Japanese Prehistoric Migration

How and when was Japan settled by speakers of Japanese?
Exploring the clues to Japanese prehistory preserved in old dialect divisions

 
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Horizon 2020

Japanese was not always the language spoken in Japan. Archaeologists and linguists link the arrival of the language in Japan with the migration of wet-rice farmers from around 800 BC to the south-western Japanese island of Kyushu.

Archaeological finds show that they spread from there north-eastwards. As a linguistic remnant of this history, the almost extinct Ainu language – the last remnant of the many languages that must have been spoken in Japan before the arrival of the Japanese language – was preserved longest in the north-east.

But this may not be the only remnant. The different tonal systems in Japanese dialects show a remarkable distribution: tonal systems that resemble each other and share certain innovations, are found in a number of remote corners of the archipelago. Between some of these areas there are also other striking similarities in phonology.

This is the opposite of what one might expect: people who are a long way away from one another do not normally pass on to one another innovations in the language. In particular given the way the Japanese language came to Japan, migration could explain the unusual dialect geography.

Reconstructing a reliable family tree for the dialects is a major aim of the project. The complex tonal systems in particular, are ideal material for research. Linguistic fieldwork, dialect description and linguistic techniques such as the comparative method and internal reconstruction will be employed to provide an answer the core question: Do these dialects share a close genetic bond, and is their distribution related to old migration routes, or are their resemblances the result of independent parallel developments?

To date researchers have tried to reconstruct the prehistoric migration movements in Japan purely on the basis of archaeological data. The ERC project hopes to chart in detail – based on the study of the dialects – how the ancestors of the present-day Japanese people came to Japan and spread over the islands.

Covid 19 update

The project consists of a fieldwork component and a philological component. Fieldwork had to be discontinued, because of Covid19, but work on the analysis of the fieldwork has continued. To make up for the missing fieldwork, extra student assistants were engaged for input of published sources. The different datasets are being integrated.

Current state of fieldwork database

In total 98051 audio recordings of 50 speakers have been processed, with 156009 accent markings for 1347 word types and 4743 sentence types. The recordings have been listened to, and the tone has been analyzed and entered in the database.

Link to Project featured on CORDIS website

 

Publications related to the project

  • De Boer, Elisabeth M. (Accepted for publication) “The role of migration in the branching and spread of the Japonic language family”, Proceedings of the International Conference of Historical Linguistics (ICHL) 24, Australian National University, Canberra.
  • De Boer, Elisabeth M. (Accepted for publication) The Ramsey Hypothesis. Handbook of the History of the Japanese Language (HHJL). (Frellesvig, B., Kinsui, S. and Whitman, J. eds). Handbooks of Japanese Language and Linguistics (HJLL), Mouton de Gruyter: Berlin-New York. .
  • Boiko, Mel & Griesenhofer, Christopher & Loukareas, Petros & Aoyama, Masato & De Boer, Elisabeth (Accepted for publication) “Early compound accent in Japanese Tōkyō-type dialects: An unexpected finding.” Proceedings of the International Conference of Historical Linguistics (ICHL) 24, Australian National University, Canberra.
  • 2020 De Boer, Elisabeth M. & Loukareas, Petros. The preservation of proto-Japanese tone class 2.5 in the Izumo region explained, Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale 49:2 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/19606028-bja10009
  • 2020 De Boer, Elisabeth M. & Yang, Melinda A. & Kawagoe, Eileen & Barnes, Gina L. “Japan considered from the hypothesis of farmer/language spread”, Evolutionary Human Sciences, 1-20. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/ehs.2020.7.
  • 2017. Review of Handbook of the Ryukyuan languages: History, structure and use, Studies in Language 41:1, 781-790
  • 2017. “Universals of tone rules and diachronic change in Japanese”, Journal of Asian and African Studies; 94, 217-242

Separate Publications

Elisabeth de Boer
  • 2020. “The classification of the Japonic languages”, in Martine Robbeets & Alexander Savelyev (eds), The Oxford Guide to the Transeurasian languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 40-58 DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198804628.003.0005

Presentations

Elisabeth de Boer
  • 15-09-2019 “Regularization of the accentual rules for noun compounds in the Japanese dialects”, Panel: Dialectal differences in the rules that determine the accent of Japanese compound nouns: Issues concerning the reconstruction of a proto-system common to all dialects. The 3rd EAJS (European Association for Japanese Studies) Conference in Japan, University of Tsukuba 14-15 September 2019
  • 19-07-2019 “System competition related to the advent of agriculture and metallurgy to the Japanese islands: Its influence on the linguistic map of Japan”, Workshop: System competition in East Asa, Alliance for Research on East Asia Ruhr, Ruhr Universität Bochum
  • 01-07-2019 “The role of migration in the branching and spread of the Japonic language Family”, ICHL (International Conference on Historical Linguistics) 24, Australian National University, Canberra
  • 10-01-2019 “The spread of agriculture through the Japanese Islands” Joint presentation with Gina Lee Barnes (archeology) and Melinda Yang (genetics), Interdisciplinary Conference "Transeurasian millets and beans, languages and genes", 8-11 January 2019, Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte (Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution)
  • 26-10-2018 “Accent loss in verbs forms in phrase final position: A common origin in Tokyo and some Kyoto type dialects?”, Poster presentation, 5th International Conference on Phonetics and Phonology (NINJAL ICPP 2018), October 26–28, National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics, Tokyo
  • 29-08-2018 “Warum gibt es zwei Sätze von Tonregeln für Nominalkomposita in den japanischen Dialekten,und was bedeutet dies für die Geschichte der japanischen Sprache?” Deutschsprachiger Japanologentag, Freie Universität Berlin
  • 09-01-2018 “Classification of the Japonic languages”, Workshop on the historical comparison of the Transeurasian languages, Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte (Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution), Leipzig
  • 14-06-2017 “Riddles in Japanese Dialect Geography (in an East Asian Context)”, AREA Ruhr Lecture Series, University of Duisburg-Essen
  • 02-07-2016 “Universals of tone rules and diachronic change in Japanese” Symposium Japanese and Korean accent: diachrony, reconstruction, and typology, (July 2-3) Tokyo University of Foreign Studies
Melissa Boiko
  • 15-09-2019 "Early compound noun accent in Iwate-Rikuchū and other conservative Tōkyō-type dialects: An innovative remnant?", The 3rd EAJS Conference in Japan, University of Tsukuba
  • 12-07-2019 "Statistics for Humanities: A Review of its Uses and Misuses", Digital Humanities Day #2, Ruhr-Universität Bochum
  • 03-07-2019 "Innovation and conservation in peripheral dialectology: Case studies from Japanese", 24th International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Australian National University
  • 26-10-2018 “What can the Tōkyō Gairin dialects tell us about the history of Japanese pitch accent?” Poster presentation, 5th International Conference on Phonetics and Phonology (NINJAL ICPP 2018), National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics, Tokyo, October 26–28
  • 07-12-2017 Leading the workshop: “Text encoding of Chinese character variants in the Unicode standard” Digital Approaches: Episode III, Digitale Japanologie Frankfurt (December 06-07), Goethe-Universität
  • 06-12-2017 “Human-machine interface in the analysis of fieldwork data: An example from Japanese dialectology”, Digitale Japanologie Frankfurt (December 06-07), Goethe-Universität
Petros Loukareas
  • 15-01-2021 Poster presentation H + O Explorer: Mapping and comparing Japanese accent data Digital Humanities Day #3, Ruhr-Universität Bochum
  • 12-07-2019 "Visualising Differences in Accent in the Japanese Dialects" Presentation, Digital Humanities Day #2, Ruhr-Universität Bochum
  • 04-12-2018 “Measuring dialect distances using the Levenshtein algorithm”, Forum für computergestützte Methoden in den Ostasienwissenschaften, Fakultät für Ostasienwissenschaften, Ruhr Universität Bochum
Christopher Griesenhofer
  • 12-07-2019 "Advantages and Disadvantages of Parallel Development - A case from Japanese Linguistics" Digital Humanities Day #2, Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Other
  • Organization of the panel: Dialectal differences in the rules that determine the accent of Japanese compound nouns: Issues concerning the reconstruction of a proto-system common to all dialects. The 3rd EAJS (European Association for Japanese Studies) Conference in Japan, University of Tsukuba 14-15 September 2019
Presentations that had been accepted but have been postponed because of COVID 19:
Elisabeth de Boer
  • EAJS2020, Ghent “Good neighbors and distant friends: Relations between dialects along the Japan Sea coast”
  • WAC 9, Prague “Migration of farmers along Japan Sea coast: Its possible motivation and time period”
  • NAJAKS11, Helsinki “Middle Japanese origins of the modern Japanese accent rules for compound nouns”
Melissa Boiko
  • EAJS 2020, Ghent. “Testing the predictive power of historical Japanese tonology: a comparison with synchronic descriptions”
  • NAJAKS 11, Helsinki. “Japanese tonology as historical data: The case of early accent in compound nouns”

  ROOM PHONE E-MAIL
Prof. Dr. Elisabeth de Boer (Project Leader) 2.22 0234 - 32 - 21858
Melissa Boiko, M.A.
(Research Associate)
2.04 0234 - 32 - 29838
Petros Loukareas, M.A.
(Research Associate)
2.04 0234 - 32 - 29838

Secretariat

  ROOM PHONE E-MAIL
Cristina Maurillo
(Secretariat)
2.13 0234 - 32 - 21855


This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 677317).

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