Was there a “continental Japanese”?

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Spectre scolaire, Mar 9, 2007.

  1. Spectre scolaire Senior Member

    Moving around, p.t. Turkey
    Maltese and Russian
    A book discovered some time ago came as a surprise. I have taken a theoretical interest in the question regarding similarities between Japanese and Korean about which there is a thread in this forum.

    The book in question places the origin of Japanese in an area which would correspond more or less to North Korea (and Manchuria) of today, cf.

    Christopher I. Beckwith: “Koguryo: The Language of Japan’s Continental Relatives”, Brill’s Japanese Studies Library 2004

    According to the publisher, this is part of the content:

    The Koguryo language is extinct, but did it “settle” in Japan back in the mist of time?

    How is this book being viewed among Japanese scholars, not to say by Japanese public opinion?
  2. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    I am not answering your question directly but I think there are no close relatives of the Japanese language. Some other languages show striking similarities in grammar, like Korean as the closest possible but it's not close enough to be called a relative, IMHO :)

    The similarity to all Chinese dialects and to Middle Chinese are historical, they are actually borrowings, although they are massive in numbers. So, it only proves that Japan used Chinese as the literal language fro a long time, borrowed its writing system and then created its own based on Chinese characters. Korean has also a huge layer of Chinese borrowings, which makes similarity to Japanese even more striking + there were some recent borrowings from Japanese into Korean.
    An example of a Japanese word that penetrated the rest of the CJK group:

    事務所 (じむしょ – jimusho) office (Japanese)

    사무소 samuso (Korean)

    事务所 (simpl.) / 事務所 (trad.) shìwùsuǒ (Chinese Mandarin)
  3. Spectre scolaire Senior Member

    Moving around, p.t. Turkey
    Maltese and Russian
    Thanks for your answer! It took 7 weeks to get a reaction to my query, and as you will probably expect, I can only hope that others will join you.

    Well, this seems to be precisely what Beckwith is considering a challenge. I imagine that his research must be partly beyond the reach of most of us. It is therefore natural that we look at the vocabulary level, which however cannot be of any significance to judge language affiliation – only cultural influence.

    The whole question is intriguing. Early this year I happened to be sitting next to a Japanese diplomat at a dinner party, and it was natural to ask him about this “Koguryo connection”. He had never heard about the book, and didn’t know about any such research. I later e-mailed him all the details about the book, but I never heard from him again. It was his silence on the topic which made me post the question in this forum. Judging from a similar case in Europe, such a question can be highly controversial.

    I’d really like to hear the opinion of Japanese and/or Koreans! On the other hand, persons not belonging to either of these ethnic groups, but knowing both languages, may be prone to see common linguistic features. Mutatis mutandis, it is an “old truth” that the best grammars of a language are not written by natives.:D

    Thanks again for having revived this thread!
    :) :)
  4. Flaminius

    Flaminius coclea mod

    capita Iaponiae
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    The term relative, in parlance of Academe, implies that study of the origin of Japanese can be equated with a quest for a family tree of languages à l'Indo-Europrean wherein Japanese is a branch of. Ever since Altaic theory was considered largely defunct, this approach is not very popular. Recent studies on the origin of Japanese allow a lot of room for mixed languages and creolisation or both; neither of which can be supported or refuted from the perspective of traditional comparative linguistics (family tree model). A standard view in Japanese academic circles is that Japanese was developed as a mixed language between an Austronesian substratum and an Altaic (or "Northern" by the more doubtful) superstratum. None the better for the general agreement, different researchers propose lists of correspondence that do not agree with each other.

    Beckwith's list of Koguryo vocabulary finds that traditional comparative approach is insufficient for Koguryo classification; little or no relation to Altaic or Korean.

    That Koguryo has the strongest similarity with Japanese is further explored by Yoshizō Itabashi:
    (アレキサンダー・ボビン/長田俊樹共編 日文研叢書31『日本語系統論の現在』所収 2003年12月 国際日本文化研究センター).

    Itabashi (2003) is based on research by several Japanese Altaic experts dating back to 1970s. An earlier paper by Beckwith is considered as well. Koguryo documents were surveyed to extract 115 Koguryo words. Out of the extracted items, 71 were determined to have cognates in other languages. The number of cognates with Japanese is 47, that with Korean is 32, that with Tungusic languages is 25, and that with Austronesian languages is 8 (categorisation not mutually exclusive). In contrast to Beckwith, Koguryo's relation with Korean is not refuted. Itabashi concludes (the excogitation between the list and the conclusion is beyond my understanding) that Koguryo and Japanese have the closest relationship but the relatedness of the former to Korean cannot be neglected.
  5. Spectre scolaire Senior Member

    Moving around, p.t. Turkey
    Maltese and Russian
    Thanks for updating me about state-of-the-art research on this topic! I am pleased to see that the “Koguryo connection” is by no means a taboo in Japan. Yoshizo Itabashi is a prominent scholar with an exceptional interdisciplinary approach to the subject of “The Prehistory of the Language in the Japanese Archipelago” (just to quote one of his latest publications). And he seems to have taken a special interest in Ainu and Jomon, another “joker” in the imbroglio of languages and cultures in the region.

    –whatever this “Altaic” may have been... The Altaic theory was always a very dim construct, but it still has fierce partisans, and it is surprisingly well-known among ordinary people when talking about the origin of Turkic languages. At least one could say that advanced research conducted by people who call themselves Altaic scholars has made it clear that in science the process of elimination is as important as that of inclusion. The science of linguistics has fought a long battle to assert its place next to more quantifiable research topics. It is only natural that trial and error play a large role. What is not natural in any science is pure speculation. The topic of this thread seems to be free from what has been termed “linguistique fantastique” (cf. French book title from 1983).

    Or, was there ever a Japanese movement corresponding to the Turkish Güneş Dil Teorisi, the infamous “Sun Language Theory”?

    :) :)
  6. gimochu New Member

    English - American
    There is also a theory that Japanese was manufactured from the Korean language. It holds that that Yasumaro, the author of the Kojiki and the Nihongi, indicates how the Japanese vocabulary was created, using Korean as the starting point. The author points out that Japanese does not have its own counting numbers past 1 to 10, and that many basic words are missing from Japanese. Notably, many of the how-to-say notations from the Kojiki and Nihongi were deleted on their translation into Japanese. I tried to a link to his book, but as I'm a new member, it won't allow me to do so. Try entering the following search terms in Google and you should get to the link for his book: origin japanese language e-pyo chung Alternatively just go to epchung dot com
    Before dismissing this, just take a look and try to argue with it. I think that it makes sense.
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2013
  7. rbrunner Senior Member

    German - Switzerland
    No, I don't think it makes sense. It's a nice story alright, including the conspiracy that is needed to cover the fact that Japanese vocabulary was invented by Koreans.

    What does not make sense? So Koreans invent a new language and manage to completely wipe out any pre-existing language(s) of the Japanese natives, without any traces, and make all people speak that new artifical language? I don't think so. And even if that's possible, why not simply make them speak Korean? Because the new language is "simpler" and can thus learned faster and easier than Korean? Well, it doesn't look like Japanese is particularly simple, right? And if you are inventing a full new "simple" vocabulary, why stick with Korean grammar and not invent a simpler grammar as well?

    And then of course, the conspiracy that completely hides an event that drastically changed the life of millions of people. And nobody nearby in other countries noticed and wrote about that extraordinary event happening in Japan, an event that as far as I know would be without precedent in world history (or those writings are hidden as well). Comes in quite handy, that conspiracy!

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