Japanese lingual origins

7 May 2011

An article in the New York Times (see www.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/world/asia/04/language.html ) reports on research into Japanese language origins, tracing it the arrival of wet rice farmer around 400BC via Korea. They are known as the Yayoi but the actual route of immigration is a bit of a puzzle as they would first have had to colonise the relatively cold climate of Korea before moving south into Japan. There is in effect a dark age, a period of several hundred years at some stage within the first millennium BC which appears to reflect the C14 anomalies in dating in other parts of the world at this stage of history. Rice cultivation began in southern China and spread from there into India and SE Asia as well as northern China, Korea and Japan. It seems clear the Japanese language arrived with the influx of farmers - that is the finding. This is important as it lends weight to the argument that Indo European languages entered Europe, central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, with the spread of agriculture as well, the higher birthrate leading to lingual dominance over hunter gatherers. However, the Jomon people, with a culture defined as hunting, gathering and fishing, but probably also a certain degree of gardening, may actually go back 30,000 years ago - to a time when Japan was joined to the East Asian land mass. Jomon culture is well known from the Bolling-Alleroed warm phase between the end of the Ice Age and the Younger Dryas event. If they were also resident in Japan and the what is now a wide arc of islands as early as 30,000 years ago this is perhaps a marker that it was perhaps warmer in the Far East than it was in Europe during the Late Glacial Maximum, particularly pertinent if the axis of rotation differed during the Ice Age.