City University of Hong Kong Dep
Department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics
Sound-Symbolism in Japanese –
The Distinction between Visible and Invisible Worlds
Dr. Hideaki Sugai
Department of Chinese and Bilingual Studies
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Date: 24 November 2008, Monday
Time: 4:30pm - 6:00pm
Venue: B7603 (Lift 3, 7/F, Blue Zone), Academic Building, CityU
This talk presents my preliminary research on sound-symbolism inspired by Makino and Tsutsui’s comment on the difference between kara and node (A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar. The Japan Times. 1986:56). They suggest that the contrast between node and kara ‘because’ can be explained in terms of sound-symbolism so that words which begin with a nasal sound such as [n] are associated with subjective reasoning.
In this talk I expand on their idea to investigate a similar type of sound-symbolism contrast in verbs. Take for example the two following pairs of verbs which exhibit a clear semantic contrast: kuru ‘come’ <> iku ‘go’, toru ‘catch’ <> nageru ‘throw’. The sound-symbolism indicated by Makino and Tsutsui can be seen in the initial sound of each pair of verbs. I shall tentatively call the words that begin with a bright and sharp sound such as [t], [k], [s], or [h] K-language, and words that begin with a vowel, liquid or nasal sound A-language for convenience.
It appears that the contrast in such verb pairs cannot be accounted for simply by the subjectivity of the speaker or other traditional cognitive categories such as perception of the motion of objects. I propose that a further cognitive feature can be specified in terms of whether the result of an event or the end point of a motion is [Visible] to both speaker and hearer. K-language is used to indicate the result of an event or the end point of a motion that is visible to both speaker and hearer. A-language is associated with the situation where such a result or end point is not visible to both speaker and hearer.
With a little metaphoric extension, K-language is used in the public domain to describe actions such as swearing, declaring and announcing. A-language is used in the private domain to describe actions such as promising, internal thinking and telling (in contrast with making a public announcement). Therefore, chikau ‘swear’ cannot be replaced with yakusoku-suru ‘promise’ if one wants to make a promise as a public commitment.
I will discuss possible reasons for the origin of this sound-symbolism in terms of historical development, especially as seen in the incorporation of Sino-origin words and in children’s language development. Finally I will demonstrate how this concept can be applied to the teaching of Japanese to non-native learners.
Dr. Hideaki Sugai is an associate professor in the Department of Chinese and Bilingual Studies, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Before coming to Hong Kong in December 2006, he was a researcher at the National Institute for the Japanese Language (国立国語研究所) where he was engaged in research on language testing and helped to develop the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (日本留学試験). His publications include several chapters in “Language Testing in the World” (『世界の言語テスト』, Kuroshio, Tokyo) in which he introduced the latest knowledge, skills and implementation methods used in modern communicative standardized testing.
Since obtaining his PhD degree from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa in 1996, he has been interested in research on teaching techniques and learning strategies that help to make teaching and acquiring a foreign language easier. He was involved in the training of Japanese language teachers in Japan and has introduced topics on teaching and acquisition in the MA in Japanese Studies for the Professions programme at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
He is currently working on the assessment of L2 writing with a focus on the relationship between cultural understanding and the choice of rhetorical patterns.