Classification of the Japanese language

Classification of the Japanese language

The immediate classification of the Japanese language is clear: it is a Japonic language, along with the Ryukyuan languages. Traditionally, these are considered dialects of a single language isolate. However, more distant connections remain contentious among historical linguists. The possibility of a genetic relationship to the Goguryeo (Koguryŏ) language has the most currency; a relationship to Korean is widely considered but is problematic; an Altaic hypothesis is less widely accepted. A few linguists support the hypothesis that Japanese is genealogically related to the Austronesian languages.

Possible external relations

There are several hypotheses on the relationship of the Japonic family to other language families. These hypotheses are presented below in approximate descending order of their current acceptance (cf. Vovin 2003).

Extinct Korean-peninsular languages hypothesis

The Korean-peninsular Languages hypothesis dates back to the independent discovery by two Japanese scholars in 1907 that material in the extinct Goguryeo language found in historical sources on the early Korean Peninsula was obviously related to Japanese.Fact|date=June 2008 The hypothesis proposes that Japanese is a relative of the extinct languages spoken by the Buyeo-Goguryeo cultures of Korea, southern Manchuria, and Liaodong. The best attested of these is the language of Goguryeo, with the more poorly-attested Buyeo languages of Baekje and Buyeo believed to also be related. Supporters of this theory do not include modern Korean as part of that family because it is thought to have derived from the ancient language of Silla and it has been shown that the Korean and Buyeo-Goguryeo languages share only a few lexical items, which are typical cultural loanwords. A recent monograph by Christopher Beckwith (2004) has now established that there are about 140 lexical items in the Goguryeo corpus alone. They mostly occur in place name collocations, many of which include grammatical morphemes (including cognates of the Japanese genitive marker "no" and the Japanese adjective-attributive morpheme -"si") and a few of which reveal syntax relationships. The majority of the identified Goguryeo corpus, including all the grammatical morphemes, are clearly related to Japanese. Most discussion of this theory now centers on arguments about the identity of the speakers of the language recorded as Goguryeo, but so far the identification of the language with the Goguryeo people, which agrees with the ancient Chinese accounts, has been shown to be the most secure historically and linguistically (Beckwith 2006a, 2006b).

Korean hypothesis

[ William George Aston] suggested in 1879 in the "Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society" that Japanese is related to Korean. A relationship between Japanese and Korean was endorsed by the Japanese scholar Shōsaburō Kanazawa in 1910. Some other scholars took this position in the twentieth century (Poppe 1965:137). Substantial arguments in favor of a Japanese-Korean relationship were presented by Samuel Martin, a leading specialist in Japanese and Korean, in 1966 and in subsequent publications (e.g. Martin 1990). Other linguists advocating this position include [ John Whitman] (1985) and Barbara E. Riley (2004), and Sergei Starostin with his lexicostastical research "The Altaic Problem and the Origins of the Japanese Language" (Moscow, 1991). The possible lexical relationship between Korean and Japanese can be briefly exemplified by such basic vocabulary items as Japanese "mizu" (Old Japanese "midu") : Korean "mul" (Middle Korean "myr") 'water', "mot" (MK "mos") 'lake'; J "ku-ru" 'come' (OJ "ko"; also, cf. the forms with irregular root changes in Japanese such as past tense "ki-ta", negative "ko-nai") : MK and K root "ka-" 'go'; OJ and J "kata-" 'hard' : K "kud-yn / kut-yn" 'hard' (MK "kut-"); OJ and J "na" : MK and K "an-" 'not'; J "minna" (OJ "mynna") 'all, everyone' : K. "manh-" 'many' (MK "man-ha-"), etc. (see Martin 1966).

The same possible cognates are often observed in other members of the potential Altaic family, especially among the Tungusic languages. Compare, for instance, Nanai "muke" 'water'; "giagda-" 'to walk on foot'; "anaa, anna" 'not' (from [ Starostin's database] ).

The considerable number of shared words within the basic vocabulary which have been cited by different scholars can hardly be attributed to mutual borrowing. The hypothesis is also based on a high degree of typological and grammatical similarity, almost obvious to anyone familiar with both languages (Beckwith 2004).

Some critics of this hypothesis (such as Alexander Vovin) claim that there are difficulties in establishing exact phonological laws and that Japanese and Korean have few shared innovations. There are also drastic differences between the native Korean and Japanese number systems.

The idea of a Japanese-Korean relationship overlaps with the extended form of the Altaic hypothesis (see below), but not all scholars who argue for one also argue for the other.

Altaic hypothesis

According to its proponents, Altaic is a language family consisting at a minimum of Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic. Since the publication of G.J. Ramstedt's "Einführung in die altaische Sprachwissenschaft" ('Introduction to Altaic Linguistics') in 1952-1957, most Altaicists have included Korean in Altaic. Roy Andrew Miller's "Japanese and the Other Altaic Languages", published in 1971, convinced most Altaicists that Japanese should also be included in Altaic. The most important recent work in favor of this expanded Altaic family is "An Etymological Dictionary of the Altaic Languages" (3 volumes) by Sergei Starostin, Anna V. Dybo, and Oleg A. Mudrak (2003). (See Altaic languages for a more detailed treatment.)

The Altaic family is by no means generally accepted, either in its core form of Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic or its expanded form of Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, Korean, and Japanese. The best-known critiques are those of Gerard Clauson (1956) and Gerhard Doerfer (1963, 1988). Currently active critics include Stefan Georg and Alexander Vovin.

Evidence for this grouping lies in the fact that, like the Turkic languages and Korean, Japanese is an agglutinative language. Additionally, there are a suggestive number of correspondences in vocabulary, as shown in the following table.

These examples come from Starostin's [ database] , which contains a comprehensive list of comparisons and hypothetical Altaic etymologies.

While Starostin was a first-class scholar, there are weaknesses with Altaic, not the least of which is the poor quality of the vowel correspondences. Another one is the relative paucity of reconstructions for basic vocabulary terms. Furthermore, Starostin made numerous mistakes with the Japanese data, such as misidentifying Japanese words, reconstructing secondary phenomena in dialects back to the proto-language, overlooking accentual distinctions in Japanese, and ignoring the historical formation (i.e., morphological structure) of certain words. Moreover, he made mistakes with data in other Altaic languages as well. Whatever connection Japanese may have to Altaic languages cannot be demonstrated by the current state of Altaic reconstruction.Fact|date=March 2008

Eurasiatic hypothesis

Joseph Greenberg (2000-2002) argued for the inclusion of Japanese in his proposed Eurasiatic language family. In contrast to Sergei Starostin, he rejected the inclusion of Korean in Altaic. According to Greenberg, Japanese-Ryukyuan, Korean, and Ainu form a separate subgroup within Eurasiatic.

Like other language classifications of Greenberg's, the Eurasiatic family is often attacked on the ground that it is based on "mass lexical comparison"; however, this is a fictitious method. Greenberg's own terminology was originally "mass comparison", which he later changed to "multilateral comparison"; from his first use of it in the 1950s on, it always involved comparison of grammatical formatives as well as of lexical items, along with considerable attention to typologically probable paths of sound change. See Greenberg's "Genetic Linguistics" (2005) for his methodological positions. In contrast to Greenberg, most historical linguists remain convinced that systematic phonological reconstruction is necessary to establish genetic relationship between languages, and consequently view the Eurasiatic hypothesis with skepticism.

Creole hypothesis

The phonological similarities and geographical proximity of Japanese to the Austronesian languages have led to the theory that Japanese may be a kind of creole language, with an Altaic superstratum and an Austronesian substratum, or vice versa. However, the lists of suggested Japanese-Austronesian cognates proposed by different scholars do not agree with each otherFact|date=June 2008. Furthermore, the number of words identified as possibly Austronesian is extremely small.

Austronesian hypothesis

One of the less likely theories is that Japanese is a purely Austronesian language. This is rejected by all mainstream specialists in both Austronesian and Japanese, since the grammar, lexis, and morphology of Japanese are vastly different from those of any known Austronesian language. Proponents of this theory point out examples of convergent lexis, such as Japanese "hina" "doll" and "hime" "princess," as cognate with the Māori word "hine" "girl," or Japanese "kaku" "to write, to sketch" with the Hawaiian "kākau" "to write, to tattoo", or Japanese "ne" "an expression" with the Kapampangan "ne" "an expression", or Japanese "nomu" "to drink" with the Tagalog "inom" "drink."

It is important, however, to note that many totally unrelated languages exhibit chance occurrences of convergent lexis. Furthermore, these alleged "cognates" soon fall apart upon closer analysis. For example, the Japanese word "hime" is clearly a compound word; modern Japanese /h/ comes from earlier /p/; Hawaiian /k/ comes from earlier /t/. Moreover, the time depths for Japanese and Proto-Polynesian do not match, and Polynesia is far more distant from Japan than Taiwan, the proposed Austronesian homeland. If there were an Austronesian connection, it might be found closer to the Japanese Archipelago. Beyond that, the time depth for Proto-Austronesian, at roughly 6000 years BP, makes it far too old to be compared with Japanese, which may have come to the Japanese islands perhaps 2500-3000 years ago (see the Yayoi page for details on the peopling of Japan). The biggest problem is methodological: the comparative method requires the establishment of regular sound correspondences, and no comparison of Japanese and Polynesian has yet reached that level of methodological adequacy.

Those who propose that Japanese and Austronesian are related suggest that the Austronesian family once covered the islands to the north of Formosa (western Japanese areas such as the Ryūkyū Islands and Kyūshū) as well as to the south. However, there is no biological or genetic evidence for an especially close relationship between speakers of Austronesian languages and speakers of Japonic languages, so if there was any prehistoric interaction between them, it is likely to have been one of simple cultural exchange without significant ethnic mixing. In fact, genetic analyses consistently show that the Ryukyuans between Taiwan and the main islands of Japan are genetically less similar to the Taiwanese aborigines than are the Japanese, which suggests that if there was any interaction between proto-Austronesian and proto-Japonic, it occurred on the mainland prior to the extinction of Austronesian languages on mainland China and the introduction of Japonic to Japan, and not in the Ryukyus. It should also be noted that groups of peoples that inhabited ancient Japan, such as the Kumaso and the Hayato, are hypothesized by some to have spoken an Austronesian-related language, although due to a lack of evidence, this hypothesis may be untestable.

Dravidian hypothesis

A more rarely encountered hypothesis is that Japanese is related to the Dravidian languages, mostly spoken in South India, of which the best-documented from an early date is Tamil.

The possibility that Japanese might be related to Dravidian was raised by Robert Caldwell, the great pioneer of Dravidian studies, in the 19th century (cf. Caldwell 1875:413). A relationship between Japanese and Dravidian has more recently been advocated by the Japanese scholars Susumu Shiba, Akira Fujiwara, and Susumu Ōno (n.d., 2000).

Evidence for this theory is that the Japanese and Dravidian languages are both agglutinating and have similar vocabularies and sound systems.

An objection that will occur to many people is that the retroflex consonants of Dravidian have no parallel in Japanese. However, "The cacuminals [i.e. retroflex phonemes] of Dravidian are of secondary origin, as appears from the fact that they never occur as initials" (Trombetti 1922:76). This objection, at least, is not fatal to the Japanese-Dravidian hypothesis.

This hypothesis has been criticized by other scholarsFact|date=June 2008 of Japanese and Dravidian. Ōno was criticized for making errors in history and archaeology, and for various methodological errors in applying the comparative method, such as positing multiple correspondences without giving conditioning factors (for example, Tamil "c" : Japanese "s"; Tamil "c" : Japanese ∅; and Tamil ∅ : Japanese "s"), and several other shortcomings in data and application of theory.

Possible reconciliations

Not all of the hypotheses enunciated above are mutually incompatible. Very often, they involve different time depths. The more accepted relationships tend to be those lower in time, while hypotheses concerning deeper relationships tend to be more controversial at present. Further, some of these hypotheses may involve correct perceptions of relationship, but not resolve the question of whether the similarities noted are due to genetic relationship or areal influence. For example, the following grouping would reconcile all of those above: Japonic-Goguryeo < Goguryeo-Silla < Altaic < Eurasiatic < Nostratic (which includes Dravidian), with an areal influence on Japonic from Austronesian. While only a minority of linguists concerned would endorse such a grouping, it underlines that the difficulties involved in classifying Japanese concern general methodological issues for linguistics, and will probably only be resolved in tandem with these.

See also

*Korean language
*Ainu language
*Altaic languages


* Aston, William George. 1879. "A comparative study of the Japanese and Korean languages." "Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Britain and Ireland, New Series" 11, 317-364.
* Beckwith, Christopher I. 2004. "Koguryo: The Language of Japan's Continental Relatives: An Introduction to the Historical-Comparative Study of the Japanese-Koguryoic Languages, with a Preliminary Description of Archaic Northeastern Middle Chinese." Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 9004139494.
* Beckwith, Christopher I. 2006a. "Methodological observations on some recent studies of the early ethnolinguistic history of Korea and vicinity." "Altai Hakpo" 16: 199-234.
* Beckwith, Christopher I. 2006b. "The ethnolinguistic history of the early Korean peninsula region: Japanese-Koguryoic and other languages in the Koguryo, Paekche, and Silla kingdoms." "Journal of Inner and East Asian Studies", Vol. 2-2: 34-64.
* Caldwell, Robert. 1875. "A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian Family of Languages", second edition, revised and enlarged. London: Trübner & Co. (Original edition: 1856.)
* Greenberg, Joseph H. 2000. "Indo-European and Its Closest Relatives: The Eurasiatic Language Family. Volume 1: Grammar." Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0804738122.
* Greenberg, Joseph H. 2002. "Indo-European and Its Closest Relatives: The Eurasiatic Language Family. Volume 2: Lexicon." Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002. ISBN 0804746249.
* Greenberg, Joseph H. 2005. "Genetic Linguistics: Essays on Theory and Method", edited by William Croft. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199257713.
* Kanazawa, Shōsaburō. 1910. "The Common Origin of the Japanese and Korean Languages." Tokyo: Sanseidō.
* Katsumi, Matsumoto. 2007. 世界言語のなかの日本語 ("Sekaigengo no nakano Nihongo", 'Japanese in the World's Languages'). Tokyo: 三省堂 Sanseido.
* Lewin, Bruno. 1976. [ "Japanese and Korean: the problems and history of a linguistic comparison."] "Journal of Japanese Studies" 2.2, 389-412.
* Martin, Samuel E. 1966. [ "Lexical evidence relating Korean to Japanese."] "Language" 12.2, 185-251.
* Martin, Samuel E. 1968. "Grammatical elements relating Korean to Japanese." In "Proceedings of the Eighth Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences" B.9: 405-407.
* Martin, Samuel E. 1975. "Problems in establishing the prehistoric relationships of Korean and Japanese." In "Proceedings International Symposium Commemorating the 30th Anniversary of Korean Liberation." Seoul: National Academy of Sciences.
* Martin, Samuel E. 1990. "Morphological clues to the relationships of Japanese and Korean." In Philip Baldi, ed., "Linguistic Change and Reconstruction Methodology." Berlin: de Gruyter.
* Martin, Samuel E. 1991. "Recent research on the relationships of Japanese and Korean." In Sydney M. Lamb and E. Douglas Mitchell, eds., "Sprung from Some Common Source: Investigations into the Prehistory of Languages." Stanford: Stanford University Press.
* Martin, Samuel E. 1996. "Consonant Lenition in Korean and the Macro-Altaic Question." Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0824818091.
* Miller, Roy Andrew. 1971. "Japanese and the Other Altaic Languages." Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226527190.
* Miller, Roy Andrew. 1980. "Origins of the Japanese Language: Lectures in Japan during the Academic Year 1977-78". Seattle: University of Washington Press. ISBN 0295957662.
* Miller, Roy Andrew. 1996. "Languages and History: Japanese, Korean and Altaic." Oslo: Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture. ISBN 9748299694.
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* Riley, Barbara E. 2004. [ "Aspects of the Genetic Relationship of the Korean and Japanese Languages"] . PhD thesis, University of Hawaii.
* Schmidt, Wilhelm. 1930. "Die Beziehungen der austrischen Sprachen zum Japanischen", 'The connections of the Austric languages to Japanese'. "Wiener Beitrag zur Kulturgeschichte und Linguistik" 1, 239-51.
* Starostin, Sergei A. 1991. "Altajskaja problema i proisxoždenie japonskogo jazyka", 'The Altaic Problem and the Origin of the Japanese Language'. Moscow: Nauka.
* Starostin, Sergei A., Anna V. Dybo, and Oleg A. Mudrak. 2003. "Etymological Dictionary of the Altaic Languages." Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9004131531.
* Trombetti, Alfredo. 1922-1923. "Elementi di glottologia", 2 volumes. Bologna: Nicola Zanichelli.
* Vovin, Alexander. 2003. 日本語系統論の現在:これからどこへ 'The genetic relationship of the Japanese language: where do we go from here?'. In Alexander Vovin and Toshiki Osada (eds.), 日本語系統論の現在 'Perspectives on the Origins of the Japanese Language'. Kyoto: International Center for Japanese Studies. ISSN 1346-6585.
* Whitman, John Bradford. 1985. "The Phonological Basis for the Comparison of Japanese and Korean." PhD thesis, Harvard University.

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