Greetings from the Director-General
October 2017 marks the beginning of my four-year term as Director-General of the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics (acronym: NINJAL; Japanese name: Kokuritsu Kokugo Kenkyusho, abbreviated Kokugoken), succeeding outgoing Director-General Kageyama. NINJAL's mission consists of both conducting independent Japanese language research and fulfilling its role as an inter-university research institute. From its founding in 1948 onward, NINJAL has worked to shed light on and document aspects of the Japanese language across regions and through the ages, which has formed the basis for the preparation of reference materials and the development of databases and the like for the use of researchers of all stripes. As projects of this kind cannot be easily undertaken by individual researchers, their execution constitutes an appropriate task for NINJAL to perform as an inter-university research institute. At the same time, the researchers at the Institute have the duty to conduct cutting-edge research in their respective fields of specialization, as well as to fulfill leading or coordinating roles in these fields, pushing research forward. This can be considered to include providing young researchers with a variety of training opportunities.
Since NINJAL was made one of the National Institutes for the Humanities in 2009, it has placed linguistics within its research purview as a fundamental science for Japanese language research, truly accomplishing much in a short period of time under Director-General Taro Kageyama. Year after year, the Institute has garnered increased international attention as a hub of theoretical research, as well. Simultaneously, it has improved its utility for other researchers through the development of such resources as corpora. Maintaining this course, I believe it is now incumbent on NINJAL to further advance its fundamental research in order to produce research results that will remain relevant for decades—in some cases even centuries—to come.
In addition to Japanese language research from a theoretical or general-linguistic perspective, among the tasks to be pursued further by NINJAL are the development of all manner of Japanese language databases, including of Pre-Modern Japanese, Contemporary Japanese, and Japanese dialects; the creation of Japanese language teaching materials; and the documentation, preservation, and revitalization of endangered languages and dialects. In cooperation with overseas institutions, NINJAL must give shape to and communicate the results of these efforts in a manner suited to modern online society. The creation of a system for preserving for posterity the results of research at the individual level is an urgent matter, as well. Although researchers communicate their research results in a variety of ways, these results become disconnected from subsequent developments when researchers retire or their interests shift to different fields. NINJAL must work to create a system for preserving, alongside its own research, the contributions of individuals for the benefit of future generations. It is difficult to assess the results of fundamental research projects such as the development of databases, the creation of Japanese language teaching materials, and the conducting of fieldwork documenting endangered languages solely on the basis of the publication of research papers, and these projects take time to complete. Presently, this work, which forms the basis for typological and theoretical linguistic research, is not always accorded the recognition that is its due. Using a variety of means, for example issuing awards commensurate with achievements, I will strive to cultivate an environment in which this fundamental research—the foundation of all other kinds of research—is given the recognition it deserves. Concurrently, I intend to work on introducing to the world especially distinguished Japanese language research from the past that has not received the recognition it merits abroad because of its having been written in Japanese.
In recent years, with the implementation of six-year medium-term plans at national inter-university research institutes (to match those already implemented at national universities), short-term results have come to be expected as a matter of course. The results of scientific research, however, are not obtained in the short term. To take just the example of dialect research, it requires years of persistent effort to cultivate cooperative relationships and build trust with local communities. I believe institutions such as NINJAL should conduct the kind of fundamental research that demands cumulative effort over a long period of time. Fundamental research thus presently faces the difficult challenge of having to deliver short-term results while staying focused on long-term goals. I hope I can count on your support and advice.
Director-General of the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics