Japanese is a relatively ordinary language in terms of its phonology, lexicon and syntax. Its reputation as a special or difficult language derives largely from social contextual factors (particularly honorific and respect forms necessary in conversation between Japanese) and from the complexity of the writing system. However, a major reason for interest is that it is an important but apparently isolated language with no established or generally accepted relationship to other languages or language-families. It is for this reason that an examination of it from a new perspective, that of the motor theory of language evolution and function, can be stimulating and possibly illuminating. The motor theory, as described in papers for previous meetings of the LOS, proposes as a universal principle that the structures of language (phonological, lexical and syntactic) were derived from and modelled on the pre-existing complex neural systems which had evolved for motor control, the control of bodily activity. Motor control at the neural level requires pre-set elementary units of action which can be integrated into more extended patterns of action - neural motor programs. These in turn have to be linked to and integrated with one another by 'syntactic' neural processes and structures. On this theory, given that speech is also essentially a motor activity, language made use of the elementary pre-set units of motor action to produce the equivalent phonological units (phonemic categories); the neural programs for individual words were constructed from the elementary units in the same way as motor programs for bodily action are formed from them (in both cases a neural program is formed in direct relation to the perceived structure of the external world); the syntactic processes and structures of language proper were modelled on the 'syntactic' rules of motor control. The paper considers how far the phenomena of the Japanese language are compatible with and explainable in terms of the motor theory.
The main purpose of this paper is to test ideas developed about the motor basis of language, both as an evolutionary account and as a hypothesis about the current functioning of language as a means of transmitting information, emotion and other properties between individual human beings. I have chosen to attempt to assess the relevance of the motor theory to Japanese precisely because this is an unfamiliar language both to me and to most others interested in the evolution of language, with reputed difficulty and distance in the functioning of Japanese from more familiar Western languages. This kind of 'experimental' approach is one which has been used by some notable precursors: for example, the psychologist and linguist Roger Brown describes in his book 'A First Language'(1976) how he immersed himself in a course in direct learning of Japanese to get a wider perspective on the issues of child-acquisition of grammar and lexicon; this seemed a sensible way of making sure that his views were not unconsciously biased by preconceived ideas derived from the chance features of English and other Western languages. Similarly, Paradis embarked on his important neurolinguistic study (1985, 1987) with consideration of the phenomena of aphasia and the writing system in Japanese with no prior knowledge of the language.
The theory has application to, and implications for, all aspects of Japanese: phonology, lexicon and syntax - and for the relation between Japanese and other possibly related, or even unrelated, languages. These possibly relevant features can be summarised as:
Phonology: The theory suggests that the phonemes of all languages are likely to be selected from a limited set of possible distinctive speech-sounds. On this view, phonemes are essentially distinctive articulatory gestures produced by motor programs for articulation. The motor programs involved in articulation are not separate from motor programs involved in control of other bodily movement; indeed, it is argued that all bodily movement (in humans as well as in other mammals) is controlled by a limited set of motor programs and the application of these to articulation, to produce the distinctive sounds of human speech, was the evolutionary step forward which gave humans the capacity for language. The diversity of phoneme-sets between different language communities, on the motor theory, is explained as originally being genetically based, because between separated populations there can develop minor physical and cerebral differences which over a long period affect the phoneme-preferences within a given community. Because language, and the phonology of any individual language, are both physically-determined and culturally-influenced, phoneme preferences originally established on an essentially physiological or morphological basis are preserved within a community and subject to only slow change as gene-frequencies within the population (affecting the population's overall speech-sound preferences) also gradually change.
Lexicon: The words originating and used within a given community are, of course, only those which the phonology, the speech sound preferences of the community, allow to come into existence, or to be preserved in existence. Lexical diversity between languages derives in great part from phonological diversity between languages. Even if the words forming the lexicon of a language were wholly invented and wholly arbitrary, there must still be differences between words used in different languages for the same objects because of the phonological diversity. However, the motor theory suggests that the origin and persistence of words of a particular structure is not an arbitrary phenomenon; words are never (or hardly ever) deliberately invented, because there is no process by which the inventor can impose his arbitrary creation on the speech-community in which he finds himself; for a new word to gain currency, usually only for a new object, the creator must find within himself the 'plausible' word, the word that seems right within that community for the new object. This, of course, is the whole operation of the selection of trade-names for which the experts are paid vast sums of money.
But if words are not arbitrary, where do they come from? If, as the theory supposes, the phonemes which go to form any word manifest pre-existing motor programs for the general control of bodily activity, and in the simple case the words relate to actions or familiar external objects and percepts, then inherent in each action represented by a word is its own overall motor program, its own combination of motor control elements. Motor programs are also of essential importance in perception, in vision (eye-movements in scanning and in other adjustments), and in perception through touch. The motor theory suggests that the selection of the structure of phonemes for a particular action or object derives from the motor aspects of the action or perception to which the word refers.
One should not be surprised therefore to find in the lexicons of all languages many instances of onomatopoeia, in the narrow sense where there seems to be a relation between the sound of a word and the sound associated with the object etc. to which the word refers; more importantly, one would expect to find, on the account given by the motor theory, extensive evidence of onomatopoeia in a much wider sense, the felt appropriateness of words to their meanings, the whole field of sound symbolism. To the extent that different languages are phonologically similar, one would expect to find lexical similarities across the languages which derive from this 'sound symbolism' or more precisely from the uniformity of the relation between the motor programs underlying the words in the different languages and the motor programs associated with the objects or actions to which the words refer.
Syntax: It can be argued that 'syntax' is a less important and less distinctive feature of languages than phonology or lexicon (against the undue importance over the last decades attached to syntax in preference to semantics and lexicon). However this may be, the motor theory, perhaps more speculatively than in the case of phonology or lexicon, suggests that syntax also has a physiological origin, an origin in cerebral organisation for action, for motor control. If the theory is correct in proposing a motor basis for the phoneme-set in any language, and a motor basis for the phoneme-structures going to form particular words for particular actions or objects, then if one treats syntax, at its simplest, as the 'putting-together' of these motor-derived words, there is a clear analogy between the formation in speech of a sentence or a phrase (or more extended discourse) on the one hand and the formation of an extended bodily movement, an action-sequence, a complex neural motor routine on the other hand.
Parsimony would suggest that if there are 'syntactic' processes which put together the elements going to form a bodily action, then those syntactic processes could equally readily be used to put together motor-based words into sentences. In examining the syntax of any language, then, one would look for the manner in which that language achieved universally-necessary effects, in the formation of sentences etc, but not be surprised if syntax also showed variations (within fairly narrow limits) between languages because, as in the case of phonology, syntactic 'preferences' (e.g. between SVO and SOV sentence-order) would ultimately have been determined by probably slight physiological differences between populations in their neural organisation for action and perception. These differences would have resulted originally from gene-frequency differences between populations - and one would expect the differences in syntax to be greater, the more isolated a population has been, and the longer it has been relatively isolated.
After this brief description of the motor theory and identification of features of the theory which may be particularly relevant, this section gives a broad account of the Japanese language, its peculiarities and its general character, as a preliminary to closer examination in the light of the motor theory of particular aspects of Japanese phonology, Japanese lexicon and Japanese syntax.
The main general points about Japanese are its apparent isolation from other languages, its special and difficult writing system and the ambivalence the Japanese people show towards their language. There is a curious combination of reverence for the language and the feeling in some sections of the community that Japanese is in some way inadequate as a modern language. On this last point, serious proposals have even been made that the Japanese language should be abandoned and replaced by a more adequate language, French or English. Mori Arinori (1847-1889), a prominent Meiji political leader and educator, argued in favour of English as a national replacement for Japanese. Shiga Naoya (1883-1972), poet and novelist (the references come from Miller 1977) said in April 1946 "There is nothing as imperfect or impractical as the national language of Japan. The development of our culture has been impeded by the fact." As Miller goes on to point out, it is a continuing theme in Japanese sociolinguistics that "the Japanese language is a poor language, a weak language, lacking in proper grammatical equipment and poor in lexical resources, a language ... deficient in all respects" (1977 41)
At the same time, the language has long been seen as having a special importance for the Japanese people; it is in some way thought to enshrine the essentials of the Japanese character and to be a source of pride in so far as the special nature of the language is linked with what Japanese see as the very special nature of their society and history.
This perception of the Japanese language takes its strongest form as the belief that in its character and origin it is quite unlike any other language. The more technical question of origin and relatedness on which Japanese linguists have taken a very different view from Western experts in Japanese and from Western comparativists, is briefly considered in the next section.
Many of Roy Miller's numerous writings on the Japanese language (1967, 1971, 1977, 1980) have been translated into Japanese and he is respected and studied in Japan as one of the leading Western experts. This gives extra weight to his assessment of the 'mystique' of Japanese. To summarise his views: For Westerners, sensitivity and caution are mandatory when approaching the Japanese language. The Japanese believe in a modern myth of the special, unique nature of the Japanese language. There is a 'profound sense of awe and respect towards the Japanese language' which goes to the root of Japanese identity. The Japanese language is seen as containing an 'indescribable and ineffable quality' (1977 11), the mystique of the Japanese language as an 'experience of ecstasy' central to the concerns of the society as a whole.(1977 26) The first mystic hallmark is taken to be the essential difficulty of the language (coupled with the tremendous difficulties that most Japanese so readily admit to facing in the course of learning any foreign language). "To speak and to use the Japanese language is to be a Japanese; to be a Japanese is to speak and to use the Japanese language.(1977 71) The mystical experience of his own language is generally identified with his own racial identity. Miller concludes that the identification of the language with the race is still supreme.
The stark contrast between the judgment that Japanese is an inadequate language and the overwhelming importance of the language as a constituent of the Japanese psyche is obvious. Before assessing the character of Japanese more pragmatically as some recent Japanese linguists have done, it may be useful to put discussion of the uniqueness and special character of the Japanese language in the context of a more general account of the diversity of languages drawn from an earlier paper of mine. Languages are strikingly similar as well as strikingly different. They are similar in their very general structure: The speech sounds of any single language are selected from a restricted set; the speech sounds of all languages can be analysed in uniform ways in terms of the anatomy and functioning of the vocal organs. Whilst each language has a distinctive collection of words peculiar to it, there is extensive similarity of words between languages, a very great amount of borrowing of words between languages, and of course great similarity between the things, actions, etc, for which words are available in different languages. Grammatical structure has something in common in all known languages, particularly at the deeper levels of grammar.
A fuller discussion of how it is that extensive similarities between languages come to be associated with extensive differences between languages will be found in a previous paper for the Language Origins Society (Allott 1989 b). Briefly, on the account given by the motor theory, each main aspect of a language, phonology, lexicon, syntax, depends upon the motor integration of language with bodily action and perception. Language directly reflects or expresses neural organisation, the system of neuronal connections which constitute motor programs and result in articulatory movements. Genetic uniformities within a population exert a uniform (statistically averaged) effect over the physical and mental constitution, brain and body development of the population. They mean that certain features of brain and body development are found more frequently in one population than in another.
Because language is physiologically and neurally based, a relation will be apparent between the original characteristics of a language and the physical conformation most prevalent within the group. So far as basic and original lexicon is derived from integration of articulation with perceptual and motor organisation, the words found in the group will have their structure determined (within the limits set by the phonology preferentially adopted) by neural organisation governing perception and the planning of motor action, Similarly, in the origin of a language the structure of the motor system will have a dominant influence on the basic syntactic features of the language of the group. Cerebral and articulatory organisation have direct significance for language, and 'genetic' factors in a strict biological sense have a controlling influence on these within and between populations. Differences between gene frequencies relevant for language would extend not only to physical aspects relevant for articulation but also to neural organisation.
Against this background, how should one assess the uniqueness of Japanese ? Both Western experts and Japanese linguists have tackled this question. Miller relates this to the question of the origin of Japanese. He dismisses "this unlikely assumption of a totally independent evolution of mankind in the Japanese islands, an acceptable explanation only to those who propose that the Japanese language is a unique system of mystical experiences rather than one of the world's many linguistic systems".(1977 21) Shibatani, a Japanese linguist and author of one of the most recent academic studies of the Japanese language, takes a similar view (1990 90). He discusses "one of the persistent myths held by the Japanese concerning their native language ... that it is somehow unique". This myth derives, he says, mainly from considerable ignorance of other languages. Another persistent myth is that Japanese, compared to Western languages, is 'illogical and vague ... most conspicuously professed by certain Japanese intellectuals". In addition, many Japanese and non-Japanese alike hold Japanese to be an extremely difficult language.
Shibatani comments (1990 89 ff.): "From a technical point of view, all these assertions can be dismissed as myths. Japanese is not unique; on the contrary, Japanese is a very typical human language as far as its overall grammatical structure is concerned. The SOV order predominates among the world's languages; in the realm of phonology too, it is a commonplace language, with five hardly exotic vowels, a rather simple set of consonants, and a basic CV syllable structure". In a certain sense, a sense in which every language can claim to be unique, he suggests that the uniqueness of Japanese can be sought in the multiplicity of coding possibilities that the language permits, in the writing system and in the lexical complexity. The form of an expression in Japanese is affected far more than seems to be the case in many other languages by contextual factors and by sex and status of the speaker; there is the complex system of honorific and polite forms (which even native speakers find it difficult to master) and in both speech and writing Japanese is highly elliptical in comparison to European languages and especially to English.
The aspects which Shibatani focuses on as making Japanese in some sense unique are more social and cultural than strictly linguistic. Parallels to this kind of uniqueness could be found in close study of any language and indeed direct parallels to some of these features of Japanese are apparent in other languages e.g. Korean has both polite forms and subject honorifics. there are examples of women's languages elsewhere e.g. in Australia, courtesy forms are found in many languages together with variations in register to match differing social situations.
It seems appropriate here to include some comment on the very distinctive writing system used for Japanese, which has done much to support the idea of Japanese as an isolated and special language. In the normal way, one would not think that the manner in which a language is written has any particular importance for characterising the language. This is not so for Japanese. The peculiarities of the writing system have interacted with the special features of spoken conversational Japanese to reinforce Japanese perception of the 'mystical' character of the language. The factual content in this section is drawn from Paradis et al. 1985 and Shibatani 1990.
The Japanese writing system is certainly unique and certainly very difficult to learn and use both for foreigners and for the Japanese themselves. It is unique not so much for the characters used, which are either borrowed from Chinese or similar to syllabic scripts used in other languages, but because of the way in which the different characters are used in combination. Besides Chinese characters, the kanji,there are two syllabic scripts, katakana and hiragana. This does not mean that Japanese has two or three independent systems of writing. Not everything can be written in kanji and though everything could be written in kana, it is not (except at the beginning of the first year of school). Japanese makes use of the two (or three if the kanas are counted as separate) types of graphic symbols in an integrated writing system. The Chinese characters are used for substantive words; hiragana, the more cursive kana, is used for grammatical words and particles and for other words which have no kanji; katakana is used for (non-Chinese) foreign words. Less familiar or less frequently used kanji may be accompanied in printed text by a transcription in hiragana.
The difficulty in learning or reading Japanese text does not end with this intermingling of different types of graphic symbol. Every Chinese character used in Japanese usually has two ways of being read: it may be read as the kun, that is an indigenous Japanese word, or it may be read as the on, which is the original loan word from Chinese. Even worse in terms of the difficulty of the script, most kanji are homographs, that is the same character has many different meanings; there may be anywhere from 2 to 23 different pronunciations and corresponding meanings. Whilst hiragana and katakana contain only a relatively small number of distinct forms (of the order of 80 for each of the kanas - depending on how one counts slightly modified forms and adds in subsidiary forms for punctuation etc. perhaps a total of getting on for 200 for the kana system), there are many thousands of Chinese characters in more or less frequent use in Japanese.
The difficulty of learning the Japanese writing system or reading Japanese text is not something experienced only by foreigners. Both for children and for Japanese adults, the system presents considerable problems. It is commonly said that it takes more than nine years of school education before Japanese children can read a newspaper satisfactorily. To make the task of learning the writing system more manageable, the Japanese Government recognises three levels of kanji, 881 characters called education kanji,and 1045 general purpose kanji and a third level consisting of thousands of other kanji (including scholarly words). The basic list is to be learned during primary and secondary education; kanji are slowly introduced one at a time after the first year of school. Most newspapers try to limit the text to the first two categories of characters; when characters in the third category are used, they are accompanied by a syllabic reading in hiragana.
Even when the kanas and the characters have been learnt, there are still problems. In Japanese text, words are not separated by blanks; for Japanese subjects, the very concept of a word as distinct from a character is rather vague. The reader must decide which characters should be read together to produce a single meaning. Some kanji are so complex that native speakers of Japanese find it difficult to remember them. The characters mostly contain no indication in their form how they should be pronounced; perhaps no more than 25% of the first 2000 kanji contain a useful phonemic element as a guide to pronunciation. Japanese speakers anecdotally report that they often mentally visualise kanji to disambiguate the numerous homophones in the language. The character can also be spelled out in the palm of the hand. Out of 58,431 spoken words, 36% have at least one homophone. Given all this, it is not surprising that it is very difficult even to read a single kanji, that is to decide how to pronounce it out loud and derive a meaning. Nor is it surprising that because of the necessary constant mental representation of the written sign, the Japanese writing system plays a perhaps unique role in the perception and use by the Japanese of their language.
Given the complicated relation between spoken Japanese and the Japanese writing system, it may be relevant to refer here to research into the cerebral representation of kanji and the kanas as part of the study of aphasia and agraphia by Paradis(1987). The situation was very complicated. Kanji and kana appeared to be functionally separate. Patients who were able to read aloud and comprehend kanji could not read aloud and understand words in kana. Patients could read kanji better than kana whilst at the same time they wrote kana better than kanji. Beyond this it appeared that hiragana and katakana might be separately represented. The left temporal area was more involved for processing kana and the left parieto-occipital area for kanji. There was no clear pattern of greater impairment for kanji with right hemisphere lesions and greater impairment for kana with left hemisphere lesions.
For Western experts the classification of Japanese seems certain, as one of the Altaic languages with its closest relation to Korean. For Japanese linguists the issue is unsettled. This situation is the result of prolonged study, with the approach to the problem in Japan progressing from an initially less scientific attitude to one based more on generally accepted techniques for determining language relationships. As an example of the older approach, Miller(1977 25) quoted the views of Watanabe who based his discussion of Japanese on the concept of 'Yamato words', supposed primordial Japanese words, "that emerge in the minds of men when something pulls at their heart-strings". Miller commented on the abundant evidence that even the very earliest layers of Yamato words are full of loan-words from other languages, with early loans from Chinese and Korean particularly evident. Martin(1966) also saw a close affinity in terms of seeming cognates between Japanese and Korean. Miller suggested(1971 135) that a genetic relationship of Japanese to Old Turkish could be traced and concluded that Japanese should be classed as one of the Altaic languages. He deplored the unwillingness of Japanese linguists to accept the Western consensus. At the time, Japanese rejection of the consensus was represented by Hattori Shiro (then the doyen of Japanese historical and comparative linguistics) who declared "If I am able to demonstrate that the genetic relationship of Japanese is not a question that can be solved, I shall have achieved one of my goals"(quoted by Miller 1977 26).
Most recently, Shibatani has proffered a more balanced assessment(1990 100 ff.) of the causes for the disagreement between Japanese and Western linguists and the obstacles that have prevented a solution from emerging that is successful enough to convince the specialists in the field as well as the Japanese public. The most embarrassing problem, according to him, for anyone attempting to relate Japanese to Korean is the phonological discrepancy; the vowel system of Japanese is relatively simple in contrast with the complex vowel systems found in Korean and in Altaic languages more generally. Despite Martin's perception of cognates between Japanese and Korean, there is a scarcity of scientifically reliable evidence for cognate sets and sound correspondences between the languages. Nevertheless, though the relationship of Japanese to other languages has not been established conclusively by the standard techniques of historical and comparative linguistics, Shibatani is prepared to concede that it is probably related to Korean and possibly to the Altaic languages. And despite Hattori Shiro's earlier pronouncement (quoted above) he seems in the end to have come to much the same conclusion (Hattori 1979). It remains doubtful however how far Japanese linguists generally and the wider Japanese public accept this rather tentative probability and would be ready to abandon their belief in the primordial character of the language.
To summarise: if the Japanese language could conclusively be shown to be an isolated language totally different from other languages and to have phonological, lexical or syntactic features without parallel in other languages, then this would be incompatible with the account given by the motor theory of the origin and functioning of language. However, both the views of Western experts and more recent study by Japanese linguists give no support to this idea. There are special and striking features in the conversational use of Japanese: the importance of social context in the selection of appropriate grammatical and lexical forms, the special character of the writing system and its effect on how Japanese perceive their language - but these special features are not without parallels elsewhere and in any case have no particular importance for the matters with which the motor theory deals. Language chauvinism is not an attribute peculiar to the Japanese; it exists for major European languages: French as the language of reason, German as the language of profound philosophy, English as specially suited for a universal role and so on. But in the light of the discussion, it seems quite justifiable to proceed on the assumption that Japanese is a language not inherently remote from more familiar Western languages, such as English. As Roger Brown put it after his temporary immersion in Japanese, the two languages, Japanese and English, "are obviously species of a single genus, their variation almost trifling by comparison with their enormous common denominator as languages" (Brown 1976 22). If this is so, then one can proceed with more confidence to examine how far there is evidence in Japanese of features which the motor theory would lead one to expect.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the Japanese phonological system is how ordinary it is. As already quoted, Shibatani has remarked that Japanese in the realm of phonology is a commonplace language, with five hardly exotic vowels, a rather simple set of consonants, and a basic CV syllable structure. As compared, for example, with Italian phonology, the only notable feature of Japanese is that it lacks any /l/ phoneme. The following paragraphs present in more detail the relatively minor special features of Japanese phonology (as reported by Hattori, Shibatani, Jorden, Hinds, Paradis et al.).
There are five vowels, a, i, u, e, o, similar to those of Italian. The consonants include b, p, g, k, d, t, f, h, j, m, n, r, s, z, w . As already noted, there is no l and Japanese speakers normally replace this by r in pronouncing foreign words containing l. Initial z is pronounced like dz in English 'adze' in Tokyo. The Japanese /r/ closely resembles the 'r' in the English pronunciation of 'very'. To speakers of American English, it often sounds like /d/ The Japanese /p/ /t/ and /k/ are not as aspirated as the initial p, t, and k of English; t, d, and n are articulated against the teeth, h, sh, and j are pronounced with the front of the tongue, not with the tip of the tongue as in English.
Japanese is a polysyllabic language. In Japanese linguistics, perception of the phonological units has been based on the writing system. A distinction is made between the syllable and the mora, a unit which can be represented by one letter of kana. A 3-mora word takes three times as long to pronounce as a 1-mora word. In terms of this the number of possible syllables is limited to 102. Syllables are ordinarily open CV. They can, however, be closed with a nasal sound; and although the syllable structure is said to be CV, in fact in many instances the vowels /i/ and /u/ both within the word and at the end of words are devoiced or elided altogether. As a consequence spoken Japanese, in effect, can use quite difficult consonantal groupings and does so particularly for reproducing foreign words and in onomatopoeic words. There are several unacceptable combinations of consonants and vowels, among them ti, tu, di, du, si, zi, wi, we. In pronunciation, though not in writing, these are replaced respectively by chi, tsu, ji, zu, shi, ji, i .
Japanese is only minimally semantically tonal, though the majority of dialects have a word pitch accent. In Tokyo, for example, hashi with a high-low accent pattern means 'chopsticks' but with a low-high accent it denotes 'bridge'. in Kyoto, on the other hand, hashi means 'edge, end' with a high-high accent, 'bridge' with high-low and 'chopsticks' with low-high. It is a common feature of all the dialects, however, that they have no word stress accent (as occurs in English - e.g., ha'ppy, fo'reigner, characteri'stics). The sound of Japanese gives a very different impression from that of English, and it is said to be spoken with even stress and rhythm, as if a metronome were very rapidly ticking off each syllable.
On the motor theory, the phonology of a language is the result of selection from a limited range of possible speech-sounds, determined by preferences within a population and ultimately dependent on gene frequencies affecting (however slightly) the physiological/morphological and neural features of articulation. Genetic uniformities within a population mean that certain features of brain and body development are found more frequently in one population than in another. A relation will be apparent between the phonemic system adopted in the group and the physical conformation most prevalent within the group.
As indicated, there is nothing remarkably different about Japanese phonology, compared with the phonology of major European languages, other than the absence of the /l/ phoneme and its replacement, where it is required e.g. to pronounce foreign words, by /r/ . On the motor theory, this would lead to one to look for some explanation in physiological terms (ultimately genetic terms) for the disparity. As a general account, there are differences between individuals and between populations in articulatory anatomy. The apparatus of voice production varies from individual to individual within a population and also between populations. There is basic similarity but by no means identity of form and structure. There are, for example, considerable differences in the conformation of the lips which result from differences in the bundling of the muscle fibres. There are also differences in articulatory musculature of the larynx and vocal cords. Brosnahan(1961 79 ff.) gives the following information drawn from a variety of sources:
Larynx: Differences in the musculature of the larynx, e.g. the frequency of the pair of muscles M. thyreoepiglotticus inferior and M. thyreomembranosus:
The crico-thyroid muscle, which acts in the tensioning of the vocal cords in the process of phonation, occurs in three main forms: (a) a single muscle (b) two muscles meeting in the middle and (c) two muscles completely separated. The frequency of these forms also varies between groups:
Europeans: (a) 0% (b) 10-16% (c) 90%
Japanese: (a) 8% (b) 34% (c) 57%
Perhaps most relevant for the limited but important difference in Japanese phonology is the final set of figures:
Tongue: Differences in the length:
Brosnahan remarks that the total range of the length of tongue over these subjects is "quite extraordinary" (1961 79) and Catford, reproducing the figures from Brosnahan, comments: "It is difficult to avoid the speculation that the shortness of Japanese tongues may have some relevance to the articulation of the sounds of the Japanese language". (1982 22) More specifically, this may be related to the absence of the /l/ phoneme in Japanese phonology.
This section considers how far the Japanese lexicon shows features which the motor theory of language would lead one to expect. These features include aspects internal to the language and aspects of Japanese in relation to other languages. Where, as appears to be the case with Japanese, there are no remarkable differences in phonology from other major languages, the motor theory would lead one to expect a good deal of borrowing of words from other languages because the shared phonology means that the borrowed words can be seen as appropriate also for the borrowing language, considerable evidence of the appropriateness within the lexicon of words to their meanings - sound symbolism, expressiveness, onomatopoeia, some ability of speakers of other languages to judge the appropriateness to their meanings of words in the given language, and some evidence of coincidence between the sound-shapes of words in the given language and words in other major languages. The section starts with some preliminary general comments on lexical similarities and dissimilarities between languages and then considers each of the matters just listed in relation to the Japanese lexicon.
Languages are strikingly similar as well as strikingly different. They are similar in their very general structure: The speech sounds of any single language are selected from a restricted set; the speech sounds of all languages can be analysed in uniform ways in terms of the anatomy and functioning of the vocal organs. Whilst each language has a distinctive collection of words peculiar to it, there is extensive similarity of words between languages, a very great amount of borrowing of words between languages, and of course great similarity between the things, actions, etc, for which words are available in different languages. So far as basic and original lexicon is derived from integration of articulation with perceptual and motor organisation, words found in any language, particularly for common objects and actions, will have their structure determined (within the limits set by the phonology preferentially adopted) by neural organisation governing perception and the planning of motor action,
The complete Japanese lexicon has three main components, native Japanese words, words borrowed from Chinese (Sino-Japanese words) and words borrowed from other languages. The primordial Yamato words forming the native vocabulary relate particularly to aspects of nature, weather, wind and seasons, fishing, crops, particularly rice-cultivation. The native vocabulary is acknowledged by Japanese linguists to be surprisingly poor in many domains, domestic animals, body parts, and bodily movements. For example, there are no basic words distinguishing calf, cow and bull; there is no distinction between foot and leg, or between hand and arm; verbs have generalised meanings - the word 'tobu' covers jumping, springing, and flying; 'warau' refers to chuckling, smiling, giggling, as well as other instances of laughing. However, the lack of specificity in these basic verbs is made up for by the use of onomatopoeic and sound symbolic adverbial expressions.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the Japanese lexicon now and in the remote past has been its readiness to borrow and domesticate words from other languages. The ease with which this can be done is partly explained by the fact that since Japanese does not mark gender, person, or number on nouns and since cases are indicated by separate particles, a loan word can simply be inserted into any position with no morphological readjustment, This does not of course explain which words (in semantic terms) are to be borrowed and which other languages will be judged to provide the most suitable source. From an early date Japanese borrowed a large number of Chinese words, to a great extent as a matter of deliberate policy but there were also sporadic pre-historic borrowing of basic words such as uma 'horse' and ume 'plum' (apparently from southern Chinese dialects). Chinese words which have become an integral part of the Japanese lexicon have a particular role as expressing abstract concepts, otherwise lacking in the Japanese vocabulary.
However, after the early burst of borrowing from Chinese and a renewed active borrowing of Chinese words in the Meiji period, the new phenomenon has been the borrowing of words from European languages. There has been a stampede of borrowing and contemporary Japan is "inundated" with loan words from English and other European languages (Shibatani sets out the figures in 1990:140 ff.). A study in 1964 of the use of foreign words in a wide variety of magazines showed that of the foreign words used, English accounted for 80.8 per cent, French for 5.6 percent, German for 3.3. per cent, Italian for 1.5 percent and Dutch for 1.3 per cent. A similar study of the use of native Japanese and loanwords in newspapers in 1971 showed:
Native Japanese words 26.6% to 43.9% Sino-Japanese words 50.7% to 65.3% Foreign loanwords 12.0% to 12.7%
It is usual to compare the use of words of Chinese origin in Japanese to use of words from Latin (and Greek) in English. So Ueno (1980) pointed out that the proportion of Latinate words in the English vocabulary is 55 per cent while that of other foreign loans is 10 per cent against the 35 per cent for 'Germanic' (Anglo-Saxon) words. However, though Latin-derived words have a large share of the English dictionary vocabulary, native English words are much more significant in actual use, 85 per cent, in sharp contrast with the position in Japan where as shown above the newspaper count for native Japanese words was only between 26 and 43 per cent.
Some even think that foreign loan words have the potential to replace the use of Chinese words in the Japanese lexicon (cf. Ishino 1977). A recent prediction is that the Japanese vocabulary will become completely internationalised(Passin 1982); just as Chinese words became part of the Japanese vocabulary. the basic vocabulary of English will be absorbed into Japanese. This trend has indeed been occurring. The proportion of foreign loan words (principally of English origin) both as counted in dictionaries and in actual use is steadily increasing. When the English words or words from other European languages are many-syllabled or otherwise complex, they may undergo remarkable changes of form on being domesticated in Japanese, principally by way of abbreviation. Native Japanese words are generally quite short, somewhere between two to four moras or two or three syllables. Compound words, either borrowed as such or formed by compounding of two borrowed words, are particularly subject to deformation by shortening. As an example, 'hunger-strike' originally borrowed as 'hangaa-sutoraiku' becomes abbreviated to 'han-suto'. In this way 'English' loanwords may become completely unrecognisable as such.
In orthodox linguistics, onomatopeia and sound symbolism are given short shrift. Saussure, attached to his principle of l'arbitraire du signe said that "onomatopoeic formations are never organic elements of a linguistic system; ... their number is much smaller than is generally supposed.... The quality of their present sounds, or rather the quality that is attributed to them, is a fortuitous result of phonetic evolution". (Saussure 69). Hockett, in his influential listing of the design features of languages, followed Saussure in giving as one of the principles: "Arbitrariness The relation between a meaningful element in language and its denotation is independent of any physical and geometrical resemblance between the two;the semantic relation is arbitrary rather than iconic. There are marginal exceptions, including traces of onomatopoeia".(Hockett 1958 677) However accurate Saussure may have been in relation to French or Hockett in relation to English (in both cases I would argue that the evidence is against them) what they say is obviously wrong in relation to Japanese. The account of Japanese sound symbolism and onomatopoeia is drawn largely from Shibatani(1990).
Sound symbolism is the usual term for the apparent appropriateness of the sound-structures of many individual words for their meanings - better described as 'natural expressiveness'. The evidence for the reality of sound symbolism seems strong. That it operates within any single language can hardly be doubted; the phenomenon that words are felt to be naturally appropriate to their meaning is as well-established for German, French and Spanish as it is for English. That sound symbolism can operate between languages and language-communities to a considerable extent also seems to be established by extensive research. Sound symbolism generally appears principally to relate to the whole word (morphosymbolism) rather than to the individual phoneme (phonetic symbolism). Sound symbolism comprises not only traditional onomatopoeia (words imitating natural sounds) but also visual and auditory onomatopoeia (a relation between visual shapes, invented sound-patterns and invented words), as well as a symbolism related to less easily defined qualities (pleasant and unpleasant sensation, emotional values etc).
Perception of a natural felt relation between the sound-structure and meaning of individual words is precisely what the motor theory would lead one to expect. Attempts to explain the phenomenon by various authors converge on the idea that it derives from some operation of synaesthesia. It is of interest that recently Hockett, quoted above as dismissing onomatopeia, has come to recognise rather more the implications of synaesthesia: "If there really is such a phenomenon as synesthesia, whereby some sights, smells, tastes or touches are more like some sounds, others more like others, then a word can be indirectly iconic if it means a sight, smell, taste our touch that is like the kind of sound its sound resembles".(Hockett 1987 10)
There is evidence in English (and in other languages) that there are systematic similarities in word form between groups of words which refer to related percepts or have related aspects of meaning where the similarities between the words are not explainable in terms of orthodox principles of etymology. Sound symbolism between different languages has been explored by experimental psychologists. Typically, experiment under this head assesses how well speakers of one language are able to use the sound-structure of a selection of words in another language (or in several other languages) to identify the meaning of the words. As a further possible manifestation of natural expressiveness, sound symbolism, one finds if one examines the words in a large number of languages for a range of commonly encountered objects, actions or qualities (parts of the body, colours, simple actions, air, water, earth, pronouns, demonstrative pronouns), that resemblances of sound and meaning spread across related and unrelated languages, including languages geographically as well as in terms of language family extremely remote from each other.
The resemblances go beyond anything that can plausibly be explained as the result of chance or coincidence. Linguists have often noted the extent of these surprising resemblances, quoting particularly notorious examples such as 'have' in English and 'habere' in Latin (which etymologists say are unrelated to each other), 'path' and 'bad' in English and 'path' and 'bad' in Persian (also said to be unrelated), 'fire' and 'feuer' in English and German which are said to be unrelated to 'feu' in French, 'day' and 'dies' in Latin (not related), 'whole' and 'holos' in Greek (meaning 'whole' but etymologically unrelated to the English word). As already discussed, the motor theory explains these resemblances of words across unrelated languages and other aspects of sound symbolism as the result of a uniform process for the formation of words, by a transfer of motor programs associated with actions or percepts to the programming of articulation.
Sound symbolism and onomatopoeia permeate Japanese life; onomatopoeic and other sound-symbolic words form a major part of the Japanese lexicon. There are dictionaries devoted exclusively to words falling in these categories. Besides such words found in the specialised dictionaries, expressions of a sound symbolic or narrowly onomatopoeic character can, in Japanese, be readily created on the spur of the moment. Onomatopoeic words are constrained by the phonological and lexical systems of a language and therefore may not be a direct imitation, even in the case of onomatopoeia as meaning narrowly the representation of sounds by words. A Frenchman, for example, might find it difficult to use the forms 'thwack' or 'thump' even if they are more expressive than 'frapper' or 'battre' and similarly a Japanese would not be likely to create an expressive onomatopoeic word containing the phoneme /l/. Nevertheless in the creation of expressive words in Japanese, a far greater variety of speech sounds and speech sound combinations can be used than for the ordinary Japanese or Sino-Japanese lexicon.
Because of the importance of onomatopoeia and sound symbolism in the language, Japanese linguists have studied the phenomenon more closely than is the case for Western languages. They distinguish three categories of sound-symbolic or synaesthetic expressions, 'sound gestures'.
giseigo - 'phonomimes' - imitate natural sounds (onomatopoeia in the narrow sense)
gitaigo - 'phenomimes' - depict states, manners or conditions of the external world
gizyogo - 'psychomimes' - symbolise mental conditions or sensations.
The following are examples of the three categories:
gata-gata 'clattering' pyu-pyu 'whizzing' za-za 'sound of a downpour
yobo-yobo 'wobbly' kossori 'stealthily' pittari 'matching perfectly' guzu-guzu 'dilly-dally'
ziin 'poignantly' chiku-chiku 'stingingly' ira-ira 'nervously'
Sound symbolic words have a special importance because many Japanese verbs are unspecific. For example:
naru covers all types of crying, warau is a general term for laughing.
cry waa-waa naku
sob kusun-kusun naku
howl oi-oi naku
laugh ha-ha-ha to warau
haw-haw wa-ha-ha to warau
chuckle kutsu-kutsu to warau
giggle gera-gera warau
snigger nita-nita warau
smile niko-niko to warau
grin nikori to warau
Sound qualities and synaesthetic effects are correlated Forms that end in the glottal stop [dosat-to dump something kurut-to turning motion] symbolise sudden cessation of action, quickness, or the single occurrence of an action. The nasal-ending produces a sense of prolonged resonance or that of rhythmicality, e.g. karan 'clack', dokan 'boom'. Long vowels correlate with a sense of prolongation or continuity e.g. zudon (prolonged bang). Another area of sound-sense correlation involves voicing opposition and difference in vowel quality: in the examples below voiced versions relate to heavier or louder sounds, or stronger, bigger, rougher actions or states; voiceless versions relate to lighter or softer sounds or crisper or more delicate actions or states.
ton-ton (light knocking sound) don-don (banging sound) kasa-kasa (light rustling sound) gasa-gasa (heavy rustling sound)
Difference in vowel quality also correlates with differences in the character of observed phenomena. High or closed vowels are associated with higher or softer sounds, or activities involving smaller objects. Low vowels correlate with the opposite qualities. Front-back opposition is correlated with loudness and size as is the high-low opposition. kiin is a shrill metallic sound, while kan is the sound of a fairly large bell. A small whistle sounds pippii and a steam whistle goes poppo. A goat goes me and a cow bellows mo. Gero-gero is the croaking of a frog: goro-goro is the rumble of thunder.
Apart from study by Japanese linguists, there has been some limited consideration of Japanese onomatopoeia by Western linguists. Hinds(1988) emphasised the importance of onomatopoeia in Japanese and Herlofsky (1981) demonstrated systematic ways to relate sounds to meaning in Japanese sound symbolic expressions. He identified 18 structural categories of phonological shape/meaning correlations and listed what he termed 'isotopes' or meanings associated with specific sounds. [e.g.] "back vowels/voiced LARGE ... front vowels LITTLE ... short, sudden fricatives and affricates WET labials ROUND.
Lexical resemblance between Japanese and other languages
Given that apart from the lack of the phoneme /l/ Japanese phonology is not very different from that of many other languages, the motor theory would suggest that one might reasonably look for resemblances between individual words in Japanese and other languages. These resemblances would be the result not of relationship between the languages but of the parallel derivation in Japanese and other languages of word-structures from motor programs associated with particular objects or actions. Some years ago I experimentally selected a substantial number of words for common and distinctive objects or actions (body parts, names of animals, other high frequency words). I then selected a substantial number of languages mostly unrelated or very distantly related. The words and the languages were selected without any preconceived idea of what comparison between the languages would show. The results were interesting; the following are a few examples:
Out of words in 23 languages for 'crab', 14 began with /k/ or had /k/ as a prominent component of the word. For words in the list referring to objects etc. other than 'crab' and 'cut', an initial /k/ or /k/ as a prominent component of the words was rare. There were some interesting similarities between individual languages: Korean 'ke', Swahili 'kaa', Japanese 'kani', Telegu 'kappu', Latin 'cancer' Malayan 'kepiting'. Using the same 23 languages, 15 words for 'cut' were found to begin with /k/ or had /k/ as a prominent component. Similarities between languages included Arabic 'kata', Chinese 'ko', Telegu 'koyu', Japanese 'kiru', Greek 'keiro', Hebrew 'karat', Spanish 'cortar'. 12 of the words for 'name' began with /n/ whilst a further 8 out of the 23 had /n/ or /m/ as a prominent speech sound. Similarities between languages included German 'name', Japanese 'namae', Turkish 'nam', Malay 'nama', Finnish 'nimi', an Amerindian language 'nami' and Chinese 'ming'. There are also considerable resemblances across languages between personal pronouns, apparently not dependent on family relationships of languages. In the 'experiment' similarities for 'you' included Mongolian 'ta', Hebrew 'ata', Japanese 'anta', Aranda 'unta'.
These examples are cited not as in any way proof of the motor derivation of the particular words - at best they are suggestive - but as a preliminary to a closer look at resemblances between a considerable number of Japanese words and words in English and other languages. The list is as follows.
After ato All minna Anchor ikari And to Anger ikari Are aru Bang don-don Beat butsu Beauty bi Bone hone Booming zu-doon Bright akarui Bud tsubomi Cage kago Catch tsukamu Chattering gachigachi Chuckling kutukutu Clang garangaran Clattering garagara Clean kirei Cockadoodledoo Kokokokko Come kuru Crab kani Creak kiki Crow karasu Crush tsubusu Cuckoo kakko Cut kiru Dark kuroi Deaf tsumbo Dew tsuyu Door to Ear mimi Eye me Fall furu Fire hi Flapping patapata Flickering chirachira Flute fue Giggling geragera Glittering giragira Go iku Grinning nikori Gulping gabugabu Happy ureshii Hawk taka Hear kiku Heart kokoro Hip koshi Hiss shishi Hit utsu Hot atsui House uchi Idle taida In ni Is iru Key kagi Kick keru Knocking ton-ton Know shiru Lip biru Little chiisai Mark mato Mat tatami Meaning imi Mix mazeru More mo Most mottomo Mumbling munyamunya Muttering butsubutsu Name namae Neck kubi No nai Peck tsutsuku Pitter-patter kotokoto Pity aware Puff poppo Pull hiku Push osu Put oku Quack gaga Rear ura Reason risei Sand suna Scatter chirakara Scratch hikaku Scream sakebu See miru Show shimesu Show(proof) shomei Shut shimeru Sit suwaru Sledge sori Sleep suimin Slide suberu Slippery subesube Slope saka Smiling niko-niko Snap pokipoki Sniggering nitanita So it is so des' So so Softly sotto Spit (n) tsuba Spit haku Splash zambo Split saku Stand tatsu Step ippo Stick tsue Storm arashi Such sonna Suck suu Swim suiei Take toru Tap tataku Tottering yoroyoro Touch tsuku Trudge tekuteku Tube kuda Tug hiku Up ue Voice koe Waddling yochi-yochi Wade wataru Wait matsu Walk aruku We ware Whisper sasayaku With, by de Wobbling yoboyobo Woman onna Year nen You anata
The words in the list are drawn from Takahashi's dictionary(1966). There are some interesting features:
- a number of words are clearly onomatopoeic (indeed some ofthem have been mentioned in the earlier section) but for the most part the onomatopoeia is not sound-imitative; it is visual onomatopoeia or 'action' onomatopoeia, that is, in some way the words represent movement. The reader can decide whether these onomatopoeic words 'speak' to him, in some way seem appropriate for their meaning. A good number of the words seem to be formed in ways similar to the way in which naturally expressive words are formed in English.
- there are a number of resemblances between individual Japanese words and the English words by which they are translated. For example: 'suu'/'suck', 'wade'/'wataru', 'namae'/'name', 'to'/'door', 'hone'/'bone' (in Japanese phonology 'h' and 'b' readily interchange), 'chirakara'/'scatter', 'so'/'so', 'mo'/'more'. One rather odd conjunction is 'ikari'/'anger'; there is also the homophone 'ikari'/'anchor'; the two English words are near-homophones.
- where the Japanese words involve an opposition or a contrast, the speech sounds used seem appropriate for the contrast, for example: 'go'/'come'/'walk': 'iku'/'kuru'/'aruku', 'push'/'put': 'osu'/'oku', 'cut'/'kick': 'kiru'/'keru', 'hit'/'beat': 'utsu'/'butsu'.
- words in the list have been picked out very much with the English/Japanese relation in mind. No doubt if the selection had been made by someone speaking French, German, Italian or Spanish, other possible resemblances would have been seen. I limit myself to drawing attention to 'suwaru'/'s'asseoir', 'miru'/'mirar', 'shiru'/'scire', 'kokoro'/'cuore', 'kubi'/'cou', 'akarui kuroi'/'chiaro oscuro', 'heureux'/'ureshii'.
It is very much a matter of personal judgment whether resemblances can be seen between Japanese words and words in other languages. However, the list leaves the impression that the structures of Japanese words are not opaque - in terms of Western European languages they seem understandably appropriate. It would not be surprising if, presented with two contrasting Japanese words, e.g. for 'hot'/'cold', one might make a reasonable guess at which Japanese word would mean which contrasting word. This is a line of research initiated by Tsuru in 1933 and much refined and developed over the years since then - as discussed in the concluding part of this section on the significance of the motor theory for the Japanese lexicon.
There has been a great deal of research into the extent to which cross-linguistic sound symbolism is a reality i.e. that speakers of one language can appreciate the expressive force of words in another language not known to them. Japanese was one of the first languages to be included in these experiments and has figured in most of them. Over the years, the sequence of experiments developed consistently towards greater and greater rigour. At first experimental subjects were asked simply to say whether a selection of words drawn from various foreign languages sounded appropriate or not to their meanings. Though the result was that the subjects were able to judge the appropriateness of the words, the experiment was not closely controlled; the outcome might have been predetermined by conscious or unconscious selection by the experimenter.
At the next stage, Tsuru(Tsuru and Fries 1933) devised a new form for the experiment. He compiled a list of 36 pairs of Japanese antonyms ('hot-cold' 'high-low' etc) and presented these t0 57 native English-speakers who had no knowledge of Japanese. The subjects were asked to match the English pairs of antonyms with the Japanese (spoken and written in Romanised form). A chance result would have been that they should guess correctly in 50% of the cases; they guessed correctly significantly more often than this; it seemed therefore that they must have been offered some clue to the right answers by the form or sound of the Japanese words. These results suggested that there must be some trans-linguistic sound symbolism - not simply a conventional association of sound and meaning. Tsuru's experiment became the model for much subsequent experimentation.
However, it was argued that Tsuru also might by his selection of pairs of opposite words have unconsciously biased the result. To eliminate bias, a new series of experiments was undertaken by Allport(1935). The pairs of opposite words in Japanese were translated into Hungarian and Polish; the subjects taking part in these new experiments had no knowledge of Hungarian, Polish or Japanese. Tsuru's result was repeated; the foreign words were matched with the corresponding English words more frequently than could be explained as resulting from chance.
The same sort of experiment was repeated with Czech, Hindi, Croatian and Hebrew and in each case added to the cumulative evidence for the existence of cross-linguistic symbolism. Brown, Black and Horowitz(1955) did an experiment with pairs of words translated into Chinese, Czech and Hindi which 85 experimental subjects had to guess. Roger Brown commented that English-speaking subjects matching words with the Japanese, Hungarian, Chinese, Czech, Hindi and Croatian languages, were always right more than half the time; this suggested that there are resemblances between sound and meaning apparent to men everywhere and that these have played some part in the development of all natural languages.
In an experiment on similar lines by Brackbill and Little(1957), six groups of 40 English-speaking subjects were asked to judge equivalences of meaning for 3 sets of 50 pairs of words. The words were a random sample of high-frequency concepts and the three sets were pairs of words in English/Chinese, English/Japanese, English/Hebrew, Chinese/Hebrew. The subjects were able to identify English equivalents of Hebrew words and to pair Japanese/Chinese and Japanese/Hebrew words at better than chance level. The outcome suggested that non-cognate languages may employ similar patterns of sounds (and length of words) to designate similar meanings - at least among frequently used words. However, the subjects failed to match Hebrew and Chinese above chance and the qualified conclusion seemed to be that cross-linguistic symbolism operated reliably only between non-tonal languages.
It may be relevant to note that for non-tonal languages, the appropriateness of sounds to meanings of words involves a relationship with the phonemes which form the common basis of these languages. In the case of tonal languages, like Chinese, a quite different principle is found to convey meaning, that is, the pattern of pitch of the voice. It is not at all surprising if speakers of non-tonal languages, who are unable accurately to perceive or produce tonal changes, should find more difficulty in judging the sound-appropriateness of words in tonal languages.
Koriat and Levy (1977) examined the symbolic implications of vowels in Japanese and Hindi and found that between these languages the sound-patterns carried cross-culturally consistent symbolic connotations. However, experiments by Taylor and Taylor(1962, 1963, 1965) using English, Japanese, Korean and Tamil words led them to conclude that whilst phonetic symbolism occurred under all conditions, the symbolism was not universal - Korean in particular seemed to attach different values to individual speech sounds. Taylor commented that experiments matching antonyms did not answer the fundamental question, what sound has what meaning: for example, the Japanese words 'aka' 'red' and 'midori' 'green' show some common features with the English words but which, if any, of these common features is identified with 'greenness' or 'redness'? He suggested that a new hypothesis was needed to account not only for the fact that people associate certain sounds with certain meanings but also for the fact that people speaking different languages associate the same sounds with different meanings.
What conclusions in relation to Japanese are justified by the long series of experiments on cross-linguistic sound symbolism? Japanese figured prominently in them and consistently subjects were able to match Japanese words better than chance with words drawn from other languages. The difficulties in the experiments which led the researchers to conclude that there was no universal and uniform sound symbolism related to tonal languages and the attempt to attribute specific meanings to individual phonemes. If, as Taylor proposed, a new theory was required, the motor theory seems to meet the need. It suggests that between languages with similar phonologies, the common motor basis should make it possible to appreciate the expressive effect of words. The motor theory also suggests that the expressive effect, the sound symbolism, is attached to the word as a whole, morphosymbolism, rather than phonetic or phonemic symbolism. The experiments on cross-linguistic sound symbolism, and in particular those involving the use of Japanese antonyms, seem fully consistent with what the motor theory would lead one to expect.
This section describes the general approach of the motor theory to the origin and development of syntactic processes, identifies the noteworthy features of Japanese syntax and then considers how well Japanese syntax relates to the account given by the motor theory.
The following summarises the discussion of the relation of syntax and the motor theory in previous papers (Allott 1988, 1989b). Syntax is a term which is used variously but here is taken to mean everything in language not covered by the terms phonology and lexicon. There are, however, several distinct segments of syntax: perhaps the most basic is syntax as ordering of words in the utterance; the next connects with ideas about the 'parts of sentence' - subject, object,predicate etc.; the next is concerned with 'parts of speech' - classification of words in terms of the regularities governing their use in the sentence (nouns, verbs). An important broad classification is into function and content words. Function words can be subdivided into those which are essentially syntactic and those which are concerned with other types of relation, e.g. positioning in time or space.
The specifically syntactic aspects, i.e. ordering regularities, are in the motor theory derived from ordering regularities in the neural sub-structure for motor control and perception (ordering regularities in visual perception and in the execution of bodily actions). These very basic features of any individual's neurological/physiological system are most likely to be affected by genetic factors in development but least likely to change rapidly. Given the extent of individual variation, in brain, morphology and physiology generally, it is not surprising that there should be a considerable range of possible modes of organisation to serve as the base for a large number of different syntactic processes.
For the purposes of the motor theory, there are three major distinguishable components of syntax: 1. The principal categories of words (Nouns and Verbs, with the dependent categories of Adjectives and Adverbs). These together form the open class of content words. 2. Ordering of words, including sub-ordering, that is, the clustering of words within a larger order. 3. Function words (including subwords eg. morphemes such as terminations of abstract nouns, verb inflections etc). The syntax of a language results from the co-operation and interaction of these three components.
The motor theory asserts that motor programs and the principles for combining motor programs underly the structure of language. At the same time there is a close link between motor control (action organisation) and perception (the organisation of vision). For each of the three components in syntax, the relation to the motor theory may take the form of a relation directly with the organisation of action - the grammar of action, or a relation directly with the organisation of perception - the grammar of vision. Vision, like action, is substantially motor-based; the eye sees by the combination of saccades and fixations plus a constant (structural) tremor which appears to play an essential role in maintaining vision.
In terms of the main word-classes, Nouns referring to static objects are generated initially by the motor program (composed of saccades and fixations) responsible for scanning the object; this motor program would be available for conversion into an articulatory pattern derived from the distinctive features of the visual motor pattern. The categories of Noun and Verb will also include articulatory patterns (words) derived from motor programs for bodily action.
Scanning of a visual scene by the eye is a serial process, just as spoken language is a serial process. The iconicity of syntax in terms of word-order derives from this. In vision, there are particular aspects of salience and emphasis (in terms of fixation duration) similar to those involved in the expression of salience and emphasis in word-order. There are also aspects of salience and emphasis (taking the form of relative force) in the motor programs underlying bodily action and related to the content of an ordered speech utterance. Bodily action is also serial; we stretch out our arm before we pick up a glass before we bring the glass towards us and then drink from it. The serial ordering of vision and of action provides the primitive foundation for the patterns of ordering in speech utterances. In sentence structure, both SVO Subject-Verb-Object and SOV Subject-Object-Verb can be equally natural expressions of the syntactic ordering of action and perception, originally depending on preferences in the ordering of attention deriving from perhaps very small cerebral or physiological differences between populations. Yarbus, perhaps the leading world authority on eye-movements, went so far as to say, on the basis of his extensive study of scanning patterns, that people who think differently also, to some extent, see differently. Or one might say, those who see differently will think differently and structure their language slightly differently.
As regards sub-ordering, that is, for example, the order of words in a cluster, such as a noun phrase with a number of adjectives, this also can be analysed in terms of the organisation of visual perception. The ordering of the adjectives can be related to the ordering of perception, and the ordering of the analysis of perception. Different languages may have different practices as regards pre-position or post-position of adjectives, but this does not in any way nullify the original source of the ordering in the ordering of perception.
Function words can be categorised in ways which match the likely operational aspects of 'action grammar' and 'vision grammar' in terms of:
Timing Words such as : After before while when since until then now still already. There must be equivalents to these in the organisation of action and vision.
Direction and Relative Position Words such as: from at with by between within towards up out among here. The eye's saccade and fixation programs are very much concerned with direction of movement from one point of fixation to another and the relative positions of salient features in the visual scene. There also the deictic function words which are closely related to bodily gesture.
Hesitation Choice Change of direction Links Words such as: but whether and or either nor perhaps, and the interrogative words. In programming of bodily action there are analogues of the functions performed by these words. A line of action can be halted temporarily or changed; a new partial action added to the first action.
Salience, emphasis Words such as: very quite rather somewhat. These might be correlated with aspects of relative force in the control of action and focus or duration of fixation in visual perception.
Sequence Words such as : for as that than.
This section looks at Japanese syntax in terms of the three major classes suggested above, the principal categories of words, word ordering and function words.
In addition to nouns, pronouns, verbs and adjectives, demonstratives and conjunctions, Japanese has two lexical categories that do not exactly match traditional categories in the grammar of European languages: adjectival verbs (also called adjectival nouns) and verbal nouns. These are words which may function respectively as both adjective and noun or as verb and noun (though in English the concept of part of speech is very fluid, with the same words being readily used as verb, noun or adjective).
Nouns: Nouns have neither number (singular and plural) nor gender (masculine and feminine) and take no article (such as 'the', 'a', 'an'). Case distinctions that show such grammatical features as subject and object are expressed with particles added to the ends of words; for example, kodomo-ga 'a (the) child (children)' [usually nominative], kodomo-o 'a child' [accusative], kodomo-ni 'to a child', kodomo-kara 'from a child'.
Nouns are used with an extensive system of classifiers, for example:
is-satu no hon ip-pon no ki ip-pik no inu one[volume] book one[stick] tree one[head] dog
Nouns can be derived from verbs e.g. iki from iku 'go' and also from adjectives with the suffixes -sa and -mi: atataka-sa 'warmth'
Adjectives: also have no number, gender or case. Verbal adjectives can be 'conjugated' in a very similar way to verbs with suffixes and with honorific and respect modifications.
Verbs: have no person, number, gender or case and are conjugated with the use of endings - e.g., kaku 'write, writes, will write', kakanai 'do (does, will) not write', kake 'write' [imperative], kako 'let's write', kaite 'having written, writing', kaita 'wrote, has (have) written', kakeba 'if X writes'. Verbs and verbal adjectives have conjugated honorific forms (respect, familiarity, relation etc.) For example, kakimasu kakimasen kakimash'ta are used instead of: kaku kakanai kaita when the utterance is addressed to those who are superior or not intimate to the addressee. On the other hand, if the person who is the performer of the action kaku ('to write') is a superior to the speaker, then okaki-ni naru and okaki-ni narimasu are used instead of kaku and kakimasu, respectively. If the action is done for a superior, then okaki suru and okaki shimasu are used instead.
Japanese is a thoroughly systematic SOV (Subject-Object-Verb) language. The word order of 'dependent-head' operates for all types of constituent: expressions that modify a noun directly precede it. The genitive noun precedes the possessed head noun; the relative clause precedes the modified noun (there is no need for relative pronouns). The predicate stands at the end of a sentence.
chiisana hitsuji 'a small sheep', okina okami 'a large wolf'.
okami-no kutta hitsuji 'the sheep that a wolf ate' wolf [genitive] ate sheep
hitsuji-o kutta okami 'the wolf that ate the sheep' sheep [accusative] ate wolf (kutta is the past form of kuu 'eat')
The particle wa is used to mark the 'topic' and ga to mark a nominative. The so-called topic construction is semantically and structurally highly similar to the subject-predicate structure in English and other Western languages. The stability of wa in the history of Japanese particles and its role in the topic construction may indicate that 'fundamental thought processes lie behind the construction'(Shibatani 333-334) Brown, reflecting on his experience in being taught Japanese, noted that the particles wa or ga, o and de are more reliable or trustworthy indicators of semantic role than linear order in Japanese and commented that the switch from English subject-verb-object order to Japanese subject-object-verb order caused him no trouble at all.(Brown 1976 28).
Pronouns: There are no relative pronouns. Demonstrative pronouns have a three-way distinction, e.g. 'this' 'that' 'that there'. Personal pronouns have an intricate system depending on honorific and respect relationships.
Conjunctions: Connectives or conjunctions cover about the same range as in English. There are forms equivalent to the usual conjunctions and, if, but, then etc.
Particles and affixes:
Japanese, as an agglutinative language, makes use of prefixes, infixes and suffixes, for example, aku 'open' (Intrans.) akeru (Trans.) 'open something' tobu 'fly' tobasu 'fly' (a plane)
There are some seventy postpositional particles.The postpositional particles have much the same roles as prepositions and case-markers in other languages. The accusative particle o and the topic particle wa are generally believed to have arisen from exclamatory, emphatic particles. Interjectional particles and final particles were the first particles to develop and adverbial, case, and conjunction particles were derived from them.
In total, Japanese has a rich collection of function words, covering much the same range as the collection of function words in English or other major languages. Japanese function words can readily be divided into the categories suggested by the motor theory to match assumed features of the syntaxes of vision and action: Timing Direction and Relative Position Hesitation Choice Change of direction Salience Emphasis Sequence.
As earlier indicated, there is nothing very remarkable about Japanese syntax, certainly in terms of the approach to syntax proposed by the motor theory. Perhaps the more interesting features are the systematic use of the topic construction with the particle 'wa' (probably derived from an interjection, and possibly even from an indicative gesture), the absence of declension of nouns and conjugation of verbs, the use of honorific and respect forms of nouns, verbs and adjectives, the use of postpositions rather than prepositions, the highly elliptical character of most sentences including the sparse use of personal pronouns, the absence of agreement between adjective and noun or between noun and verb and of indication of singular or plural. Though these features are interesting, most of them are by no means unusual; some of them are close to features of the English language. The topic construction is used in other languages either systematically or sporadically and apparently functions very much like the subject-predicate form in English. The SOV word order is one of the most frequently found word-orders in world languages. The absence of articles is found in Russian and other languages. Classifiers exist in African languages as well as more familiarly in Chinese. The range of function words in Japanese is similar to that of function words in English and other Western languages. The modification of verb-forms to express active, passive, conditional, desiderative, etc. (by particles, infixes and suffixes) seems to cover much the same ground as in other major languages.
In terms of the motor theory there seems nothing so unusual in Japanese syntax as to call for explanation or modification. The account given of the possible basis of syntactic processes in motor syntax would apply to Japanese as to other languages. As far as syntax is concerned, Japanese is clearly not an isolated, unique or even a significantly special language.
The purpose of the paper was to test ideas developed as part of the motor theory of language origin and function against an apparently isolated and difficult language, Japanese. The paper was intended to consider how far the phenomena of the Japanese language were compatible with and explainable in terms of the motor theory. The conclusions reached are both negative and positive. Japanese, though a difficult language to learn to speak and read, is not in its structure a particularly difficult language or as isolated as many (including most Japanese) would suppose. The main linguistic features of Japanese, phonology, lexicon and syntax are not so very different from those of other major world languages. The phonology is particularly straightforward, the syntax (the SOV order, the range of word-classes, of verbal forms and of function words) is in the mainstream of world languages. The native lexicon is somewhat impoverished but adequately supplemented by very large-scale borrowing from English and other Western languages.
The most striking, and perhaps unexpected, feature of Japanese, however, is the very great importance attaching to all forms of sound symbolism and onomatopoeia. They play an integral part in the conversational and literary functioning of the language. This is of special interest since the existence of sound symbolism and its likely role in the formation of lexicon in language generally are ideas to which the motor theory naturally and necessarily gives rise. Whilst sound symbolism and onomatopoeia have been dismissed as marginal in traditional linguistics, the significance of them in a major language like Japanese surely calls for a rethink on the part of orthodox linguists and for re-examination of the role of sound symbolism in other major languages.
The final and perhaps most important conclusion is that there is nothing in Japanese which seems incompatible with the motor theory and a good deal which goes the strengthen the case for assuming that language originated from the motor system and in its current functioning and character still depends heavily on its relation to the cerebral motor control system. REFERENCES
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