This study will explore selected phonological, typological, orthographical, morphological and syntactical features of the ‘isolate’ language, Japanese, and analyse how far these features differ from English, itself an Indo-European language, with specific emphasis placed on how accessible Japanese speakers would find learning English as a second language, and vice-versa.
The Japanese language is spoken by almost the whole of the East Asian nation of Japan, comprising of up to 128 million speakers.
Shibatani (2009:557) declares Japanese to be an isolate language, a label which has been hotly disputed by linguists, consisting of a wide range of often mutually unintelligible dialects. Japanese, at least in a literary sense, became apparent as early as the eighth century with a number of character borrowings from Chinese evident, up to 60% of contemporary Japanese vocabulary is borrowed from Chinese and a further 10% from English (Shibatani 2009:557). Shibatani’s insistence of Japanese being an isolate language is one consistent with many linguists, however debate has raged throughout the centuries with many languages being seen to be in some way related to Japanese.
A fairly recent theory suggests that the Ryukyuan languages, previous seen as mere dialects of Japanese, may well be sister languages, as part of a Japonic language family (Tranter 2012:3) (Shimoji & Pellard 2010:1).
Shimoji and Pellard (2010:4) argue that the Ryukyuan languages share several phonological phenomena with Japanese, including ‘CV(C) structure, moraic rhythm and pitch accent.’ The debate over whether or not the Ryukyuan languages are simply dialects is acknowledged by Shimoji and Pellard (2010), however they assert that this was purely a ‘socio-political issue’ and linguistically, the mutual unintelligibility of the two ‘languages’ means there is ‘no strong argument for referring to the Ryukyuan languages as Japanese dialects’.
Martine Robbeets (2005) explored the relationship between Japanese and Korean, Tungusic, Mongolic and Turkic, considering whether Japanese and Korean could form part of an Altaic language family alongside the three other languages which, Robbeets (2005:18) argues, are widely accepted as part of the Altaic family.
The works of Russian linguist Evgenii Polivanov (1924), Shichiro Murayama and Roy Andrew Miller (1971) and Samuel Martin (1966) are discussed as Robbeets (2005) sets out the ‘two centuries of studies’ on the Altaic Languages.’ The overall argument presented is that Japanese is indeed related to Korean and the Altaic Languages, as evidenced by Robbeet’s two thousand item etymological dictionary. This conclusion however has been vehemently opposed by critics such as Stefan Georg (2008:281) who points to the fact that only two of the three hundred and fifty nine core evidence examples laid out by Robbeets comprised of all five languages, and insists her work has done nothing to alter the debate.
The specific relationship between Japanese and...