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13 May 2011
Did the Japanese come from Korea?

A team of researchers have been delving into the origins of the Japanese people, with some interesting findings. The research was centred on a study of Japanese dialects with the aim of finding the roots of the language. The language family is known as Japonic and this includes Japanese and a similar language called Ryukyuan, which is spoken in the chain of islands to the south of Japan. Whilst, genetically, the modern Japanese are descended from two main migrant streams, the Jomon culture and the Yayoi culture, the linguistic roots were provided by the Yayoi.
     The hunter-gatherer Jomons were the first to arrive, using land bridges at the end of the last Ice Age. They were joined, approximately 2,400 years ago, by the agricultural Yayoi. Whilst there is almost equitable genetic evidence of both cultures in the modern Japanese population, it is the Yayoi language which was the stronger. The Yayoi can be traced back to the Korean Peninsula and it was this link that the Japanese used tro justify the occupation of Korea and Manchuria during the Second World War.
     The linguistic link was provided by a method known as the 'Bayesian phylogeny'. This uses a computer to map several language trees using a limited vocabulary of approximate 200 words which are known to evolve slowly. By feeding all the data from the dialect studies into this computer model, a date of 2,182 years ago was predicted for the origin of Japonic, and this fits with the arrival of the Yayoi. Whilst John B Whitman, of the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics in Tokyo refers to the results as "solid and reasonable", other linguists are far more skeptical.

Edited from The New York Times (4 May 2011)

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