Od 30 lat w szybkim tempie jak na procesy gospodarczo-społeczne cywilizacyjne centrum świata przenosi się na Daleki Wschód. Zatem wielopłaszczyznowe kontakty Polski z kulturą i gospodarką narodów Azji Wschodniej nabierają i będą nabierały znaczenia.
Japończycy, będąc pod względem gospodarczym, militarnym i naukowym w beznadziejnej sytuacji w połowie XIX w., potrafili jako pierwsi spośród narodów Azji Wschodniej wchłonąć osiągnięcia cywilizacji europejskiej, zachować istotne obszary rodzimej wielowiekowej kultury i nauki oraz w miarę możliwości hamować na swoim terenie oddziaływanie prądów, które w cywilizacji euroatlantyckiej psują struktury społeczne takie jak naród czy rodzina.
Tak więc dzisiaj Japonia pociąga badaczy dużymi kontrastami, tym, że harmonijnie współistnieją tam nowoczesne technologie oraz z pietyzmem kultywowane starożytne rzemiosła czy obyczaje. Fascynację budzi piękny język japoński, w którym jak w mozaice splotły się strukturalnie różne języki: starojapoński i chiński.
Niniejsza seria, Opuscula Iaponica et Slavica, ma współgrać z serią Iaponica Lodziensia, w której będą preferowane artykuły o mniejszej objętości.
Oprócz artykułów napisanych w języku polskim, będą publikowane teksty w innych językach, w tym także japońskim.
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Darmowy fragment publikacji:
Vladimir M. Alpatov
ON JAPANESE LINGUISTIC MYTHS
OPUSCULA IAPONICA SLAVICA (Warszawa) vol. II, 2014
Key words: Japan, Japanese, linguistic myth, history of Japan, history of language, Sapir-Worf
hypothesis, linguistic consciousness, forms of politeness, ellipsis, complication of Japanese,
uniqueness of Japanese, culture of silence.
There are many myths connected with the language in Japan. This situation is
conditioned by historical causes, among which the insular location of the country is the
most important. The myths were very widespread in the past but some of them are
preserved until now.
There is no such numerous, socially significant and having so long script tradition
language which would be so isolated as Japanese. This fact influenced the linguistic
notions of Japanese very significantly.
It is acknowledged now that the Japanese people formed in the first centuries A.
D. by the confusion of the primordial population which apparently spoke an Austronesian
language with Altaic tribes invaded from the continent. This branch of the Altaic peoples
became isolated from the other Altaic world, adapted itself to the not-Altaic geographical
condition and mixed with the primordial Austronesian population. The result of this
confusion is Japanese. This language was considered as hybrid by some researchers, but
S.A. Starostin (1953-2005) established its Altaic attribution [(cid:587)(cid:620)(cid:602)(cid:618)(cid:616)(cid:619)(cid:620)(cid:610)(cid:615) 1991; Starostin,
Dybo, Mudrak 2003]. I consider his point of view convincing. The new language
preserved the basic grammar and vocabulary but partly changed the primordial structure
especially the phonetic one: the sound structure of Japanese is unlike the Altaic one.
There was the Ainu language too but the contribution of it to the forming of Japanese is
not significant. The influence of Ainu on Japanese is comparable with the influence of the
American Indian languages on American English: it is significant only in the sphere of
the geographical names.
The subsequent history of Japan had some peculiarities that also influenced the
linguistic consciousness. The Japanese people preserved its identity and the main territory
during two thousand years; the only exception was spreading of the Japanese to the north
at the expense of Ainu up to the XIX century (The main part of Hokkaido was inhabited
by Japanese people only in the Meiji era). A particular situation took place on the Ryukyu
islands but this territory was always the periphery. There was no expansion of the
Japanese to the continent up to the XIX century except the invasion to Korea in 1592-
1598 and there were no invasions to the Japanese islands up to the middle of the XX
century except two unsuccessful attempts of Mongolians in 1274 and 1281. Japan is one
of few Asian countries which did not run into the problem of the protection of its
language from the languages of the colonialists [Gottlieb 2005: 18]. The contacts of the
Japanese with the other peoples were occasional up to the XIX century and the peoples
who had maximal contacts with Japanese spoke languages that were significantly
different from Japanese (Chinese, later English). The contacts of Japanese with the Altaic
languages except Korean did not exist (so as the contacts with the Austronesian
languages) and the contacts with Korean were significant only in the first centuries of
existence of Japanese and then in the XX century.
The language situation in Japan was very stable during two millenniums, that
situation is very rare in the world. The primordial Altaic and Austronesian languages
disappeared many centuries ago, the place of Ainu was peripheral and immigrant
communities did not exist in Japan till the XX century. It does not mean any complete
linguistic homogeneity: there were many dialects in Japan (the term hoogen, literally side
language, became widespread since the late Middle Ages, it was perceived as the
equivalent of the term dialect since the time of Europeanization). However all its
speakers considered themselves Japanese people. Every linguistic formation existed on
the Japanese islands since Nara period (VIII century) to the present was considered the
form of the same language: Japanese. Such idea was formulated by the national kokugaku
scholars in the XVII-XVIII centuries. This language was named kotoba ‘language’ up to
the Meiji era, then the special term kokugo ‘country language’ appeared (the word
nihongo ‘Japanese language’ is less widespread, it is the only possible word if they say
about its mastering by foreigners). In the opinion of one Japanese linguist nihongo and
analogous names of other languages have an objective meaning but the meaning of the
word kokugo is subjective: it means “our language”, native language [Haga 2004: 33]. .
One more peculiarity of the language situation in Japan consisted in the fact that
the old written language (bungo) was used only by the Japanese people. This fact
distinguished these languages from the other functionally similar old written languages
(Latin, Old Church Slavonic, Sanskrit, Classical Arabian, Written Chinese and so on)
which were international languages. The national linguistic tradition formed in the XVII-
XVIII centuries based upon bungo and was purely Japanese too. There was the
Japanisized Chinese kambun too but it had some difference from Written Chinese.
Nevertheless in several epochs the influence of other languages on Japanese was
significant. First of all it was the influence of Chinese in the first millenium A. D.
especially in the VII-X centuries and the influence of English and partly of the other
Western languages in the XIX-XXI centuries. However this influence had some
peculiarities. Firstly, this influence was not imposed from outside (except partly the
period of the American occupation in 1945-1952), the Japanese themselves selected all
that was necessary from other languages.
Secondly, Japanese is different from the majority of languages from the point of
view of the structure of borrowings. Usually borrowings do not form any particular
subsystem of languages, and any strict borders between primordial words and adapted
borrowings do not exist (English is a partial exception: the difference of German and
Roman words is appreciable). However Japanese consists of three subsystems: the
subsystem of primordial words (wago), the subsystem of Chinese words (kango) and the
subsystem of borrowings from the Western languages especially from American English
(gairaigo, or katakanago). Three subsystems differ in their phonetic and grammatical
features and have a tendency towards semantic differentiation. Nowadays one of two
Japanese alphabets – katakana – is used first of all for the writing of the Western
borrowings. The borrowings are numerous but they are estimated as solitary subsystems
of the language and their existence does not prevent considering the Japanese language as
the primordial component of the Japanese culture: this culture has many borrowed
components but the language is the most important from the primordial ones equally with
Shinto. The Japanese are distinguished by mass interest for the linguistic problems but
mainly it is only the interest for their own language.
Such conditions gave birth to some stable linguistic myths which are inherent in
the mass consciousness and penetrate into the Japanese science and even into the foreign
science. One American specialist wrote that a feature of many Japanese publications is
blending of science with folklore [Johnson 1993: 96]. These myths have been studied by
some Western specialists [Miller 1982; Dale 1986], their estimation of them are very
negative. However it is worth objective investigation.
1. The uniqueness of Japanese. One of widespread and stable myths is the myth
about the uniqueness of the Japanese language. This myth spreads both to the
peculiarities of its development and functioning where it has some reasons which are
grossly exaggerated and to its structure where the mythology is evident.
For instance the well-known sociolinguist Suzuki Takao writes that there is no
one country except Japan where one people live on the same territory protected by the sea
and speak the same language during 1500 years [Suzuki 2006: 19-20]. In his opinion
“Beowulf” is not a wholly national English literary monument for the English people
because this language changed significantly after the Norman conquest but “Manyooshu”
(Japanese monument of almost the same time) is “our” monument for the Japanese people
[Suzuki 2006: 150]. Haga Yasushi thinks that the national languages formed only in the
last centuries in Europe but Japanese became the national language much earlier [Haga
2004: 30]. Above-mentioned peculiarities and the lack of significant ethnic minorities in
Japan up to the (cid:591)(cid:591) century gave birth to the idea: it is the same to be Japanese and to
speak Japanese. Maybe this idea is the cause of comparative small aspiration of Japan for
internationalization of Japanese [(cid:570)(cid:613)(cid:617)(cid:602)(cid:620)(cid:616)(cid:604): in print]. The question of the recognition of
Japanese as one of the language of UNO was raised only once at the end of the 1980th but
it was soon removed from the agenda [Gottlieb 2005: 74]. Now this question is not
Of course the stability of the Japanese language situation and the ethnical
homogeneity in Japan are not usual. However firstly we should not transfer the modern
notions of nation and nation language to the ancient times. Secondly the Japanese
situation is not absolutely unique, compare for instance Iceland. Thirdly the situation
became different in the last decades: the immigrant communities in Japan number about 2
million people now.
The Japanese national self-consciousness formed by the opposition to China and
then the West. It treated the language too: the kokugaku school realized the particular
features of Japanese in comparison with Chinese and Sanskrit and emphasizes the
advantage of Japanese which was discovered in the small quantity of sounds. Nowadays
the most remarkable structural peculiarities of the Japanese language for its speakers are
that features which distinguish it from the Western languages especially from English.
Japanese authors take notice constantly that the distinction of language, race features and
predominant religion between Japan and the other countries of “the Seven” or “the Eight”
is more significant than such distinction between any other members of it. Suzuki Takao
writes that the majority of languages, cultures and religions are cognate and only we, the
Japanese are lonely [Suzuki 2006: 73-74]. It is evident that Suzuki as many other
Japanese authors compares the Japanese only with Christian people of white race who
speak Indo-Germanic languages and reduces the world to seven or eight developed
countries (sometimes with addition of China). In particular the Japanese did not think
about the resemblance of Japanese with the other Altaic languages. Even the Japanese
word-order can be considered unique although such word-order “subject – direct object –
verb” (SOV) is the most widespread among the languages in the world although the word
order of the majority of the European languages (and the Chinese language) is different.
On the whole emphasis and exaggeration of the uniqueness of the Japanese
language and the Japanese culture is one of constant features of the Japanese notions on
the world [Moeran 1989: 15].
2. Complication of Japanese. Another myth is the notion of the peculiar
complication of Japanese; sometimes they say that a foreigner cannot master it. Of course
they say only about Western people (such ideas were not used when Japan imposed
Japanese in Korea and in the other conquered countries at the first half of the XX
century). The well-known Japan-American linguist Shibatani Masayoshi devoted a part of
his Japanese grammar to the disclosure of this myth [Shibatani 1990: 89-90]. It is
possible that the source of this myth dated from the time of the American occupation or
even from the earlier time: almost all the American people who visited Japan (especially
members of the occupation administration) did not try to learn Japanese. The
complication of mastering of some aspects of this language (especially the Japanese
script) is evident too. For instance one day I talked in Japanese with educated Japanese
and said about my specialization in Japan. Then I began to read a Japanese newspaper but
this man was very astonished: he did not think that foreigners could read in Japanese. It
was the evident influence of the language myth which is supported by some authors of
publication on the so-called nihonjinron, literally science on Japanese people. The myth
is alive in spite of many disproving examples.
An additional idea is the idea about the peculiar richness of Japanese because
there are many synonyms in it; these synonyms are primordial lexical items and
numerous borrowings from Chinese and English. Shibatani Masayoshi criticized this
myth too [Shibatani 1990: 89-90]. Indeed many meanings can be expressed by three
words: wago, kango and gairaigo (or two of them). However some stylistic
differentiation takes place in the most cases: wago are colloquial or neutral, kango are
bookish and gairaigo are connected with the prestige consumption or with the high
technologies. However the rich synonymy is the property of any language with the
developed system of functional styles. The idea of the peculiar lexical richness can be
proved or disproved by statistical investigations but authors of publications of
nihonjinron avoid them.
3. Culture of silence. Furthermore the Japanese linguistic myths emphasize the
inclination of Japanese people to silence, non-verbal means of the transmission of
information. For instance Haga Yasushi writes that the Japanese do not like the verbal
transmission of all the information, they do not trust the oral language and are not
inclined to any verbal explanation [Haga 2004: 104, 260]. Takemoto Shozo declares that
the Western people are too talkative from the Japanese point of view because they use
language as a weapon but the Japanese got accustomed to implying the information as far
as possible because they communicate with each other as members of one large family
[Takemoto 1982: 267]. “Cult of silence” is reflected even in Japanese proverbs or
nowadays in publicity [Hayakawa 2001: 42]. Even some Western authors except this
myth and consider Confucian sources of this ideal [Dale 1986: 79].
Of course the ellipsis exists at every language: speakers omit the information
which is clear from the context. Japanese has some opportunities of ellipsis which are
unusual for speakers of Western languages. For instance the developed system of the
forms of politeness (keigo) in Japanese gave significant opportunities of omission of
personal pronouns; the agglutinative character of the Japanese case markers permits to
omit them but it is impossible to omit the inflected case endings of the Western
languages. Thus this myth has a grain of truth too but this grain is exaggerated. Besides it
is right that the rules of the Japanese society demand to be silent with members of the
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