Research focus at the chair

Research at the chair focuses on the interrelated areas of language history, the history and typology of writing systems as well as the history of history of language study and of collections (for complete bibliographical references, see the personal pages of Sven Osterkamp, Gordian Schreiber and Sophie Takahashi). In addition to varieties of Japanese and the closely related Ryukyuan languages, other East Asian languages occasionally come into play as well.

Japanese language history since its textually documented beginnings in Old Japanese is on the one hand dealt with in terms of phonology. Here, wooden tablets used as writing material (so-called mokkan) from the 7th and 8th centuries serve as a source for Old Japanese phonology (Osterkamp 2017d), or the history of Japanese phonetics and phonology since the Middle Japanese period is treated from the perspective of Korean and other non-Japanese sources (Osterkamp 2024d). On the other hand, grammatical aspects are also taken into consideration, for example so-called genitive subjects in Classical Japanese (Osterkamp 2014b), but also the question of the periodization of Japanese language history based on grammatical changes at the transition from Old to Classical Japanese (Osterkamp 2021b). Most of the sources made use of in this area are direct witnesses of inner-Asian as well as Japanese-European language and script contact.

In the history of writing, the focus has so far been on the writing of Old Japanese, in particular on the phenomenon of disyllabic phonograms (Osterkamp 2011), and on various predominantly morphographic writing styles (Schreiber 2022). In both cases, these are phenomena of direct relevance to the field of writing system typology in general. Accordingly, research at the chair also extends beyond Japanese here. In recent years, some of the foundations of writing system typology have been addressed, such as the dichotomy of phonography and morphography (Osterkamp & Schreiber 2021a) and polygraphy (Osterkamp & Schreiber 2022). A new approach to the description and typological classification of writing systems is currently being developed (Osterkamp & Schreiber in press).

While the third area, the history of language study, often concerns materials that are also relevant to language history or the history of writing, it maintains a perspective of its own. So far, overviews of the first centuries of European knowledge of Ryukyuan (Osterkamp 2015a) and Korean (Osterkamp 2011a) have been presented. However, due to the immense amount of material available, works on Japanese have generally focused on specific individuals and their work. European scholars of the early modern period such as Andreas Müller (1630–1694) or Lorenzo Hervás (1735–1809) and their work on the Japanese writing system (Osterkamp 2010c, 2015d) are just as relevant here as, for example, the polyglot interpreter Yoshio Gonnosuke (1785–1831) in Nagasaki and his comparative grammar of Japanese and Dutch (Osterkamp 2023a).

Several manuscript fragments of the latter work have been identified among the Bochum Sieboldiana, which also illustrates the close connection between the history of language study and collection history. Apart from works on the collections of Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796–1866) and his circle (Osterkamp 2010a, 2014c, 2015b, 2015c), the provenance of Jesuit prints from Japan and the network of their first owners in the 17th and 18th centuries have recently been investigated (Osterkamp in press). The perusal of historical catalogs of various collections and comparable sources has also repeatedly led to the discovery of new sources, in recent years especially those from the context of the early Christian missionary work in Japan:

  • manuscript precursors kept at the Vatican Library of Diego Collado's grammar printed in Latin in 1632 (Osterkamp 2014a)
  • a manuscript of the Jesuit Compendia in Japanese translation kept at Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel (Osterkamp 2020b, 2023b; Takahashi 2023a)
  • a printed Jesuit confessionary kept at Utrecht University Library (Osterkamp 2022b, 2024c)