The Northeast Asia is one of the unique points on the globe where there are many language isolates and portmanteau families. From a conservative point of view, the Japanese language is a member of such a portmanteau family that has recently and increasingly been called Japonic in the Western literature. While Japanese is unquestionably a member of this Japonic language family, which consists of two Japanese languages (Japanese itself and the moribund Hachijō language) and four or five relatively closely related Ryūkyūan languages (Amami, Okinawan, Miyako, Yaeyama, and possibly Yonaguni), attempts have also been made to establish a genetic relationship between Japanese and various other language families. Most of these attempts have been amateurish, a major exception being the Koreo-Japonic hypothesis, which still remains unproven as well. It is also quite likely that the Japonic language family (or, more precisely, Insular Japonic) is the only linguistic grouping whose genetic relationship can be established beyond any doubt. A genetic relationship is also likely to exist between Japonic and a number of fragmentarily attested languages that once flourished in the south and center of the Korean Peninsula, but that died out no later than 9th century A.D. The paucity of material available does not allow one to establish solid predictive-productive regular correspondences in many cases, but intuitively the genetic relationship seems to be a matter of fact. Anything beyond intuition, however, lies in the realm of conjecture and speculation. The alleged Koreo-Japonic relationship is best explained by a centuries-long contact relationship rather than by common origin, given such factors as the virtual absence of any kind of shared paradigmatic morphology, as well as by multiple problems in establishing the real (and not imaginable or made-to-fit) regular correspondences. The Japanese-“Altaic” hypothesis is even more speculative and far-fetched. Consequently, the conclusion is that the Japanese language or the Japonic language family has no demonstrable relationship with any other language family or language isolate on the planet.
It has been an ongoing issue within generative linguistics how to properly analyze morpho-phonological processes. Morpho-phonological processes typically have exceptions, but nonetheless they are often productive. Such productive, but exceptionful, processes are difficult to analyze, since grammatical rules or constraints are normally invoked in the analysis of a productive pattern, whereas exceptions undermine the validity of the rules and constraints. In addition, productivity of a morpho-phonological process may be gradient, possibly reflecting the relative frequency of the relevant pattern in the lexicon. Simple lexical listing of exceptions as suppletive forms would not be sufficient to capture such gradient productivity of a process with exceptions. It is then necessary to posit grammatical rules or constraints even for exceptionful processes as long as they are at least in part productive. Moreover, the productivity can be correctly estimated only when the domain of rule application is correctly identified. Consequently, a morpho-phonological process cannot be properly analyzed unless we possess both the correct description of its application conditions and the appropriate stochastic grammatical mechanisms to capture its productivity. The same issues arise in the analysis of morpho-phonological processes in Korean, in particular, n-insertion, sai-siot, and vowel harmony. Those morpho-phonological processes have many exceptions and variations, which make them look quite irregular and unpredictable. However, they have at least a certain degree of productivity. Moreover, the variable application of each process is still systematic in that various factors, phonological, morphosyntactic, sociolinguistic, and processing, contribute to the overall probability of rule application. Crucially, grammatical rules and constraints, which have been proposed within generative linguistics to analyze categorical and exceptionless phenomena, may form an essential part of the analysis of the morpho-phonological processes in Korean. For an optimal analysis of each of the morpho-phonological processes in Korean, the correct conditions and domains for its application need to be identified first, and its exact productivity can then be measured. Finally, the appropriate stochastic grammatical mechanisms need to be found or developed in order to capture the measured productivity.
Traditional Chinese linguistics grew out of two distinct interests in language: the philosophical reflection on things and their names, and the practical concern for literacy education and the correct understanding of classical works. The former is most typically found in the teachings of such pre-Qin masters as Confucius, Mozi, and Gongsun Long, who lived between the 6th and 3rd centuries bc, the latter in the enormous number of dictionaries, textbooks, and research works which, as a reflection of the fact that most Chinese morphemes are monosyllabic, are centered around the pronunciations, written forms, and meanings of these monosyllabic morphemes, or zi (“characters”) as they are called in Chinese. Apparently, it was the latter, philological, interest that motivated the bulk of the Chinese linguistic tradition, giving rise to such important works as Shuowen Jiezi and Qieyun, and culminating in the scholarship of the Qing Dynasty (1616–1911). But at the bottom, the philosophical concern never ceased to exist: The dominating idea that all things should have their rightful names just as they should occupy their rightful places in the universe, for example, was behind the compilation of Shuowen Jiezi and many other works. Further, the development of philology, or xiaoxue (“basic learning”), was strongly influenced by the study of philosophical thoughts, or daxue (“greater learning”), throughout its history. The picture just presented, in which Chinese philosophy and philology are combined to form a seemingly autonomous tradition, is complicated, however, by the fact that the Indic linguistic tradition started to influence the Chinese in the 2nd century ad, causing remarkable changes in the analyzing techniques (especially regarding character pronunciation), findings, and course of development of language studies in China. Most crucially, scholars began to realize that syllables had internal structures and that the pronunciation of one character could be represented by two others that shared the same initial and final with it respectively. This technique, known as fanqie, laid the basis for the illustrious 7th-century rhyme dictionary Qieyun, the rhyme table Yunjing, and a great many works that followed. These works, besides providing reference for verse composition (and, consequently, for the imperial examinations held to select government officials), proved such an essential tool in the philological study of classical works, that many Qing scholars, at the very height of traditional Chinese linguistics, regarded character pronunciation as central to xiaoxue and indispensable for the understanding of ancient texts. While character pronunciation received overwhelming attention, the studies of character form and meaning continued to develop, though they were frequently influenced by and sometimes combined with the study of character pronunciation, as in the analysis of the relations between Old Chinese sound categories and the phonetic components of Chinese characters and in their application in the exegetical investigation of classical texts. Chinese, with its linguistic tradition, had a profound impact in ancient East Asia. Not only did traditional studies of Japanese, Tangut, and other languages show significant Chinese influence, under which not the least achievement was the invention of the earliest writing systems for these languages, but many scholars from Japan and Korea actually took an active part in the study of Chinese as well, so that the Chinese linguistic tradition would itself be incomplete without the materials and findings these non-Chinese scholars have contributed. On the other hand, some of these scholars, most notably Motoori Norinaga and Fujitani Nariakira in Japan, were able to free themselves from the character-centered Chinese routine and develop rather original linguistic theories.
Scrambling is one of the most widely discussed and prominent factors affecting word order variation in Korean. Scrambling in Korean exhibits various syntactic and semantic properties that cannot be subsumed under the standard A/A'-movement. Clause-external scrambling as well as clause-internal scrambling in Korean show mixed A/A'-effects in a range of tests such as anaphor binding, weak crossover, Condition C, negative polarity item licensing, wh-licensing, and scopal interpretation. VP-internal scrambling, by contrast, is known to be lack of reconstruction effects conforming to the claim that short scrambling is A-movement. Clausal scrambling, on the other hand, shows total reconstructions effects, unlike phrasal scrambling. The diverse properties of Korean scrambling have received extensive attention in the literature. Some studies argue that scrambling is a type of feature-driven A-movement with special reconstruction effects. Others argue that scrambling can be A-movement or A'-movement depending on the landing site. Yet others claim that scrambling is not standard A/A'-movement, but must be treated as cost-free movement with optional reconstruction effects. Each approach, however, faces non-trivial empirical and theoretical challenges, and further study is needed to understand the complex nature of scrambling. As the theory develops in the Minimalist Program, a variety of proposals have also been advanced to capture properties of scrambling without resorting to A/A'-distinctions. Scrambling in Korean applies optionally but not randomly. It may be blocked due to various factors in syntax and its interfaces in the grammar. At the syntax proper, scrambling obeys general constraints on movement (e.g., island conditions, left branch condition, coordinate structure condition, proper binding condition, ban on string vacuous movement). Various semantic and pragmatic factors (e.g., specificity, presuppositionality, topic, focus) also play a crucial role in acceptability of sentences with scrambling. Moreover, current studies show that certain instances of scrambling are filtered out at the interface due to cyclic Spell-out and linearization, which strengthens the claim that scrambling is not a free option. Data from Korean pose important challenges against base-generation approaches to scrambling, and lend further credence to the view that scrambling is an instance of movement. The exact nature of scrambling in Korean—whether it is cost-free or feature-driven—must be further investigated in future research, however. The research on Korean scrambling leads us to the pursuit of a general theory, which covers obligatory A/A'-movement as well as optional displacement with mixed semantic effects in languages with free word order.
“Altaic” is a common term applied by linguists to a number of language families, spread across Central Asia and the Far East and sharing a large, most likely non-coincidental, number of structural and morphemic similarities. At the onset of Altaic studies, these similarities were ascribed to the one-time existence of an ancestral language—“Proto-Altaic,” from which all these families are descended; circumstantial evidence and glottochronological calculations tentatively date this language to some time around the 6th–7th millennium bc, and suggest Southern Siberia or adjacent territories (hence the name “Altaic”) as the original homeland of its speakers. However, since the mid-20th century the dominant view in historical linguistics has shifted to that of an “Altaic Sprachbund” (diffusion area), implying that the families in question have not sprung from a common source, but rather have acquired their similarities over a long period of mutual linguistic contact. The bulk of “Altaic” has traditionally included such uncontroversial families as Turkic, Mongolic, and Manchu-Tungusic; additionally, Japanese (Japonic) and Korean are also frequently seen as potential members of the larger Altaic family (the entire five branches are sometimes referred to as “Macro-Altaic”). The debate over the nature of the relationship between the various units that constitute “Altaic,” sometimes referred to as “the Altaic controversy,” has been one of the most hotly debated topics in 20th-century historical linguistics and a major focal point of studies dealing with the prehistory of Central and East Eurasia. Supporters of “Proto-Altaic,” commonly known as “(pro-)Altaicists,” claim that only divergence from an original common ancestor can account for the observed regular phonetic correspondences and other structural similarities, whereas “anti-Altaicists,” without denying the existence of such similarities, insist that they do not belong to the “core” layers of the respective languages and are therefore better explained as results of lexical borrowing and other forms of areal linguistic contact. As a rule, “pro-Altaicists” claim that “Proto-Altaic” is as reconstructible by means of the classic comparative method as any uncontroversial linguistic family; in support of this view, they have produced several attempts to assemble large bodies of etymological evidence for the hypothesis, backed by systems of regular phonetic correspondences between compared languages. All of these, however, have been heavily criticized by “anti-Altaicists” for lack of methodological rigor, implausibility of proposed phonetic and/or semantic changes, and confusion of recent borrowings with items allegedly inherited from a common ancestor. Despite the validity of many of these objections, it remains unclear whether they are sufficient to completely discredit the hypothesis of a genetic connection between the various branches of “Altaic,” which continues to be actively supported by a small, but stable scholarly minority.