Course of
Linguistics and Literature

Professor NITTA Tetsuo (Linguistics)

[Theme] My Days of Research and Fieldwork

I focus on the study of Japanese dialects, or more specifically their accent and intonations.

The things I am trying to clarify about accents are as follows:

  • (1) Comparing the accents of Japanese dialects to clarify the structure of ancient accents in Japan.
  • (2) Clarifying the process by which "non-accented" dialects were formed in Japanese.

It is believed that the intonation of non-accented regions and their vicinity play a valuable role in this. Therefore, I conducted the following research regarding intonation.

  • (3) Clarifying what sort of characteristics the intonations of non-accented and accented regions possess.

All of the above represent part of my research on intonation.

Put simply, I am interested in the manner accents change in Japanese. Owing to an abundance of ancient records, we understand much about the nature of the Kyoto dialect. However, there are little or no writings on the history of accents in the outlying regions. Therefore, the only choice I have is to go out into the field to collect data and construct a hypothetical model of the old language from different variations.

I often go into the field with a recorder (lately an IC recorder with a hard drive attached) and a computer. My destinations vary, but more often than not, I head up into the mountains or small islands. The reason for this is that the more remote the location, the more likely it is that its dialect avoided the wave of language communalization and maintained its unique form. After conducting research, I stop over at a local hot springs inn and spend an enjoyable time going over my data and considering its meaning. I occasionally come across something unexpected that makes the outing truly unforgettable. It is at times like this that I am truly glad to have been studying linguistics.

Another project that I have been involved in over the past ten years is the "describing" of the dialect of a region known as Shiramine located at the foot of Mt. Hakuzan in Ishikawa Prefecture. By "describing," I mean the process of recording grammatical details such as phonemes and accents and then creating a dictionary for the dialect. Put simply, it means writing a book that will present an overall image of the dialect. The dialect of Shiramine is important in the study of the history of Japan. In a decade or so, its ancient tradition aspect may disappear entirely, so it must be recorded as quickly as possible. I endeavour upon this task of recording and preserving "languages in the danger of extinction" alongside other linguists active worldwide.

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