Typological and Historical/Comparative Research on the Languages of the Japanese Archipelago and their Environs

Project leader:John WHITMAN
Project Period:April 2012 - March 2016
Project website:https://www2.ninjal.ac.jp/past-projects/jparchipelago/en/


The region of Northeast Asia where the Japanese language is situated has many characteristics of a linguistic area or sprachbund. The languages which historically occupy this area have many typological features in common. In the synchronic realm, these include strictly head final constituent order, a high degree of morphological agglutination, and predominant head marking. In the diachronic realm, they include mono- and disyllabic roots, root or word-internal co-occurrence restrictions on vowels, and a notable tendency for nominalized clauses to be reanalyzed as main clauses. In the center of the region we find languages (Japanese, Korean, Ainu) with no primary laryngeal contrast between consonants and lexical pitch accent. On the northern and western peripheries we find languages with morphological agreement.

This project takes as its point of departure typological research on the languages of the Northeast Asian sprachbund. It encompasses a "morphosyntax team" and a "phonological reconstruction team", which together seek to add a diachronic dimension to the long tradition of sophisticated descriptive research on the languages of this region in Japan. The morphosyntax team focuses on subordinate clause types implicated in noun modification and nominalization. The phenomenon whereby such nominalized structures are reanalyzed as main clauses can be seen in Korean, Tungusic, Mongolic, Turkic, and Nivkh; the historical merger of the adnominal and conclusive predicate forms in Japanese can be seen as a manifestation of the same process. The morphosyntax team compares the semantic, syntactic, morphological, and phonological features of this process across languages in the area.

The phonological reconstruction team undertakes the phonological reconstruction of clearly established language families in the area. Some of these, such as Tungusic and Ainu, have existing reconstructions; where these exist, we take them as a point of departure and re-evaluate them in light of current research. Research on reconstruction will be carried out in cooperation with scholars working on the reconstruction of Japanese and Ryukyuan.

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