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Imperatives and directives in Japanese linguistics

Posted By admin On May 21, 2013 @ 1:09 pm In Abstracts for 2013, Linguistics and Language Teaching | Comments Disabled

Nils Axel Emanuel Svahn, Ph.D. Candidate

Centre for Languages and Literature

Lund University, Sweden

During previous presentations at NAJAKS in 2007 and 2010, my focus was on a specific phenomenon: the use of the –ta and –tari suffixes in expressing directive speech acts. This time the subject of inquiry is far broader, namely the overall directive system of Japanese, here defined as the range of directive strategies in a language (broadly ―ways of getting people to do things using words‖, a prime example being imperatives) that exhibit a reasonable degree of conventionality.

In Modern Japanese we find a complex range of conventionalized directive strategies corresponding to different levels of politeness, with honorific (okudasai) moderately polite, and highly informal (imperative –ta, the morphological –e (ro) imperative) variants available. The diachronic and synchronic study of this array of constructions can be fruitful in contributing to our knowledge about the relationship between directive strategies and politeness systems, and how directive systems arise through grammaticalization. This is the goal of my doctoral dissertation project, ―The Japanese Imperative‖.

Previous descriptions of Japanese imperatives and other directive strategies vary in their analyses of individual constructions, as well as in methods of classification into different categories (such as ―command forms‖ versus ―request forms‖), and the terms used to describe them. These differences at times arise from terminological differences between Japanese and English-language treatments, and also depend on whether the approach is primarily descriptive or typological. There are also differences in the approaches of different scholars working within the indigenous tradition. My main research questions are:

1. What commonalities can be found in previous descriptions of Japanese imperatives and other directive strategies? How do they match up with approaches found within recent linguistic typology, as exemplified by Aikhenvald (2010), van der Auwera et al. (2005), Schalley (2008), and Xrakovskij (2001)?

19th conference of the Nordic Association of Japanese and Korean Studies August 21-23, 2013

2. How can the general linguistic typology of imperative and directive constructions contribute to the study of this domain of Japanese grammar?

3. Conversely, how can previous work in Japanese linguistics contribute to the study of imperatives in general linguistic typology?

The focus of this presentation is on descriptions of Japanese imperatives and directives by scholars such as Nitta (1991) Murakami (1993), Satoo (1993), and Adachi (et al.) (2002, 2003), along with a brief outline of the history of the imperative in Japanese linguistics. Treatments from outside the indigenous linguistic tradition, such as Martin (1988), Alpatov (2001), and Takahashi (2012), are also discussed.

Different approaches to describing and analyzing various Japanese directive strategies are compared. Topics include the descriptive validity of said approaches, differences and similarities in conceptualization and categorization (and to what extent such apparent differences are due to terminological rather than genuine conceptual discrepancies), as well as how the treatments relate to the general linguistic typology of imperatives and directives.

The presentation concludes with a discussion of possibilities for a synthesis of earlier descriptions, with the aim of integrating insights from previous literature within a terminological and conceptual framework aligned with general linguistic theory.


Adachi, T. (2002). Meirei, irai no modaritii (The Modality of Requests and Commands). In Miyazaki, K. et al. (eds), Modaritii (Shin nihongo bunpoo sensho 4) (Modality (New selected publications on the Japanese language)). Tokyo: Kuroshio. 42-77.

Adachi, T. et al. (Nihongo Kijutsu Bunpoo Kenkyuukai (The Society of Descriptive Japanese Grammar)) (eds). (2003). Gendai nihongo bunpoo 4: Dai 8 Bu Modaritii (Modern Japanese Grammar 4: Part 8 Modality). Tokyo: Kuroshio.

Aikhenvald, A. Y. (2010). Imperatives and Commands. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Alpatov, V.M. ―Imperative in Modern Japanese.‖ In Xrakovskij, V. S. (ed.) (2001). Typology of

imperative constructions. Munich: Lincom Europa, 106-126. 2

9th conference of the Nordic Association of Japanese and Korean Studies August 21-23, 2013

Martin, S. E. (2004 [1988]). A Reference Grammar of Japanese. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press; Rutland: Charles E. Tuttle Company.

Murakami, M. (1993). Meireibun — siro, sinasai [Imperatives: siro, sinasai]. In Gengogaku Kenkyuukai (ed.), Gengogaku-Kenkyuu-Kai no Ronbunshuu 6: kotoba no kagaku [A Collection of Papers by Linguistic Circle 6: Language Science]. Tokyo: Mugi Shoboo, 67-115.

Nitta, Y. (1991). Nihongo no Modaritii to Ninshoo (Modality and Person in Japanese). Kasukabe: Hitsujishoboo.

Satoo, S. (1993). Irai-Bun [Request Sentences]. In Gengogaku Kenkyuukai (ed.), Gengogaku- Kenkyuu-Kai no Ronbunshuu 5: Kotoba no Kagaku [A Collection of papers by Linguistic Circle 5: Language Science] Tokyo: Mugi Shobo, 109-174.

Schalley, E. (2008). Imperatives: a typological approach. Ph. D. Dissertation. Department of Linguistics, University of Antwerp.

Takahashi, H. (2012). A cognitive linguistic analysis of the English imperative: With special reference to Japanese imperatives. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

van der Auwera, J, Dobrushina, N. & Goussev, V. (2005). Imperative-hortative systems. In Haspelmath, M., Dryer, M S., Gil, D., & Comrie, B. (eds), The world atlas of language structures, 294–297. Oxford: OUP.

Xrakovskij, V. S. (ed.) (2001) Typology of imperative constructions. Munich: Lincom Europa.

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