History of the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics with Photos

Research Outcomes

Here, we introduce some of the major research achievements.

Vocabulary research: Laying the foundations and developing quantitative linguistics

The Institute has conducted "vocabulary research" on how words are used in the media and school textbooks, since these sources have a major impact on the language life of Japanese citizens.


The first vocabulary project used womenfs magazines.
The 1950 (Showa 25) issues of two magazines, Shufu No Tomo and Fujin Seikatsu, provided the data. The analysis was based on a total of 200,000 words taken from 15-16% of the total pages. These magazines were selected for the research because the vocabulary of daily family life, especially clothing, food and housing, was the target of the analysis. This project used advanced statistical methods to select the data, laying the foundation for future vocabulary research methods.


Vocabulary research using magazines continued and expanded. One later project used 16 wide-ranging magazines (published in 1953 and 1954 (Showa 28 and 29)), and another used 90 general-interest magazines (published in 1956 (Showa 31)).


The "90-magazine" project was revolutionary in terms of scale. It was a pioneering effort not only because of the large volume of data, but also because of its unprecedented statistical precision.

These vocabulary research activities developed further with the transition to data analysis by computer.

In 1966 (Showa 41), vocabulary research using newspapers (1966 (Showa 41) issues of the Asahi, Mainichi, and Yomiuri) began. At that time, a large computer, which was a rare piece of equipment even in science laboratories, was introduced for vocabulary data processing. This effort not only increased the volume of data that could be handled, but also led to many new research methods, including various types of quantitative analysis and a system for creating glossaries with contexts (KWIC). Thus, the Institute played a major role in establishing the research field called mathematical linguistics.



The long-awaited computer


The tradition of the research on vocabulary/Kanji in magazines continues to the present day. A recent project was the "two million character modern magazine language survey", which used the 1994 (Heisei 6) issues of 70 general-interest magazines.

One of the crowning achievements of the Institutefs vocabulary research is Bunrui Goihyo (Word List by Semantic Principles). As a pioneering thesaurus (synonym dictionary), it has been used widely since its publication in 1964 (Showa 39). An enlarged and revised edition was published in 2004.


The establishment of sociolinguistics and long-term social research

"Language life" has been a keyword in the Institutefs research since the beginning, and as a result of the efforts in this area, several research reports were published. The first was the book Hachijo-jima no Gengo Chosa (Research on the Language of Hachijo-jima Island)", and the second was the book Gengo Seikatsu no Jittai: Shirakawa-shi oyobi Fukin no Noson ni okeru (The Reality of Language Life in Shirakawa City and Neighboring Villages).h The analysis methods based on social research later developed into the research field called sociolinguistics.


The Institute has conducted a variety of sociolinguistic studies. One typical effort was the long-term research in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture. This project investigated the reality of language life at the same site at 20-year intervals. The first survey was conducted in 1950 (Showa 25) and the last in 1991-1992 (Heisei 3-4). Similarly, research on the use of honorific words was conducted in Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture in 1952-1953 (Showa 27-28) and in 1971-1972 (Showa 46-47).


In social research, a large number of investigators collect data by conducting interview surveys using the same questionnaires. Data from many respondents are necessary to conduct a reliable analysis. This kind of large-scale research, repeated over many years, is unusual. Such longitudinal research is a signature accomplishment of the Institute, and it is possible only through organizational efforts. These surveys made it possible to analyze language change over time scientifically.

Linguistic atlas

Based on research started in 1957 (Showa 32), the Institute published "Nihon Gengo Chizu (Japanese Linguistic Atlas)" in six volumes from 1966 (Showa 41) to 1974 (Showa 49). The field of geolinguistics investigates the geographical spread of a language and analyzes its organization and the changes it undergoes. The "Nihon Gengo Chizu" is the first nationwide atlas of Japanese dialects based on the strict methods of geolinguistics. Research sites throughout the country were selected, the words used in each region to express a particular notion and its pronunciation were investigated, and the distributions were displayed on maps.

To Japanese Language Information Databases


Work on "Hogen Bunpo Zenkoku Chizu (Grammar Atlas of Japanese Dialects)" began in 1989 (Heisei 1). and completed with the publication of the sixth volume in 2006 (Heisei 18).Beginning with the fifth volume, the maps have been created by computer, and the data have been opened to the public on the Internet so that the research results can be used widely.

To the Dialect Research Room


With the linguistic atlas work as a starting point, geolinguistic research has developed vigorously in Japan.

Promotion of Japanese language education

In 1974 (Showa 49), a department for Japanese language education was created at the Institute. At that time, there were almost no courses for training Japanese language teachers in universities, so the creation of the department was a pioneering contribution to Japanese language education and the training of Japanese language teachers.


The department has had a wide impact in the form of various programs for training Japanese language teachers, the distribution of training results, the development of video teaching materials, etc. In recent years, the materials for teaching/learning have been delivered on the Internet.

To the Japanese language education Booklet


To develop leaders who can play an active role in Japanese language education all over the world, the Institute created postgraduate degree programs (at both the masterfs and the doctoral level) for foreign students in cooperation with the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) and the Japan Foundation in 2001 (Heisei 13). These programs are currently suspended.


Simultaneously with this direct contribution to Japanese language education, the Institute has also carried out basic research such as devising a basic vocabulary for teaching Japanese and comparative studies of Japanese and other languages.


Contributions to national language policy and links to society

One of the goals in establishing the Institute was for it to "provide basic information for planning national language policy". It has contributed to government policy by providing data based on scientific research.

In the field of national language education, from the outset the Institute took up research topics connected directly to actual classroom education, such as improving the way that academic achievement standards are set and the way instruction is delivered. For example, it has cooperated with the nationwide research on academic achievement standards conducted by the National Institute for Educational Research since 1952 (Showa 27). It also cooperated when the Ministry of Education carried out this kind of research in the Kanto District in 1951.
In addition, the results of the Institutefs "research on the development of language ability", which began in 1953 (Showa 28), were used when the National Language Council discussed the relationship between national language policy and education.


The results of vocabulary research and Kanji research have also been put to use. The "90-magazine" project provided an objective analysis of "what types of vocabulary items and Kanji are used and how", and this material was used when the National Language Council reviewed the Toyo Kanjihyo (list of Kanji for general use) to develop the Joyo Kanjihyo (list of Kanji for common use).

The problem of adopted foreign words has also been taken up many times. In recent years, a survey on the actual usage of foreign words has been conducted using the Institute's own research as a starting point. One of the resulting publications is "Teichakudo ni yoru Gairaigo Bunrui no Kokoromi (Trial Classification of Adopted Foreign Words According to Familiarity)" (March 2002 (Heisei 14)). In addition, a committee on adopted words was formed in 2002 and has produced a series of "suggestions for replacing adopted foreign words", targeting foreign words that are difficult to understand. To insure that these suggestions are reliable, the research has been conducted under the theme "Japanese Language in the Present Day."


Recently, the Institute has also taken up the problems that arise when Kanji are used in electronic media and has promoted a "program for improving the environment for versatile electronic information exchange" in cooperation with the Japan Standards Association and the Information Processing Society of Japan. This is part of the nationfs electronic government measures. The Institute is in charge of the basic research and the collection and analysis of basic data.


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