Conceptualizations of Silence: Where Language and Culture Meet in Japanese and Beyond
Although it may seem paradoxical, it is common to represent silence in language. We could even say that lack of sound is as expressive as its presence. But languages differ widely in the specific linguistic and rhetorical modes through which such vivid depictions of silence are achieved. In Japanese, for example, sounds coming from insects, small animals, ocean waves, leaves, all evoke silence, and devices such as onomatopoeia link sound to the other senses. Underlying all these linguistic mechanisms is the perception of the symbiotic relationship between sound and silence, a perception deeply embedded in cultural experience. Depiction of silence through language, in other words, cannot be understood without exploring what sound or silence mean to the speakers. Conceptualizations of Silence brings the tools of both linguistics and cultural analysis to bear in analyzing the remarkably rich array of representations of silence in Japanese language and culture.
Natsuko Tsujimura is Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. A renowned expert in Japanese linguistics, Tsujimura is author and editor of seven books and dozens of articles. Her work has received support from the Japan Foundation and the Northeast Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies.