Item description for Languages and History: Japanese by Andrew P. Miller...
Summarizing what is known of the history and prehistory of Korean and Japanese, a problem that necessarily involves their possible genetic relationship to the Altaic (Turkic, Mongiol, Tungus) languages, the author examines--and demonstrates that it is necessary to reject--arguments now dominant in most Western scolarship that would attribute all similarities among these languages to borrowing rather than genetic relationship. He argues that the now widely accepted truism that "Korean and Japanese cannot be Altaic laguages" because "there are no Altaic languages" can no longer seriously be maintained. Korean and Japanese both possess important early written records, until now either ignored or largely misrepresented by those who dismiss the Altaic hyphotesis. The author shows that these texts, when approached with proper philological precision, bolster the Altaic hyphotesis in much the same way that the discovery of Tokharian and Hittite materials earlier stimulated and clarified Indo-European historical linguistics
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Reviews - What do customers think about Languages and History: Japanese?
Miller's wars Sep 4, 2005
When I first saw this book I thought that the idea of Japanese being an Altaic language was widely accepted and that this book will just confirm it and give truthful proof of it. I started reading it and I should say that I liked the style in which this work was written. After finishing it, I understand Miller's thoughts and I really think he's a good linguist, however, I was not convinced of the Altaic theory. Some given etymologies are quite good examples of the Altaic divergence theory and would persuade much of the readers, but on the other hand some fantasizing phonologic mutations are totally disappointing and unexplicable. Miller does not provide regular phonological changes rules, but an amount of possible cognates ranging from turkish, chuvash, hungarian to tungus and korean, with no clear correspondences among all those languages. Sometimes, Miller spends much time talking about basic historical linguistics in his crusade against anti-altaicist linguists: this is just funny but does not add much to the work. After all, I think Miller has been opening the path from Japanese to Altaic since many years ago with effort and he could be right, but he should not discard the many substratums in the Japanese (Austronesian, Tibeto-Burman, etc.). I recommend this book, but see also other works contrasting with these like Beckwith's "Koguryo: The Language of Japan's Continental Relatives".
Fascinating introduction to the study of languages Mar 30, 2005
Having lived in the Far East for the last 16 years, I was intrigued by Prof. Miller's title, especially his sub-title: Japanese, Korean, and Altaic. During my five years in Japan and my three years in Korea, many people from all walks of life were horrified by my suggestion that Japanese and Korean might be related to each other. Most people I talked to in both countries consider their language to be unique in more than one way, although both languages were heavily influenced by Chinese, especially the writing system (Chinese characters, known as "han-zi" in mainland China, "han-ja" in Korea, and "kan-ji" in Japan).
In both Japanese and Korean, many words that we call nouns and verbs were originally taken from Chinese. Over time, the pronunciations have diverged, as we can see above from the respective names for Chinese characters in the three countries. In addition, Japanese and Korean sentences have a remarkable "grammatical" similarity, using postpositions (instead of prepositions) of similar meaning and spelling in many of the same positions in the sentence. Most people cannot help but accept these basic similarities, but they quickly reject the notion that the two languages are "sisters" or even remote cousins. This is the background I brought to Prof. Miller's book, which not only suggests the two languages are related to each other but posits a connection to a larger language family, Altaic.
Prof. Miller brings to this study a background that stretches from Tibetan to Chinese to Japanese and Korean. However, instead of embracing the connectedness of the languages based on the syntactic features (sentence structure), he holds that the sound systems of Japanese and Korean are related to an older Altaic. This is perhaps his most controversial claim. This argument makes for a fascinating introduction to the study of languages.
In his opening chapter he sets out a series of working definitions of comparative and historical linguistics, and shows how these can be applied to any language family. He also notes that most of the objections to proposals of an Altaic family come from those who are more expert in Indo-European, which includes languages as different as English, Greek, and Hindi, but which are "well attested" by many ancient written records. The trail of written words is harder to follow in Altaic, a fact which Prof. Miller meets head on in his second chapter. In the third, he explains the concepts of Altaic, arguing that any reconstruction naturally starts from certain assumptions. He then goes on to show, with copious examples, how Japanese and Korean have a relationship with the other members of the Altaic family, which some scholars say includes Turkish, Tungusic, Mongolian, Manchu, and others.
Next, Prof. Miller demonstrates those features of Altaic that he believes are still evident in Japanese and Korean. One of the most frequent complaints against his theory is that many of the features common to Japanese and Korean could have been borrowed, as they borrowed words from Chinese. (English, for example, has many words and expressions of French origin.) Prof. Miller deals with these objections in his sixth chapter; in sum, borrowing alone cannot explain the kind of rich interrelatedness he finds in the two "sister" languages and their older "parent".
Finally, Prof. Miller sets out the kind of work that he believes still needs to be done to fill in the many missing pieces of the Altaic puzzle as it relates to Japanese and Korean. More important, though, is his appeal, repeated from the first chapter, for a thorough grounding of comparative studies in the principles he attributes to earlier Neo-Grammarian scholars. The book is carefully indexed, and the bibliography ("Selected Literature") is a gold mine of material on this subject, including works that dispute his thesis.
This brief review cannot give Prof. Miller's passionate commitment to his thesis all that it deserves. There are times when his passion works so strongly, that one wonders whether he isn't simply snapping back at perceived slights. At other times, he seems so intent on proving his own thesis that he discounts evidence presented by others that would seem to support his opinion; he rejects some evidence as "unsound" or not carefully thought through. In this sense, this book also gives us insight into the world of modern scholars, who often bring to their work a certain jealousy and protectiveness that puts off others devoted to the same goal.
Although this book is mainly written with fellow scholars in mind, I think that amateurs like me can benefit from Prof. Miller's detailed presentation of the subject of historical linguistics and his dogged pursuit of his thesis of the connection of Japanese and Korean to a larger Altaic group of languages. If, as it seems to me, more people in Korea and Japan are now acknowledging their languages' relatedness, and thus finding reasons to respect each other's cultures after years (centuries?) of acrimony, then part of the credit should be given to Prof. Miller's work.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in exploring different languages and cultures, especially those of the Far East.