''appositive'' relationships between modifier
and noun, such as ''Tomodachi ga kekkonshita nyuusu o kiita.''

As mentioned earlier, this volume is intended to be used as a textbook for
introductory Japanese linguistics courses. To evaluate the volume's
strengths/significance and limitations/issues, therefore, my critique examines
the following six aspects with reference to and some revisions of evaluation
criteria provided by Brown (2001, p. 142). These components are all essential
characteristics quality college and university level textbooks have to exhibit:

(1) Scope (how thoroughly the intended scope is covered);
(2) Sequencing and organization (whether the chapters are sequenced and
organized in a natural way);
(3) Contents of each chapter, including currency of information/knowledge
included and the quality of examples and illustrations;
(4) Background and needs of the readers, such as age, educational background,
and motivation for learning (how much their needs are reflected into the volume);
(5) Formatting (including general layout, tables of contents, chapter headings,
glossary, and index);
(6) Goals and Overall quality.

First, regarding its scope, this volume presents a fairly comprehensive survey
of introductory Japanese linguistics, including phonetics, phonology, lexicon,
writing systems, morphology, (lexical) semantics, and syntax. All essential
''micro'' areas of Japanese linguistics are included. However, other important and
more ''macro'' areas of Japanese linguistics (pragmatics, discourse, culture, and
conversation) are discussed in a separate volume. The micro and macro areas of
Japanese linguistics are essentially intertwined with each other. In the future,
hence, the author might consider compiling the two volumes together as one
textbook to present a comprehensive coverage of Japanese linguistics more

Second, regarding sequencing and organization, the way many chapters of this
volume are organized/sequenced seems very natural and logical. It also appears
to be similar to and consistent with the way other general Japanese linguistics
textbooks are organized in that it starts with phonetics/phonology and proceeds
further to lexicon, morphology, and syntax.

As this volume is compared with other general Japanese linguistics textbooks,
however, one thing may become clear. Shibatani (1990), for instance, has one
separate chapter about historical linguistics and another about dialects.
Tsujimura (1996) has one chapter about language variation comprising both
historical linguistics and dialects. On the other hand, Yamaguchi has integrated
many elements of historical linguistics into other chapters, such as Chapter 3
(about lexicon) and Chapter 4 (about writing systems). However, she does not
provide any chapter or section about dialectal variations of Japan. The author
might add one chapter about dialects in the future.

Third, many chapters of this volume provide clear and detailed discussions on
the pertinent topics and components. Especially, Chapters 3 and 4 (about lexicon
and writing systems respectively) are excellent chapters exhibiting in-depth
discussions and clear examples/illustrations based on the author's expertise
(Yamaguchi, 2005). On the other hand, Chapter 6 about lexical semantics appears
to be a bit lean in contents. Chapters 6 and 7 also seem to contain a few native
intuition inaccuracies. In either chapter, the author might add some discussions
on how the validity of native intuition is ensured throughout this volume, as well.

Regarding the background of the readers, the primary audience of this volume is
likely to be English-speaking college (undergraduate) students who have
completed intermediate-level Japanese (as a second/foreign) language studies and
want to grasp more advanced knowledge of the language. The most important
strengths of this volume seem to lie in its efforts to incorporate the needs of
the readers and students using this book.

More specifically, the author incorporates many authentic Japanese language
materials throughout the volume, such as Asahi, Mainichi, and Yomiuri
Newspapers, children's books, and magazines. In Chapter 7, several segments of
the well-known Doraemon comics are also used to provide examples and
illustrations. Such visual materials may significantly augment the
comprehension, short-term memory, and motivation among the readers and students
(Matsumoto, 1998). In the past, general Japanese linguistics textbooks were apt
to focus on pursuing the excellence in theoretical caliber without adequately
addressing the students' motivation and interest. This volume, however, appears
to be the first to pay necessary attention to and capitalize on the readers'
motivation to learn.

Fifth, regarding its formatting aspects (i.e., general layout, tables of
contents, chapter headings, glossary, and index), the volume is deemed to be
user-friendly in general. However, the volume may still be able to improve
further by making the general layout more attractive to many undergraduate students.

With all the above five aspects taken into account, the main goal of presenting
an introductory and comprehensive survey of Japanese linguistics to
English-speaking undergraduate students seems to be accomplished well, with the
provision of its companion volume. In addition, this book is significant in its
attention to pedagogical aspects of Japanese linguistics. Just as the quality of
Japanese (as a second/foreign) language textbooks for English-speaking
undergraduate students has significantly improved over the last two decades, it
is the reviewer's sincere desire that Japanese linguistics textbooks will also
continue to evolve and improve in the future and come to better serve the needs
of many undergraduate students.

Brown, D. (2001). _Teaching by principles: An integrated approach to language
pedagogy_. White Plains, NY: Addison Wesley Longman.

Matsumoto, H. (1998). _The relationship between various types of teachers'
language and comprehension in the acquisition of intermediate Japanese_. Lanham,
ML: University Press of America.

Ono, S. (1974). _Tracing the Japanese language_ [Nihongo o sakanoboru]. Tokyo:

Shibatani, M. (1990). _The language of Japan_. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Tsujimura, N. (1996). _An introduction to Japanese linguistics_. Cambridge,
Mass: Blackwell.

Vance, T. (1987). _An introduction of Japanese phonology_. New York: State
University of New York Press.

Yamaguchi, T. (2005). _Basic Japanese vocabulary: An explanation of usage_.
Selangor Darul Ehsan: Pelanduk.

Hiroshi Matsumoto is Associate Professor of Japanese language, culture, and
linguistics at Soka University of America, California. His research interests
include (1) studies of various errors and other idiosyncratic features in
learner language spoken by American college and university students studying
Japanese (as a second) language, (2) Japanese syntax and discourse, and (3)
teaching Japanese linguistics.

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