Older grammar books tend to rely on a lot of romanization to teach the nitty-gritty of morphology, which is also reflected in some of @snail's answers like this one. I was reading Samuel Elmo Martin's 1975 book Reference Grammar of Japanese and noticed how verbs are described (P. 308):

  1. Transitivization, in which an underlying intransitive verb (such as kawak- 'get dry') is converted into a transitive verb (kawakas- 'dry it') by the addition of a suffix, here -as-.
  2. Intransitivization, in which an underlying transitive verb (such as hasam- 'interpose') is converted into an intransitive (hasamar- 'is interposed') by the addition of a suffix, here -ar-.
  3. Polarization, in which both transitive and intransitive are to be derived from some hypothetical basic form : e.g. naor- 'get improved' and naos- 'improve it' seem to be derived, by the suffixes -(a)s- and -(a)r- respectively, from a nonexistent verb *nao­- (etymologically to be found in the adverb nao 'yet, rather').

Just as @snail did in her answer, Martin also breaks up syllables/morae and splits consonants from their pairing vowels when illustrating morphological changes. Also he calls "-as-" in the word kawakasu 乾かす a suffix. In his theoretical framework, a word like 乾かす has two suffixes, -as- being one of them.

Hence my questions:

  1. Why is morphological analysis done at this level? Does it have to be done this way? Or is this kind of morphological analysis—anchored in romanization—a thing of the past?

  2. How is morpheme defined in Japanese? Nothing about its clear definition can be found on either the English morpheme Wikipedia page or the Japanese 形態素 Wikipedia page. Has there been more than one definition? Morphemes are supposed to be the smallest meaningful lexical item in a language, but in Martin's theoretical framework morphemes are not bound by morae or 仮名. This kind of morphology, it seems to me at least, would make sense in a phonetic and alphabetically based language, but the Japanese language had long existed before the language, the land, and the people had contact with alphabets and way before romanization attempts were made. It's almost as if no morphology is possible without alphabets and phonemic letters.

  3. How is suffix defined in Japanese morphology or morphologies I should say? The information available here on 接尾辞 seems more intuitive and 仮名-based.

  • 1
    Morpheme seems to mean a variety of things linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/39066/… Also kind of related linguistics.stackexchange.com/q/17121/34148
    – sundowner
    Apr 27, 2022 at 8:31
  • 1
    There is no such thing as alphabetically based language - the spoken language comes first. But I feel that you are aware of that. Japanese is special in a way but not that special. Sorry, if I am writing obvious things. Apr 27, 2022 at 8:33
  • 2
    @EddieKal erm. Oral-only (correct English term escapes me at the moment) languages has morphology as well. Often much richer than written languages (such as English that has almost no morphology from the point of view if someone coming from highly inflecting language ;) So, no, morphology is study of word form, it doesn't matter whether it has written representation. Moreover, written representation often diverge from the phonetics (English I am looking at you) and only interferes with word analysis. Also, think about language such as Hebrew which doesn't mark it vowels (at least originally) Apr 27, 2022 at 15:45
  • 1
    @EddieKal Would you analyze it (Hebrew) using only consonants of the word - of course not. Apr 27, 2022 at 15:51
  • 2
    @EddieKal never mind Hebrew. My position is that written language is a nice addition, sometimes convenient, very important for historical analysis, invaluable for dead languages, but entirely secondary when analyzing a living language. I more or less take it for granted and my understanding is that is a consensus in contemporary linguistics (putting aside language freaks, and I am not implying anything), but I can try finding some citations. I find it hard to think otherwise - take any amazonian language - does it has morphemes? But of course Apr 27, 2022 at 16:43


You must log in to answer this question.