Investigating the Mind through Language

When translating Japanese into other languages, we mainly focus on grammar and vocabulary.  So does a computer.  However, Professor Machida considers that our increased use of AI technology for ease of translation is leading to evermore encounters with translation difficulties.  This is because we subconsciously speak in a style that includes such elements as perspective, cognition, culture and interpersonal interactions.  An aim of Professor Machida’s research is to theorize “the mind” as is embedded in, and unique to each different language, which might humanize AI further.

Bibliographic information

Akira Machida.  "Subjectivity and Verbalization of Invisible Participant: Objectification as a Cognitive Operation". Papers from the 12th National Conference of the Japanese Cognitive Linguistics Association. 2012, Vol.12, p.246-258.(Japanese)

Researcher profile

Akira Machida
Graduate School of Integrated Arts and Sciences, Associate Professor
Research Fields: Humanities;Linguistics;Linguistics

It is often pointed out that in Japanese, if the speaker is the subject of a sentence, the subject is frequently omitted.  For example, in everyday conversation, subjects are often omitted, as in “kinou, kouen ni itta” (“went to the park yesterday”), as opposed to being included, as in “kinou, boku wa kouen ni itta” (“I went to the park yesterday”).  There is another phenomenon that, at first glance, appears to be the same type of subject omission, but this is not actually the case.  For example, sentences like “mazu, yasai o itame masu” (“first, fry the vegetables”) often appear in TV cooking shows.  

In this case, it cannot be said that the subject of the sentence is omitted, since adding the possible subject to it leads the sentence to sound unnatural, as in “mazu, watashi/anata/watashitachi ga yasai o itame masu” (“first, I/you/we fry the vegetables”).

This study considers issues like this from the perspective of human event cognition. For example, imagine yourself participating in a boxing match.  At the very least, this type of situation can be seen from two different perspectives.

Figure 1(Perspective from self)

Figure 2(Perspective from other)

One is the perspective of the speaker as a participant in the situation.  With this perspective, the speaker does not perceive himself/herself, as shown in Figure 1.  The other is shown in Figure 2, which illustrates a confrontation between the speaker and the other boxer.  With this perspective, the speaker perceives himself/herself.  Of course, Figure 1 is closer to what the speaker would see in reality, because it is impossible to see oneself from one’s own perspective.  However, it is actually possible to perceive oneself by objectifying oneself, as shown in Figure 2.  When the speaker expresses an event without objectifying himself/herself in this manner, the expression will be like “first, fry the vegetables”, where the subject does not appear, reflecting the fact that the speaker performing the event cannot view himself/herself.  This example shows that linguistic phenomena cannot be examined in isolation, and should be studied with careful attention to the various cognitive processes behind them.

Prof. Machida’s other publications