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Campus Now

Early Spring Issue (Mar.)

A WASEDA Miscellany

NEWELL, Anthony

This theme: Connections

NEWELL, Anthony
Professor, Faculty of Political Science and Economics

Q. Could you start by telling me something about your background?

A. I was born in the closing years of the British Empire, when Britain’s colonies were gradually becoming independent. However, Britain still had many schools abroad and every year the government sent British teachers out to teach in them. My own parents were teachers sent to the then-colony of Malta, and that is where I was born. I wasn’t there for long, as my father was soon transferred to Singapore (another of Britain’s colonies), which is where I spent my childhood. It was a wonderful place to grow up—although I attended a British school, my playmates were the Malay, Chinese, and Indian children of the neighborhood, and even though we spoke different languages, we all had fun playing together. I still remember a lot of the Malay phrases I picked up at the time. Later on, in my early teenage years, I returned to Britain, but then my father became the principal of a NATO school in the Netherlands. I entered the German Section of the school and my education continued in a German-speaking environment. Finally, I completed my high school studies at the International School of Milan—another very interesting experience for me, as we spoke English in the morning and Italian in the afternoon. So, as you can see, I was lucky enough to grow up in an international and multilingual environment.

Q. What effect did that sort of background have on you?

A. Well, for one thing, although I have a strong sense of being English, I feel at home in many places outside England. I feel that I am a citizen of “the world” as well as of Britain. When I arrived in Japan, everything was new to me, but I soon felt very much at home (though that has as much to do with the kindness of the people I met as with my background). I would also say my upbringing gave me a love of languages. I am fascinated by their different sounds, their different thinking patterns, and the different nuances of their words. This is what led me to take a degree in linguistics and later to become an English teacher abroad. To a certain extent, we perceive the world around us through the lenses of our language. The words we learn as children help us to divide the world up in different ways. Japanese speakers make many distinctions—types of water (yu and mizu) and types of wearing (kiru, kaburu, hameru, haku), for instance—that English speakers do not make at all. On the other hand, English speakers make distinctions not found in Japanese, such as that between legs and feet (both ashi) and between a book and the book (both simply hon). Native English speakers at first wonder how Japanese speakers can communicate without making such basic distinctions—sometimes without even stating the subject or object of a sentence. In response to the question “What about that book you were thinking of buying?”, a Japanese speaker could simply reply “Katta.” That’s totally impossible in normal English!

Q. Is this the kind of thing you teach in your courses at Waseda?

A. I do teach this kind of thing, but I should add that I am even more interested in teaching about connections. The course I enjoy teaching most is a course on comparative linguistics. There are over 6,000 languages in the world, and in the CL course we categorize them in terms of family relationships, with a particular focus on the languages of Europe. Despite their superficial differences, over 50 European languages belong together in one big family, having developed from an original source spoken many thousands of years ago. Even within languages there are endless fascinating connections to be found. In English, for example, the words we use for the part of the body we call “muscle” and for the seafood “mussel” are both related to the little animal we call a “mouse.” And in Sanskrit, the word dvijah connects teeth, birds, and even brahmin priests. Why? Because dvijah means “twiceborn”: the teeth of children fall out before growing back; birds are born first as eggs, which then hatch; and brahmin priests, who are born as human beings, are later reborn in a spiritual sense. The various languages of the world are full of such fascinating and unsuspected connections.

How languages are connected

Q. Is there a message in this for the students?

A. I guess the message is that our world is one of unending interest, full of connections just waiting to be discovered. We are born with a great sense of curiosity—all children have it—and as we progress through life we should be careful not to lose it. By asking questions and seeking answers, we grow both in mind and in spirit. The academic world these days is split into many different fields, but no field exists in isolation from the others—they are all connected, and if we continue to inquire into the world around us, we can not only increase our store of knowledge but also take pleasure in the making of unexpected discoveries and the finding of countless connections.