New Kyurizukai
As a junior high school student, Dr. Sugiyama was first exposed to English and became interested in differences among languages, which paved the way for going into linguistics. She went on to graduate school in the United States to study semantics, but her interest soon shifted to phonetics. She was attracted to phonetics because, unlike other areas in linguistics, the target of analysis, waveforms, has a physical reality, which can be objectively separated from the analyzer. Upon returning to Japan, she joined her alma mater Keio University, where she currently serves as an English language teacher while also conducting research in an interdisciplinary environment.

How did you spend your childhood?
      Born in Aichi Prefecture, I was raised in a family of four: parents, a younger brother and myself. When I was young, I was a going-my-way type of precocious girl who would say, “I’m attending kindergarten just to kill time,” which surprised adults around me (Laughter). I was bad at group activities such as collective playing/dancing and practicing for an athletic event.
      Speaking of my personality, while I am similar to my mother in some aspects, I have much more in common with my father. With an engineering background, my father worked for an electrical manufacturer. I guess I can say I overlap with him to some extent career-wise as well.

Did you have difficulties because you were bad at group activities?
      I attended private school offering combined junior and senior high school education, where I was comfortable thanks to its liberal school culture.
      I became interested in English when I first learned it in junior high school. This is the origin of my interest in language. I must also mention the book titled “kotoba to bunka (English title: Words in Context)” authored by Takao Suzuki, some of which was cited in a textbook I used in high school. I was inspired by cultural differences found in different languages.
      For example, Japanese vocabulary is relatively limited regarding manners of motion such as “walk” and “run.” By contrast, English vocabulary is very rich. In addition to “run,” it has words such as “scurry,” “scuttle” and “trot," which express minute differences in terms of how these motions are carried out. On the other hand, Japanese vocabulary is quite rich in mimetics. The world may look different due to differences in the ways different languages express things. This aroused my interest in languages.
      I entered Keio University wishing to learn about languages from a scientific point of view. Although Keio had no independent linguistics department, it offered linguistics studies within general education. In fact, a variety of linguistics-related classes were available. Another advantage was that I was able to take classes of professors from the Institute of Cultural and Linguistic Studies on the Mita Campus.

Did you take part in any club activities?
      I first joined the Keio English Speaking Society club, but I quit after only one year because it was a little too time-consuming. Practices and stage-making work for the inter-college English theatrical performance contest took so much time. Then I joined an inter-college international exchange organization. At the organization, we organized camps and invited students from foreign countries to discuss various international issues. Through the organization’s exchange programs, I visited the Philippines and Norway myself. These activities were valuable opportunities for me to directly learn about foreign cultures and how people with different backgrounds communicate with others.