A grammar of classical Japanese

A grammar of classical Japanese. By Noriko Katsuki-Pestemer. (LINCOM studies in Japanese linguistics 3.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2009. Pp. xx, 312. ISBN 9783929075687. $105.28.

Reviewed by Elly van Gelderen, Arizona State University

A grammar of classical Japanese is intended for students of Classical Japanese (CJ) and for linguists ‘with or without knowledge of the Japanese language’ (back cover). This reviewer has little knowledge of Japanese and had occasional trouble with Japanese-specific terminology, as well as the lack of glosses in the tables (e.g. 166–71). Most of the glosses are excellent (e.g. 28–30), though the transcription method is unfamiliar and for a general readership perhaps less useful than that of Alexander Vovin’s A reference grammar of Classical Japanese prose (New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003).

The book has seven chapters. The introduction explains transcription methods, morpheme segmentation, and the periodization of Japanese. A helpful list of important literary works is also included. The second chapter is a very short description of the graphemes using phonetics and phonology of CJ, followed by exercises (lacking from other chapters), and the third chapter, on the morpho-syntax of the Heian period, is similarly short (twelve pages). It recognizes twelve word classes: nouns, pronouns, three types of adjectives, adverbs, verbs, auxiliaries, postpositions, conjunctions, interjections, and numeral quantifiers. These are further classified as inflectional and non-inflectional. Like Modern Japanese, CJ is verb-final, pro-drop, and has four types of predicates (nominal, verbal, and two adjectival); little more is said about syntax.

Ch. 4 describes the CJ word classes and at 205 pages is by far the longest chapter. The section on pronouns is particularly interesting for its chronological treatment (though the tables are hard to use for non-Japanese speakers). For instance (44–45), the Nara period (710–784) may have had twelve first person singular pronouns, the Heian period (794–1185) sixteen, the Kamakura and Muromachi (1192–1573) twenty, the Edo period (1603–1867) sixty-two, and the modern period ‘only’ six. The source of these pronouns is not explained sufficiently clearly for grammaticalization studies, but some sociolinguistic background is provided. Demonstrative and reflexive pronouns are also covered. While the latter have undergone much change and were more numerous than the current reflexive jibun ‘self’, not much is said about them.

Ch. 5 is a fifteen-page description of the three kinds of honorifics: speaker, interlocutor, and referent. The examples are explained well. Ch. 6 is on the rhetoric of CJ poems called waka; Ch. 7 presents the author’s conclusions and is followed by a glossary that is helpful to the non-linguist and a good index.

In a comparative view, this book is accessible to non-Japanese speakers, unlike Haruo Shirane’s Classical Japanese: a grammar (New York: Columbia University Press 2005), which however has more historical notes and is better suited to Japanese speakers. Vovin (2003) is better organized and more accessible.

In conclusion, this book is interesting and enjoyable for a general linguistic audience, but it might be more helpful to those with a background in Japanese.