Comparing Rich Points:
Understanding Japanese Languaculture
Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for
graduation with Research Distinction in Japanese in the
Department of East Asian Languages & Literature at
The Ohio State University
The Ohio State University
Project Advisor: Professor James M. Unger, Department of East Asian Language and Literature
In this thesis, I attempt to show the linguistic and non-linguistic behaviors that are found prominently throughout Japanese society. This paper is divided into two major parts. The first is devoted to describing the prominence of the metaphorical concept LEARNING IS A JOURNEY in the linguistic behavior of Japan. The second describes how the same metaphorical concept is also found throughout the non-linguistic behavior of the Japanese culture.
Based on Lakoff and Johnson’s (1979) general theory of meaning, this paper examines a particular instance of the relationship between Japanese culture and language in detail, namely the Sino-Japanese noun doo ‘road, way’ 道 and native noun miti. Lakoff and Johnson argue convincingly that metaphors are not just literary or poetic uses of words separate from ordinary language use. Metaphorical relations, in their view, are essential to how speakers of a language deal with meanings. One of their key examples is the journey metaphor seen in such English sentences as “We arrived at a conclusion” and “I don’t think our relationship is going anywhere.” For Lakoff and Johnson, such sentences illustrate the metaphors ARGUMENTS ARE JOURNEYS and LOVE IS A JOURNEY.
Sino-Japanese doo is frequently used as a suffix in nouns with meanings that connote a spiritual path or way, or at least some method of self-cultivation. Since the character 道 is customarily glossed miti, this native noun too has that metaphorical connotation. This character was adopted from China by way of the Korean peninsula in
the 1st millennium CE (Frellesvig 2010), where it long had a strong metaphorical connotation (spiritual path or way) already in the classics of the 1st millennium BCE, most notably the Daodejing 道徳経 of Laozi 老子. Today, we see its widespread use in non-Daoist contexts. I argue that these expressions show that the underlying metaphor LEARNING IS A JOURNEY is particularly robust in Japan language life (gengo seikatu 言語生活).
By comparing Japanese doo and miti ‘road, path’ with English journey, we find similarities and differences that can be understood in terms of the concepts languaculture and rich points introduced by Michael Agar in his book Language Shock. As I will discuss in detail in Section 4, Agar argues (1) that language use cannot be understood outside the cultural context in which it is used, and (2) that conspicuous differences in the way two languacultures talk about the same or similar real-world facts and events reveal how they are structured. Human beings have much in common all over the world, so similarities in languacultures are numerous and expected, at least for people living in similar ecological circumstances. Rich points stand out precisely because they occur unexpectedly when one compares two languacultures. By comparing Japanese doo and miti with English journey in Lakoff and Johnson’s sense, I propose to show that the journey metaphor is a locus of an important rich point found within the two languacultures.
I turn to the topic of pilgrimages in the second part of the paper (Section 5). Pilgrimages has long had played a significant role in Japanese religious practice. By the time of the Edo period, a gentleman was expected to cultivate skills in “medicine, poetry, the tea ceremony, music, the hand drum, the noh dance, etiquette, the 3
appreciation of craft work, arithmetic, calculation, literary composition, reading and writing” (Totman 1993,186). Once one has acquired considerable skill in the art of pursuit, they would often...
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