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Monitoring English borrowings

This was the first I’d heard of the National Institute for Japanese Language, which at first blush I assumed to be similar to L’Academie Francaise. It appears, though, that rather than purifying for purification’s sake, NIJL seeks understandability across age groups. So, borrowings that cannot be understood by senior citizens are purged from the official language used in government publications, broadcasts, etc. (I’m not sure how far this purging is enforced.)

However, this purge seems to be only one of NIJL’s many functions. Primarily, they seem to be linguists!

The things they’ve done sound remarkably like things I’m interested in studying. Look at that table of contents! Wow!

I randomly picked this summary as an example (II.2.6. Japanese Homonymy and Its Problems, 1961):

It is said that there are many homonyms obstructing communication in modern Japanese. The degree and characteristics of the obstruction are not uniform, however, the purposes of this study were to determine the real degree to which the semantic ambiguity of homonyms occurs, to analyze the factors working to distinguish homonyms, and to see what problems are encountered in the promotion of communication.

There is considerable ambiguity in some homonyms and not in others. We therefore classified homonyms first, laying down the following criteria: (1) sociological differences, (2) grammatical differences, (3) idiomatic or non-idiomatic, (4) differences in tones, (5) productivity, and (6) frequency.

Besides these characteristics of homonyms themselves, the discrimination of homonyms is influenced by the users’ knowledge. On this point we made an experiment using students of high schools and universities. We found that all homonyms can be discriminated to some extent either by characteristics of the words themselves (for example, part of speech, idiomatic usage, productivity, word-construction, etc.), by phase differences, or by context. It was also made clear that few homonyms except homonymic synonyms have no clue of discrimination. It was also established that the problems of homonyms greatly depend upon the readers’ age and experience.

I’m going to save this pdf and start reading it. This is fascinating. I sort of doubt that the full works are available in English, but I’m definitely going to look into it.