For Students

Japanese Linguistics (Irwin & Zisk): problems and exercises

2.1 Fundamentals of Japanese Phonology 

1. Translate into Japanese the places and manners of articulation in the IPA chart here.

2. Say whether or not there is a contrast between the following pairs of sounds in (a) Standard Japanese and (b) Yamagata dialect. If there is, give an example of a minimal pair:
[s] ~ [ɕ]    [n] ~ [ŋ]   [z] ~ [dz] 

3. The Japanese words プリン and ライティング were both borrowed from English. Find what their etymons are. How do you explain the differences between the two Japanese forms, especially the final English <ing> ? 

2.2 & 2.3     Consonants & Vowels

1. Transcribe phonemically the following Japanese words: 
ケーオー (KO) 
この時を (spoken)  
この時を (sung) 

2. Do you think that /tu/ is also a foreignism?
What about /ce/ or /ci/ or /si/ or /hu/ ?

3. Most speakers of Japanese alive today call the island of
Guam グァム /gwamu/. Some older speakers, however, say ガム /gamu/. Why?

4. The verb 出ます and the verb 騙す are identical except for their first vowel: demasu vs. damasu. When combined with the sentence-final particle yo and spoken at normal conversational speed, the final vowel of 出ます typically disappears, while that of 騙す does not: [demasjo] vs.  [damasɯjo]. Why might this be?

5. In careful speech, the words 里親 and 砂糖屋 are not homonyms. Explain how they differ.

2.4  Mora & Syllable

1.  The mora obstruent /Q/ is restricted in terms of the consonants in front of which it may appear. Draw up a list of consonants /Q/ cannot appear before, and try to use some rules using features. What about word-final /Q/ ?

2.  Transcribe the following words phonemically, using – to mark a mora boundary and . to mark a syllable boundary:  

3.  Most Japanese native speakers who stutter will pronounce the word 
コーン something like /ko ko ko ko koon/. On the other hand, most English native speakers who stutter will pronounce the word ‘cone’ something like /k k k k ko:N/. Why? 

3.1 Parts of Speech and Word Order

1. Not all languages possess the same parts of speech. What parts of speech can be found in English but not in Japanese? What about vice versa? If you speak any languages other than English, list the parts of speech found in these languages but not in Japanese, and vice versa, as well.

2. Why is it problematic to call pronouns, conjunctions and copulas proper parts of speech in Japanese?

3. In Japanese, if one were to invert the word order of a sentence such as tanaka-kun=ga suteeki=o tabe-ta to suteeki=o tanaka-kun=ga tabe-ta, while the focus of the sentence would shift from Tanaka to the steak itself, the meaning would remain largely the same. Meanwhile, in English, if one were to invert the word order of the similar sentence, ‘Tanaka ate a steak’ to ‘A steak ate Tanaka’, the meaning changes drastically. Why do you think this is the case?

3.3 Verbs: Morphophonology

1. Transcribe the following phrases phonemically using hyphens for affix boundaries and equal signs for clitic boundaries (e.g. テレビを見る terebi=o mi-ru). Use the tables in 3.7 and 3.8 if you are unsure how to segment the various verbal suffixes.

2. In Japanese traditional school grammar, the stem of the verb ik-u ‘go’ is analyzed as i- with -ku treated as an inflectional ending. Likewise, the stem of the verb hašir-u ‘run’ is analyzed as haši- with -ru treated as an inflectional ending. Why do you think this is the case and why is this analysis incorrect from a morphological perspective?

3.14 The Notion of Topic: wa and ga

1. What is the difference between the following two sentences? In which situation would the speaker use each of these sentences?
A. 私は山田です。
B. 私が山田です。

2. The sentence structure 僕はウナギだ is often called an ウナギ文 ‘eel sentence’ in Japanese linguistics. The linguist Okutsu Keiichirō suggests that such eel sentences are possible because, in addition to wa marking the topic rather than the subject, the copula da (or des-u) acts as a sort of ‘pro-verb’, filling in for various predicates. In the following examples, what do you think the omitted predicate could be? Note that there is often more than one possible interpretation.
A. この電車は東京だ。
B. 私は田中先生だ。(the speaker is someone other than Tanaka-sensei)
C. お父さんはトイレだ。
D. アメリカはニューヨークだ。
E. 春樹は女じゃなくて男だ。(not with the literal meaning ‘Haruki is a man’)
F. 長男は東大で、次男は早稲田だ。
G. ノートパソコンはデルだ。(not with the literal meaning ‘my laptop is a Dell’)
H. 面接のときはスーツだ。

4.1 & 4.2  Writing Systems & Origins of Kanji

1. Over the years, there have been numerous calls to abandon kanji in Japan and to use a solely phonographic script (or scripts) instead. Do you think this is a good idea? Why or why not?

2. In Japanese manga, the speech of foreigners, robots and aliens is often expressed using all, or mostly all, katakana. Why do you think this is the case?

3. In his book, The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy, the Sinologist John DeFrancis presents six myths about Chinese characters that are still commonly repeated in textbooks and taught in classrooms today. Out of DeFrancis’ six myths, the following two are perhaps the most notorious:
A. The ideographic myth: Chinese characters represent ideas rather than sounds.
B. The monosyllabic myth: All words in Chinese are one syllable long. Alternatively, any syllable found in a Chinese dictionary can stand alone as a word.
Giving examples other than those presented in the textbook, explain why each of these myths are incorrect and what a more proper interpretation would be. For B, you may use examples from Classical Chinese, Mandarin (or any other Modern Sinitic language) or Sino-Japanese.

4.4  Chinese Characters: Reading

1. Think of at least 2 other kanji which have at least 5 different readings.

2. Give an example of a very common kanji (required for the N3-N5 Japanese-Language Proficiency Test) with only one on’yomi which is a ‘ghost’, i.e. is never used and never appears in Sino-Japanese words. Why should we bother studying and memorizing such readings?

3. Think of at least 2 other ‘new’ Sino-Japanese words, like 炒飯, borrowed very recently from Chinese topolects.

4. Why are the following kun’yomi interesting from a semantic point of view?

足〜脚  狼  雷  湖  塩〜潮        

4.7  The Roman Alphabet

1. Write your name using the three different transcription systems shown in the table.

2. Which Roman system is your passport written in? Your credit card? Do they match?

3. Where you aware there were 3 different romanization systems?

4. Walk round your campus for 10 minutes. Which romanization system(s) are used to transcribe Japanese words?  

4.11  Braille

1. Write the following in Braille: 

5.1  Vocabulary Strata

1. How does ‘lexical stratification’ in Japanese compare with the lexicon in your native language? Give some examples.

2. Some examples of the kinds of words that were borrowed from Chinese, and subsequently became Sino-Japanese vocabulary, are cited in the text. Can you think of any other ‘semantic domains’ (e.g. Buddhism, the law, etc.) from which SJ vocabulary is drawn? Give some examples of actual Sino-Japanese words belonging to these domains.

3. Why is the foreign vocabulary stratum restricted in the main to words borrowed from Portuguese, German, Dutch, Russian, French and English? What do these languages have in common?

4. Table 5.1 on p. 135 shows some examples of hybrid compounds. Find at least one further example of a hybrid compound for each of the 12 combinations.

5. Why do you think conservative print media and older speakers show lower ratios of foreign borrowings?

5.3  Derivation and Affixation

1. ‘Productive tolerance will vary from speaker to speaker’. If you are a Japanese native speaker, can you prefix ko– or oo- to the following nouns?

耳 ? 

2. List three nouns ending in -手 (pronounced しゅ), three ending in -屋 (や), three ending in -家 (か), and three ending in -人 (じん・にん). Can you find a rule?

3. Do you agree that reduplication with nouns to indicate plurality is largely unproductive? Can you coin any new examples?

4. How would you explain the differences between kanaš, kanaši.mi and kanaš to an L2 learner of Japanese?

5.4 Compounding

1. Think of at least 2 more examples each of endocentric, exocentric and copulative Japanese compounds.

2. How has Classical Chinese influenced Japanese compounding strategies?

3. Think of two more examples of lexical compounds in Japanese.

4. Explain why izakaya is important, linguistically, as an example of a Japanese compound.

5. Think of at least 3 other examples of apophony, not given in the text.

5.5  Rendaku

1. Can you think of any other polysemes like kawa, where rendaku rates differ?

2. Can you think of any other rendaku-immune words?

3. Can you think of any other Sino-Japanese words that undergo rendaku?

4. How would you pronounce the following imaginary words?

5.6  Truncation

1. Look at the examples below. What is the rule for back-clipping?

Eng. accelerator   アクセルレータ            →                     アクセル

Eng. terrorism      テロリスム                    →                     テロ

Ru. интеллигенция      インテリゲンチャ       →                     インテリ

Eng. symposium        シンポジウム          →                     シンポ

2. Find some other examples of truncation in the native stratum.

3. Find some other examples of morpho-orthographic truncation.

5.7 Personal Pronouns

  1. What first person pronoun do you use when you talk about yourself? If you are a native speaker, have you ever thought about why? If you are a non-native speaker, why did you ‘choose’ this personal pronoun?

2. Why do you think first person pronouns have the greatest variety?

5.8 Numerals & Classifiers

1. What are the counters used for the following objects?
apps (in a smartphone etc.)
blocks of tofu

computer games
letters or emails
lines (in a text)
loaves of bread

portions of food
tatami mats

washing machines

2. Count from 1 to 10 using the following counters: 件, 羽, 匹, 分 (meaning ‘minute’), 分 (meaning ‘part’), 回, 階, 駅, パック, 組み.

6.1     Gender, Age and Social Class

1. How do you pronounce the rendaku examples in the second paragraph from the end?

2. If your gender is female, do you ever use any male preferential forms? If your gender is male, do you ever use any female preferential forms?

3. Can you think of any other gender differences found in Japanese?

6.9  Names

1. Give some examples of non-sinosphere shop, restaurant, business or brand names written in kanji for aesthetic effect.

2. What do you know about the origins of your surname, especially in relation to your family?

3. Do you like your given name? Do you know why your parents decided on it?

4. What is the hypocoristic form of your name? How is it formed?

7.1  Sino-Japanese

1. Think of at least 2 other kanji who ‘meaning’ hard to pin down, along with examples of usage.

2. Most 4-character Sino-Japanese compounds are 2+2 compounds like 責任問題. Can you think of at least two examples of a 1+2+1 compound, where the compound is composed of prefix + binom + suffix ?

3. Look at the eight Sino-Japanese words below and ascertain the rules for the formation of the mora obstruent Q.

湿気 (-cu + k-)    
納豆 (-cu + t-)  
日光 (-či + k-)    
発達 (-cu + t-
食器 (-ku + k-)    
肉体 (-ku + t-)  
的確 (-ki + k-)    
石炭 (-ki + t-

7.2  Foreign Borrowings

1. Find some foreign borrowings, not mentioned in the text above, from (a) French, (b) German, (c) Russian and (d) Dutch.

2. Can you think of any other ‘foreign borrowings which may themselves function as affixes’ ?

3. What other foreign borrowings are not written regularly in katakana?

4. List up at least 5 other Roman alphabet acronyms regularly used in Japanese.

7.3  English Borrowings

1. During the period when English was boycotted, the following words were commonly used in place of English borrowings. Which English borrowings do you think they were used in place of?   

2. Many waseieigo have meanings very different from English, causing pedagogical confusion. Can you think of any examples?

3. The following is a list of some English loanwords which the Loanword Committee offered replacements for. If you were a member of the committee, what replacements would you offer?


7.4  Japanese Pidgins and Creoles

The following are examples of Yokohama Pidgin. Try and translate them into modern standard Japanese:

1. Bates arimasen?

2. Nanny sto arimasu watarkshee arimasen?

3. Num wun sindoe doko?

4 . Sigh-oh narrow dozo bynebai moh-skosh cow.

5 . Acheera sto caberra-mono.

6. Kooromar aboorah sinjoe.

7.5  Language Murder

1. Can you give any examples of languages English has murdered, or is murdering?

2. Why do you think the Japanese government has initiated no policy of language revitalization for either Ainu or Uchinaa?

3. What do you think can be done to stop language murder occurring around the world?