Course Description

What linguistic characteristics should we know about Japanese narratives and conversations in order to understand the culture of its speakers? Can you learn Japanese by watching anime and drama? How do (implicit) biases surface in the Japanese media and entertainment? This course will aim to concretize these types of lingering questions that you may have about language as speakers and writers, learners and teachers, and consumers of media and entertainment. By examining the sounds, words, sentences and discourse of contemporary Japanese, we will be learning about both the mechanical and nuanced aspects of Japanese and beyond shaped by various contexts in real-life and fictive settings.

We will first learn methods for analyzing Japanese speech sounds (phonetics/phonology), word formation (morphology), sentence formation (syntax) and meanings (semantics). We will also address contextual effects of language use (pragmatics). By the end of the course, your will be able to: 1) apply basic linguistic methodology and concepts to Japanese speech and text samples; 2) formulate research questions concerning linguistic issues; and 3) support arguments with evidence obtained from primary and secondary sources. Course assignments will include lectures, in-class exercises and quizzes, social annotations, student-led discussions, and individual/group assignments. You are also welcome to explore other languages for your assignments, as long as the language is compared to Japanese or is motivated by Japanese linguistic research.

This course is taught in English; no prerequisites. It counts toward: Japanese major/minor or linguistics minor.

Date & Time

Monday and Wednesday 8:40-9:55 a.m

Taught in person in MBH 338 [changed!], except for February 14 & 16 (Zoom)


Sayaka Abe, Assistant Professor of Japanese Studies; Linguistics Program (affiliated)

Email: sabe “AT” midd (Website:


Course Materials

Textbook required for purchase:

Hasegawa, Y. (2015). Japanese: A linguistic introduction. Cambridge University Press. (Website)

Book chapters and articles (available via Canvas):

Kawahara, S., Noto, A., & Kumagai, G. (2018). Sound symbolic patterns in Pokémon names. Phonetica75(3), 219-244.

Koscielecki, M. (2006). Japanized English, its context and socio-historical background. English Today, 22(4), 25–31.

Shibatani, M. (1990). The languages of Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [selected pages available via Canvas]

Tsujimura, N. (2014). An introduction to Japanese linguistics. Wiley-Blackwell. [selected pages available via Canvas]

Tanaka, N. Spencer-Oatey, H., & Cray, E. (2008). Apologies in Japanese and English. Culturally Speaking Second Edition Culture, Communication and Politeness Theory. London: Continuum.

Teshigawara, M., & Kinsui, S. (2011). Modern Japanese ‘Role Language’ (Yakuwarigo): Fictionalised Orality in Japanese Literature and Popular Culture. Sociolinguistic Studies, 5(1), 37.

See more information for recommended references under Sources