A Diachronic Shift in Japanese Word Length Distribution


  • Wenchao Li Zhejiang University, China




Japanese, Word Length, Genre, Measuring Unit, Mora, Syllable, Writing System


Given the typological differences between the Indo-European languages, which are fusional, and Japanese, which is agglutinative, the debate around the measuring unit of Japanese word length is unsurprising. This study delved into diachronic issues and calculated word length in Old, Early Middle, Middle, Early Modern, and Modern Japanese using data from eight writing systems, including 21 genres. This study aimed to clarify how word length distribution has shifted throughout history. The findings revealed that word length is associated with the writing system. Old Japanese bore the longest length, as it was utterly logographic. Since Early Middle Japanese, Japanese text has been written using a phonographic and logographic mix, and word length appears shorter. Furthermore, word length is associated with the diversity of genres. Moreover, an investigation of word length and frequency indicated that textbooks, sharehon, ninjoohon, and tales, which appeared after the Nara Period and used mixed Chinese character and kana writing, fit into the power law function.


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How to Cite

Li, W. (2022). A Diachronic Shift in Japanese Word Length Distribution. Canadian Journal of Language and Literature Studies, 2(5), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.53103/cjlls.v2i5.64