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Linguistic diversity in and around Japan


Admission requirements

Basic proficiency in Japanese and some background in linguistics is useful. Do not hesitate to contact the instructor in case of questions.


How did the Japanese language develop from its recorded beginnings until the present day? What other indigenous languages and dialects are currently spoken on the Japanese Islands? What is the relationship between standard Japanese and the other languages of Japan? To what extent is the Japanese language similar to other languages spoken in Asia? Can we explain these external similarities by genealogical relationship or should they all be attributed to areal influences?
In an attempt to provide a (partial) answer to these questions, the course will be divided into four parts:
1. Diachronic diversity in Japan,
2. Synchronic diversity in Japan,
3. Diversity around Japan and
4. Unity in diversity. In the first part, we will deal with the historical variants of the Japanese language, i.e. Old Japanese, Middle Japanese, Modern Japanese and Contemporary Japanese. In the second part, we will turn our attention towards other linguistic varieties spoken on the Japanese Islands, such as Ainu. In addition, we will discuss the status of the Ryukyuan languages and explore regional variants of the Japanese language. Thirdly, we will proceed to varieties outside Japan. To this end, we will first pay attention to Korean, the foreign language displaying the highest degree of parallelism with Japanese. Then we will extend our comparisons to the so-called “Transeurasian” (Tungusic, Mongolic and Turkic languages) and Sinitic languages and, finally, include languages in the greater Asian region. In the fourth part of our course, we will evaluate the relationship between Japanese and the other languages in Asia from both an areal and a genealogical perspective.

Course objectives

By the end of the course, successful students are expected to:
(1) have a linguistic understanding of the historical and regional variants of the Japanese language as well as of other languages spoken in the area around Japan.
(2) be able to discuss basic issues of linguistic diversity in Asia before scholarly and general audiences.
(3) be able to locate, comprehend, summarize and critically present readings in the field.
(4) get inspiration for isolating research questions for the purpose of developing an MA dissertation or other research projects.
(5) be able to conduct independent research into comparative aspects of the Japanese language.
(6) like linguistics.


see Timetable

Mode of instruction

Classes are work-intensive and consist of a combination of lectures, discussions, assignments and student presentations. Students are required to read the materials assigned for the day before coming to class, actively participate in discussions and submit the required papers and assignments by the relevant deadlines.

Course Load

Total course load for the course (10 EC x 28 hours) is 280 hours including:

  • 22 hours (11 courses x 2 hours) for attending classes

  • 110 hours (11 courses x 10 hours) for studying the compulsory literature

  • 33 hours (11 courses x 3 hours) for completing assignments

  • 65 hours for writing a research paper (corresponding to a chapter of the MA dissertation)

  • 50 hours to prepare an oral presentation of the concept of the MA dissertation

Assessment method

Attendance and participation: 30%
Assignments and exercises: 10%
Research paper: 30%
Oral presentation: 30%
The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average. Resits involve re-completing assignments, rewriting the research paper and presenting a revised concept of the MA dissertation.


Blackboard is used and includes all the relevant information related to the course such as course syllabus, course schedule, required readings, keynote presentations, course materials, useful links, etc. All students need to be enrolled.

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Dr. Martine Robbeets
Arsenaal 0.20