Greetings from the Director-General

What NINJAL aspires to

KAGEYAMA Taro

An inter-university research institute under the umbrella of the National Institutes for the Humanities (NIHU), the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics (NINJAL) conducts research on Japanese language, linguistics, and Japanese language education with the goal of contributing to the understanding of humanity and human culture from a linguistic perspective.

Tightly integrating the two functions of “joint usage” — providing large-scale research facilities that would be difficult for a single university to maintain and offering a rich trove of research information and materials to researchers both within Japan and abroad — and of “collaborative research” — conducting pioneering research using these facilities in collaboration with universities and research institutions in Japan and around the world, an inter-university research institute is a uniquely Japanese organization with the mission of contributing significantly to the development of academic research in Japan. In accordance with this mission, NINJAL has created a variety of Japanese language resources (corpora and databases) including both modern and Old Japanese, standard language and dialect materials, and written and spoken language materials, and, together with making them widely available to the academic and research communities as well as to society at large, is encouraging extensive national and international collaborative research exploiting these resources.

Language is a wonderful, uniquely human faculty with the dual functions of being a medium of communication for humans in society and of being the foundation for the human intellectual activities of thought, logic, cognition, and creativity. In order to deepen understanding of this wonderful faculty, NINJAL takes an integrated point of view, combining both an “internal” (Japanese speaker) and an “external” (comparison with languages other than Japanese) perspective, and attempts to clarify in a comprehensive way the variations and transformations within Japanese as well as both the unique and the universal characteristics of the Japanese language as viewed from the perspective of the various languages of the world. The scope of research is not limited narrowly to the Japanese language itself but also includes Ainu and the languages of the Ryukyus. The languages and dialects of the Ryukyus and Ainu, which were designated by UNESCO in 2009 as being in danger of extinction, are important targets of research at NINJAL and through our research we are working to invigorate the local societies associated with each. Furthermore, NINJAL is contributing academically to the field of Japanese language education through fundamental research on language acquisition and identification of problems in learning Japanese experienced by foreigners (non-Japanese speakers) as arising at the interface of the external and internal points of view.

In order to pursue Japanese language research from this diverse, comprehensive perspective, both international engagement and the nurturing of young researchers not bound by pre-existing frameworks are essential. With regard to the former, not only does NINJAL actively embrace researchers from abroad, but we also place great importance on the international dissemination of the fruits of our research. With regard to the latter, in addition to educating graduate students in cooperative graduate programs in association with Hitotsubashi University and the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, we are also encouraging researchers with a pragmatic, international perspective through our Postdoctoral Research Fellows program.

As globalization proceeds, many problems today, such as environmental problems and cultural conflicts, have grown in severity. Deepening understanding through research into the two functions of language — communication and thought and cognition — through close cross-disciplinary collaboration among the relevant areas and application of the fruits of such research in society may provide keys to the solution of many of today’s problems. Language research is certainly not limited to Kanji and word usage surveys. As the foundation underlying a wide variety of disciplines, it carries possibilities and opportunities for contributing to many areas of society.

NINJAL began its third six-year Medium-Term Plan in April 2016 and researchers and staff alike are all working vigorously in pursuit of a new set of goals. We ask for your continued support and counsel in passing our Japanese language in its richness on to future generations.

Taro Kageyama
Director-General of the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics