Course Description

How are Japanese pitches and rhythms produced in speech? What kind of rules should a “Japanese-speaking” machine know about the language? Why does my online translator produce awkward sentences? Why do I have to learn multiple particles that seem to “do the same thing” in a sentence?  What linguistic characteristics do Japanese, English, Chinese, Spanish and Korean (not) share when describing images or actions? What kinds of words are used frequently in Japanese? What can you learn about Japanese by watching anime? This course will aim to concretize these types of questions that people may have about Japanese and language in general as speakers, writers, learners, teachers and consumers of entertainment. We will be learning about both the structure and usage 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, you 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 2:15 – 3:30 pm


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

Office Hours: T/W/R 11:15am–12:15pm & by appt.

Email: sabe “AT” midd (Website:


Course Materials

Textbook required for purchase:

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

Other books (selected chapters available via Canvas) :

Shibatani, M. (1990). The languages of Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tsujimura, N. (2014). An introduction to Japanese linguistics. Wiley-Blackwell.

Articles (available via Canvas) — subject to change:

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

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.

Recommended articles:

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

For more recommended readings (secondary sources), please go to the Source page of this website

For recommended primary sources, please go to the Data page of this website.

See more information for recommended references under Sources