2015-08-31

Miscellany

Another recent review at the Japan Times: James C. Dobbins' Jōdo Shinshū. This is one of those books I never anticipate getting rid of, even though by now I probably own half of the Japanese books Dobbins cites as sources.

I also wrote a short piece for Néojaponisme about book cover design.

A Tour of Tokyo's Bookstores at AbeBooks. I didn't realize so many were using AbeBooks to sell.

Here's something else I was reading recently: "Translating the Zen Phrase Book", by G. Victor Sōgen Hori. This is the translation that eventually got published as Zen Sand: The Book of Capping Phrases for Koan Practice, I assume (review here; introduction available here [pdf]). Pages 91 onwards are about the details of how Hori presents his translation; note that he provides a kundoku reading, which — I mean, I wonder if anyone is actually using these in their practice, reciting these incantations that are actually the result of semi-mechanically converting a line of written Chinese into a bare-minimum Japanese translation. And some of that Chinese would have wandered in from the Indic branch of IE, of course. Language is amazing.

2015-08-20

Bronze

Edwin "Gem-Glistening Cup" Cranston's 1993 "review" (really more of a page-by-page list of comments and corrections) of the Princeton Companion to Classical Japanese Literature by Earl Miner, Hiroko Odagiri, and Robert E. Morrell is so impossibly learned that it's practically a course in Japanese literary history all by itself. Here's a short comment on mirrors from page 208; it goes off the rails a bit but I like it:

The article on Ōkagami [literally "the Great Mirror"] offers "a point of some comparative interest" concerning mirrors, suggesting the telescope as the Western counterpoint for the mirror as a device for seeing from afar. As an imaginary vehicle for getting around in the past, the time machine might be of more use to the historian. The thing about mirrors is that they look at you while you look at them. They are portals (portholes?) to a wish-world, East or West, but the vision they offer is mirror-reversed, as one might learn by stepping Through the Looking Glass. They are privy to the secrets of our vanity, ready to be consulted on who is fairest, to lure the Goddess from her cave, or return her Medusan image to the stone. They are the essence of bronze culture, Sun Kings, and crazy houses, and far too potent to be left to mere historiographers.

Cranston also quotes a great "Companion bon mot" on p212: "If Sei Shōnagon did not exist, there would be no one to invent her."

2015-08-17

Et in Artadia ego

I reviewed Christine M. E. Guth's Hokusai book for the Japan Times. Verdict: Hokusai. In the course of writing this review I also realized that Gustav Eckstein's Hokusai: Play in fourteen scenes is basically just a rip-off of Edward Strange's Hokusai: The old man mad with painting.

Completely unrelated, but here's something amusing I noticed in Margaret Mead's Coming of age in Samoa today. As far as I can tell from the context Mead is still talking about "the group of girls with whom I spent many months, the group of girls between ten and twenty years of age who lived in the three little villages on the lee side of the island of Tau."

In their use of language their immaturity was chiefly evidenced by a lack of familiarity with the courtesy language, and by much confusion in the use of the dual and of the inclusive and exclusive pronouns. These present about the same difficulty in their language as the use of a nominative after the verb "to be" in English.

This struck me as a very revealing comparison. I wonder if the similarities went deeper than Mead realized, in that the "confusion" she observed was actually just conflict between actual spoken Samoan versus some idealized form of the language that she had been taught was correct.

More about language in a footnote:

The children of this age already show a very curious example of a phonetic self-consciousness in which they are almost as acute and discriminating as their elders. When the missionaries reduced the language to writing, there was no k in the language, the k positions in other Polynesian dialects being filled in Samoan either with a t or a glottal stop. Soon after the printing of the Bible, and the standardisation of Samoan spelling, greater contact with Tonga introduced the k into the spoken language of Savai'i and Upolu, displacing the t but not replacing the glottal stop. Slowly this intrusive usage spread eastward over Samoa, the missionaries who controlled the schools and the printing press fighting a dogged and losing battle with the less musical k. To-day the t is the sound used in the speech of the educated and in the church, still conventionally retained in all spelling and used in speeches and on occasions demanding formality. The Manu'a children who had never been to the missionary boarding schools, used the k entirely. But they had heard the t in church and at school and were sufficiently conscious of the difference to rebuke me immediately if I slipped into the colloquial k which was their only speech habit, uttering the t sound for perhaps the first time in their lives to illustrate the correct pronunciation from which I, who was ostensibly learning to speak correctly, must not deviate. Such an ability to disassociate the sound used from the sound heard is remarkable in such very young children and indeed remarkable in any person who is not linguistically sophisticated.

I love this. Even in Mead's tropical idyll, there are peevers.

Incidentally here's what Wikipedia currently says about the k vs t thing:

The consonant system of colloquial Samoan ("casual Samoan", or "tautala leaga" as it is known) is slightly different from the literary language ("proper Samoan", or "tautala lelei"), and is referred to as K speech or K style. In colloquial speech, defined as taking place in casual social situations among intimates or in the home among familiars of equivalent social rank, /t/ is sometimes pronounced [k] and /n/ has merged with /ŋ/ as [ŋ]. Additionally, /l/ is pronounced [ɾ] following a back vowel (/a, o, u/) and preceding an /i/. /s/ is less sibilant than in English, and /h/ and /r/ are found only in borrowings, with /s/ and /l/ sometimes being substituted for them.

The source is Galumalemana Afeleti L. Hunkin's Gagana Sāmoa: A Samoan Language Coursebook.

2015-07-30

Kika

In Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Instruction: Moving Forward by Looking Back [PDF], Joseph Keola Donaghy sez (emphasis added):

There is little documentation of the arrival of the guitar [in Hawaiʻi], and there appears to be even less of the development of slack key guitar. Beginning in the mid-1830s, Hawaiian language newspapers became the source of much information regarding Hawaiʻi’s rich oral history and society of that era, but there seemed to be little interest on the part of Hawaiians and others in documenting the use of the guitar in everyday life (Kanahele, 1979, p. 351). I tested this statement by searching the Ulukau Hawaiian Electronic Library, which contains approximately 7,000 text-searchable pages from Hawaiian newspapers printed between 1834 and 1948. Those pages contain only three references to "guitar," the earliest occurring in 1868, and 17 references to the partially transliterated "gita," the earliest found in 1862. The fully transliterated term kika occurs 165 times in the archive; however, in only three occurrences did the term refer to a guitar, the earliest appearing in the May 21, 1925, issue of Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, one of the most prominent and longest-running Hawaiian language newspapers. The other occurrences of kika in the newspapers referred to a cigar or a tiger.

Because, of course, Hawaiian's limited consonant inventory makes /k/ the closest match not only to /k/ but also to /g/, /s/, /t/, and several other English phonemes. Elbert and Pukui use kika as an example when discussing loanwords in their Hawaiian Grammar, section 2.9.1:

We see that k, the most common Hawaiian consonant, is substituted for ten English consonant sounds. The Hawaiian word spelled kika has four variant spellings (tita 'sister', sida 'cider', tiga 'tiger', and kika 'cassia')—all from English. The only native kika means 'slippery'.

In the early days of Hawaiian it was more common to transcribe loan words with an orthography more suggestive of their origins, regardless of their actual pronunciation; thus <tiga> for /kika/ meaning "tiger", <sida> for "cider" — note that this one preserves the sound of the original rather than the spelling. But perhaps because these phonemes were not, in fact, distinguished, this sort of thing was eventually abandoned.

(Seriously, what kind of crazy language would force its speakers to learn an orthography preserving source information about loan words even though that information was (a) imperceptible in the borrowing language, and (b) easily reconstructible from context anyway?)

Kika shows up in Royal Hawaiian Hotel, by Mary Pulaʻa Robins, "written in honor of the present Royal Hawaiian Hotel when it was opened in 1927," as Elbert and Mahoe put it in Nā mele o Hawaiʻi Nei: 101 Hawaiian Songs. Here's the start of their transcription + translation, basically the same as what's at the link above for our purposes:

Uluwehiwehi ʻoe i kaʻu ʻike la,
E ka Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

A he nani la, ke hulali nei,
A he nani māoli nō.

Ka moena weleweka moe kāua la,
He pakika he paheʻe maikaʻi nei [...]
You are festive to see,
O Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

Beauty gleaming,
True beauty

Velvet beds we sleep upon,
Smooth, soft and good [...]

(Okay, it's not exactly kika — it's kika plus the prefix pa-, which Elbert and Pukui's Hawaiian Dictionary defines: "Prefix to many bases, with general meaning of "in the nature of, having the quality of.")

But wait! Why don't E & P mention "cigar" or "guitar" in their discussion of kika? Because those were actually loaned as kīkā — note long vowels. Not homophonous — but, again, early Hawaiian orthography was a lot less strict about including those macrons (not to mention the ʻokina).

2015-07-27

A talking dictionary of Ainu

From the "Why didn't I already know about this?" files: A talking dictionary of Ainu: a new version of Kanazawa's Ainu conversational dictionary, with recordings of Mrs Setsu Kurokawa (some background info).

馬より下がれ
Umma ka wa rapan.
馬 ~の上 から 下りる しなさい
【名】 【位名】 【格助】 【自】 【終助】
「馬から下りなさい」 "Get off the horse."

2015-07-23

Western tofu

Interesting passage in Sammy I. Tsunematsu's translation of Natsume Sōseki's Bungei no tetsugakuteki kiso 文芸の哲学的基礎 ("The philosophical foundations of literature"). Here Sōseki is talking about Guy de Maupassant's short story La parure ("The necklace").

One day, the wife, carrying a bamboo basket or something similar, left the house to buy Western tofu and unexpectedly met the woman who had lent her the diamond necklace some years before.

First of all, it's not a mistranslation; the original clearly says "bamboo basket" and "western tofu":

ある日この細君が例のごとくか何かを提げて、西洋の豆腐でも買うつもりで表へ出るとふと先年金剛石を拝借した婦人に出逢いました。

Nor is it Maupassant exhibiting the old Japanism, as a look at the original will confirm:

Or, un dimanche, comme elle était allée faire un tour aux Champs-Elysées pour se délasser des besognes de la semaine [...]
Then, one Sunday, when she was going to make a tour on the Champs-Elysées for to de-tire herself of the doings of the week [...]

So what is it? A joke!

Sōseki may not have remembered exactly why Maupassant's heroine was out and about, but he didn't seriously think it might have been to buy any sort of tofu. He lived in England for two years. He knew very well that Europeans did not even know what tofu was, let along go out with a traditional Japanese basket to buy it. No, what we have here is an intentionally ridiculous hyperlocalization conveying two things: (1) these details are not the important ones, and (2) this is a casual and fun story. Sōseki: proto-Kate Beaton.

(One change to Tsunematsu's translation I might have suggested is "to buy Western tofu or something" instead of just "to buy Western tofu," to to keep the handwave quotient as high as the original's. The explicit lack of concern for detail is how the joke works.)