Dr Nic Tranter

Dr Nicolas Tranter

Lecturer in Japanese Studies

BA, PhD (Sheffield)

Contact details
Email: n.tranter@sheffield.ac.uk
Tel: 0114 222 8433
Room: B13


I studied Modern Japanese, Classical Japanese, Korean and theoretical linguistics at the University of Sheffield, graduating in Japanese Studies and Linguistics in 1987 and receiving a PhD in 1992. I have taught Modern Japanese, Classical Japanese and East Asian linguistics in the School of East Asian Studies since 1990, and became a tenured lecturer in 2000. I have a strong fascination with languages, both in the beauty of their structures and systems, and as windows into different worlds and cultures. I have taught myself to read a range of languages and have qualifications in seven non-East Asian languages (including Latin, Sanskrit and Biblical Hebrew) in addition to my higher qualifications in Japanese.


SEAS Research Cluster

East Asian Text and Culture

My interest lies in the area of comparative, contrastive and contact/historical linguistics of East Asia, considering both changes in the phonology, grammar and script of individual languages and the nature and effects of contact between the major and minor languages of the region. Recent work has included research into the borrowing of words into Korean from English or via Japanese, and the nature of linguistic borrowing in the modern world.

Another current major area of research is the nature and development of phonographic (i.e. alphabetical or syllabic) and 'morphosyllabic' or  'logographic '(i.e. Chinese character-based) scripts in the region in a broader cross-linguistic context. I am analysing and comparing the internal structure of Chinese character script as it is used synchronically with that of Egyptian and Sumerian scripts, as well as how the internal structure changes through script simplification policies in China or through the adaptation of the script to other languages, such as Japanese, Vietnamese or Zhuang.

Research Supervision

I supervise Ph.D. theses on East Asian theoretical linguistics, and welcomes applications to carry out postgraduate research on the theory of writing systems either in general or specific to East Asia; linguistic borrowing and loanwords in East Asia, or related comparative, contrastive or contact/historical linguistics issues; or theoretical linguistic aspects of Modern or Classical Japanese phonology and grammar.

Ph.D. Theses Supervised

  • Paul Woods, 'Corpus-Based Investigation of Noun Classifiers in Mandarin Chinese' (co-supervisor; student registered in Computer Science; Ph.D. degree awarded 1997).
  • Kathryn Allen, 'The Theory of Foreign Language Learning Strategies Applied to the Learning of the Japanese Script in UK Universities' (Ph.D. degree awarded 2000).
  • Simon Forth, 'Sociolinguistic phenomena associated with loan-words in Japanese' (Ph.D. degree awarded 2006).
  • Mark Irwin, 'The development of the moraic /Q/ in morpheme-final /-ki/ + morpheme-initial /k-/ in Sino-Japanese compounds' (Ph.D. degree awarded 2006).
  • Daniel Young, 'Script Issues in Xinjiang: nationalism, commerce, computers, convenience' (White Rose co-supervisor to student at Leeds University; Ph.D. degree awarded 2011).

I teach the following modules:
EAS139 The Languages and Writing Systems of East Asia
EAS232 Evolution of the Japanese Language

I also contribute to:
EAS332 Japanese Language V
EAS351 Japanese for Non-Specialists V
EAS352 Japanese for Non-Specialists VI

Teaching Philosophy

My own interests in language have always been in learning to read other languages as windows to fascinating and different cultures and worldviews, and this underlies both my teaching and also my own compulsion to learn other languages. For me, language learning must be rewarding and lead to enjoyment. The traditional way of teaching languages that I experienced at school in is against my nature; this led to me lasting just one week of formal Latin classes, and choosing to study Japanese from scratch instead of continuing with French at university.

My teaching has always been predominantly the teaching of the Japanese language, either Modern or Classical, particularly reading and translation skills. My approach is to encourage maximum understanding of the language and how it works with the minimum use of linguistic theory, because even though I am a theoretical linguist my students generally are not. Instead I focus heavily on the range of strategies that students can use to tackle texts or increase their own abilities in the language, and on reading to understand Japan and enjoying the texts in their own right. I also encourage students not just to accept what they are told, but to work out as much as they can themselves.

EAS232 (Evolution of the Japanese Language) is currently the only language module that I teach entirely myself, and it illustrates my general approach. The module is a fast-paced introduction to Classical Japanese for students who have been studying Modern Japanese for three semesters. My teaching encourages students to work out as much as they can themselves, and there are only three grammar classes on the module; the rest of the module involves guided reading of authentic materials with a strong emphasis on acquiring and using specific reading strategies and researching the historical and cultural background, and students read part of a 1900 text written in Classical Japanese, working out themselves the differences between it and the modern language they have been studying, even before they have a formal grammar class. The assessment of the module also reflects my approach: it is assessed by annotated translation of authentic texts that they have not seen before into English, and students are expected not only to produce a translation into good, accurate English, but also to justify their translations and to research and explain every cultural reference in detail.

Key Publications

Introduction: typology and area in Japan and Korea' (2012), in Nicolas Tranter (ed.) The Languages of Japan and Korea (London: Routledge), 3-23.

'Classical Japanese' (2012), in Nicolas Tranter (ed.) The Languages of Japan and Korea (London: Routledge), 212-245.

'Modern Japanese' (2012), with Mika Kizu, in Nicolas Tranter (ed.) The Languages of Japan and Korea (London: Routledge),268-312.

'Graphic loans: East Asia and beyond' (Forthcoming), WORD 58 (1).

'Non-conventional script choice in Japan' (2008) International Journal of the Sociology of Language 192: 133-151.

'The "ideal square" of logographic scripts and the structural similarities of Khitan script and han'gŭl' (2002), in Sang-oak Lee, Gregory K. Iverson, with Sang-cheol Ahn and Young-mee Yu Cho (eds.) Pathways into Korean Language and Culture: Essays in Honor of Young-key Kim-Renaud (Seoul: Pagijong Press), 503-522.

'The Asukaike word-list slat and pre-Sino-Japanese phonology' (2001),  in T. E. McAuley (ed.) Language Change in East Asia, (London: Curzon Press), 143-160.

'Script "borrowing", cultural influence and the development of the written vernacular in East Asia' (2001), in T.E. McAuley (ed.) Language Change in East Asia (London: Curzon Press), 180-204.

'The phonology of English loan-words in Korean' (2000), WORD 51(3):377-404

'Hybrid Anglo-Japanese loanwords in Korean' (1997) Linguistics 35: 133-166.

'Classifiers: cutting up the world in East Asian languages' (1996), SEAS EARC Research Papers in East Asian Studies.