Japanese linguistics

Japanese linguistics: An introduction. By Toshiko Yamaguchi. New York: Continuum, 2007. Pp. 240. ISBN 9780826487902. $49.95.

Reviewed by Mark Irwin, Yamagata University, Japan

As its title suggests, this volume by Toshiko Yamaguchi introduces Japanese linguistics at a comparatively basic level, suitable for higher-level undergraduates or lower-level postgraduates. Its range of content and depth of discussion are, therefore, not on par with Natsuko Tsujimura’s An introduction to Japanese linguistics (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2007). Each of its seven chapters contain plentiful activities and exercises (the difference between which is unclear), followed, in some cases, by useful explicatory commentaries.

Ch. 1, ‘Speech sounds’ (1–14), explores Japanese phonetics: a basic explanation of the vocal tract is followed by a classification of Japanese phones. Using the international phonetic alphabet (IPA), Y adheres to norms of phonetic transcription, although what she describes as an alveolo-palatal fricative (IPA [ɕ]), she writes as a post-alveolar fricative (IPA [ʃ]). Ch. 2, ‘Sound structure’ (15–39), which examines phonology, opens with an overview of the Japanese phonemic inventory. Of those phonemes on whose existence academic opinion is divided, Y posits both the moraic consonants /N/ and /Q/ as well as /R/ to include ‘the second part of [a] geminated vowel’ (16). The remainder of Ch. 2 introduces allophonic variation, vowel devoicing, onbin (i.e. sandhi), the mora, and accent. Her claim that sequential voicing ‘does not occur when the second member of [a] compound is […] Sino-Japanese’ (21) is erroneous, as is the contention that what is known as Lyman’s law was first recognized by Benjamin Smith Lyman.

Ch. 3, ‘Vocabulary’ (40–71), contains analyses of native Japanese, foreign loanwords, hybrid vocabulary, mimetics, and Sino-Japanese (that most Chinese characters ‘arrived in Japan [between] 206 BC and AD 9’ (48) is manifestly false, and Y’s explanation for the origin of the term kan-on is infelicitous). Y also examines vocabulary via a range of texts, including newspaper articles, letters, children’s stories, and manga. Ch. 4, ‘The writing system’ (72–97), is perhaps the most valuable chapter. In addition to the obligatory overview of kanji and hiragana, Y offers a thorough presentation of the various uses of katakana, covers punctuation and symbols, briefly examines historical changes in Japanese orthography, and reinforces all of this with copious activities.

Morphology is covered in Ch. 5, ‘Word structure’ (98–132), in which the focus is essentially on compounding and affixation, although many would take issue with Y’s translation of kanji as ‘ideogram’ (99). Y’s treatment of Japanese semantics, introduced in Ch. 6, ‘Word meaning’ (133–56), includes homonymy, synonymy, polysemy, and antonymy. Also discussed are ‘meaning components’, which are accompanied by several activities. The final chapter, Ch. 7, ‘Sentence structure’ (157–207), considers various aspects of Japanese syntax: topic structures, verb types, states and actions, case particles, basic sentence patterns, and noun modification.

This volume offers no introduction to any aspect of Japanese sociolinguistics, language acquisition, pragmatics, or discourse analysis. These are instead treated in the companion volume, Japanese language in use: An introduction (New York: Continuum, 2007), by the same author.