In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Word Formation in Japanese

  • Introduction
  • Surveys and Textbooks
  • Journals and Edited Collections
  • Productivity and Creativity
  • Interface of Morphology and Phonology
  • Word Formation beyond Morphological Words

Linguistics Word Formation in Japanese
Taro Kageyama
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 March 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0194


The term “word formation” is used here as a broad term covering a wide array of word formation processes and morphological issues related to syntax and semantics. The reason Japanese is specifically focused on is that this language, though lacking a complicated system of agreement-based inflections and declensions that are common to inflectional and polysynthetic types of languages, is rich in word formation processes that straddle the boundaries of morphology, syntax, semantics, and phonology and is therefore considered to have good potential to contribute toward theorizing the place of morphology in the overall architecture of grammatical modules. Japanese has a wealth of concatenative and nonconcatenative word formation processes that produce complex words by compounding, affixation, conversion, inflection, blending, clipping, and other mechanisms, which are often conditioned by differences of lexical strata (native, Sino-Japanese, foreign, and mimetic). This article chiefly treats concatenative morphology, with brief reference to nonconcatenative morphology. Besides, the agglutinative character of Japanese makes it difficult to identify “words” in a unitary manner as in European languages. Defining the notion of “word” is also a key issue in mulling over the word formation phenomena in this language.

Foundational and Seminal Works

Current linguistic studies on Japanese word formation build on two kinds of discipline: the traditional philological discipline in Japan and the theory-oriented discipline linked with generative, cognitive, and other general linguistic research in the West. This section provides a quick review of foundational and seminal works in both disciplines by dividing them into two periods: (i) in the Early 20th Century and Before and (ii) From the Late 20th Century on.

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