Two papers

First, Japanese has syllables: A reply to Labrune (2012), by Shigeto Kawahara:

In a provocative article, Labrune (2012b) argues that there is little phonetic or psycholinguistic evidence for syllables in Tokyo Japanese (henceforth Japanese), and that phonological phenomena which have been hitherto analyzed in terms of syllables can be reanalyzed by deploying a distinction between a "regular/full mora" and a "deficient/special mora". She concludes that Tokyo Japanese does not have syllables, and as a further theoretical consequence of this view, she argues that not all prosodic levels are universal, extending on the suggestions by Hyman (1985, 2008). Although this proposal is very thought-provoking and its theoretical consequence is an important one, it does miss some of the previous experimental findings about the existence of syllables in the prosodic organization of Japanese. Therefore, this reply article summarizes evidence that Japanese does show evidence for syllables both phonetically and psycholinguistically.

I like Kawahara's directness here, from the title of the paper to its conclusion ("In conclusion, Japanese has syllables"); for what it's worth, I also found Labrune's arguments unconvincing at the time (I haven't read the 2012 paper Kawahara specifically refers to, but she discussed the issue in The Phonology of Japanese (2012), which I did read, and it doesn't sound like she used substantially different arguments there.)

Kawahara also recently published a couple of papers on "maids," i.e. employees in maid cafes, which may be of somewhat less universal interest although I found them good reading: "The phonetics of Japanese maid voice I: A preliminary study" and "The sound symbolic nature of Japanese maid names", both available here (along with the rest of his papers, it seems).

Two experiments show that obstruents are associated with tsun-type maids, whereas sonorants are associated with moe-type maids. [...] Morever, the identified sound symbolic relationships exemplifiy cases of emergent sound symbolic relationships, not based on conventionalized rules, as the notion of "tsun" and "moe" are new notions.

Second, Helen J. S. Lee's Writing Colonial Relations of Everyday Life in Senryu (2008).

Life in the colonies for Japanese settlers was — as life everywhere is — largely shaped by class status. Peter Duus provides an insightful distinction of class membership by identifying two types of settlers: immigrants and colonists. The working-class Japanese settlers depicted in the poems belong to Duus's definition of "immigrants," which he opposes to "colonists" whose presence in the colonial territory was subsidized by the state and who had membership in the dominant stratum of the host society. The elevated and privileged status of "colonists" engendered markedly different colonial experiences from those of their countrymen who went to colonial territories as "immigrants"; the latter were "oppressed, assimilated, and rejected by the host society," although they still ended up contributing to the exploitation of the colonized in one form or another.

[...] Senryu poetry illustrates the diverse colonial experiences of Japanese immigrants who took up a wide range of occupations, such as day laborers, peddlers, shop clerks, and factory workers. Rather than assert a monolithic portrayal of these working-class Japanese settlers, this article explores the colonial dynamics rendered in each poem as a way to offer insight into the multifaceted lived daily experiences of Japanese immigrants in colonial Korea.

The details and close reading get denser towards the end of the paper. It's worth the buildup.

The book Lee uses as her main source, Chōsen Senryū 朝鮮川柳, is actually available online (albeit in hated .djvu format). This allowed me to confirm that kahetamanma on page 617 of Lee's article is indeed the weird transcription error it appears to be. The original is 咬へたまんま, which although a bit obscure orthographically (the "standard" Japanese reading for 咬 is kamu) is almost certainly to be pronounced kuwaeta manma — cf 鉛筆なんか咬へて pronounced enpitsu nanka kuwaete here.



Fun fact for the day: Japanese lexicography seems to be in agreement that mimi ("ear") could be used in Old Japanese to mean "news, rumor, thing heard," but all the authorities use the same example — #128 in the Man'yōshū, from Ishikawa no Iratsume to Ōtomo no Tanushi.

吾聞之 耳尓好似 葦若末乃 足痛吾勢 勤多扶倍思
wa ga kikisi/ mimi ni yoku niru/ asi no ure no/ asi yamu wa ga se/ tutwometabu besi
It is just like the "ear" [i.e. news] I heard. My sore-legged darling, you must take care.

I have omitted the pillow-word(s) asi no ure no ("tips of the reeds") from my translation; they are there solely because asi ("reed") is homophonous with asi ("foot"). There is also a note attached to the poem explaining that it was sent to Ōtomo as a sort of get-well message when he had a literal, actual sore leg, which is very helpful.

Let the record show that Ishikawa no Iratsume and Ōtomo no Tanushi had a history of flirtatious banter. In the previous two poems, she complains that she had heard he was a gentleman, but he must be a bit dim not to have taken advantage with her when she dressed up as an old woman to seduce him. * He responds that sending her home that night rather than letting her stay was precisely the gentlemanly thing to do. In their commentary on this poem in the Iwanami Shin Nihon Koten Bungaku Zenshū, Satake et al say that this poem feels like playful teasing from I. no I. in return for O. no T. having rejected her advances; it certainly does seem to refer back to her previous poem — "I heard you were a gentleman, and that was a wash, but this time I guess what I heard is true."

Satake et al also offer the only other proposed example of mimi for "thing heard" that I have been able to find: MYS #2581.

言云者 三々二田八酢四 小九毛 心中二 我念羽奈九二
koto ni ipeba/ mimi ni tayasusi/ sukunaku mo/ kokoro no uti ni/ wa ga omopanaku ni
Spoken in words, it's easy as an "ear." But what I feel in my heart isn't something small.

At first I was dubious about this; couldn't mimi ni tayasusi just mean "it's easy on the ear" or something? But, digging deeper, there are a couple of later poems that combine ni yasusi with koto ("word(s)"). Those poems are #3743 and #3763, both of which start exactly the same way:

多婢等伊倍婆 許登爾曾夜須伎
tabi to ipeba/ koto ni so yasuki...
"Travel" is easy to say as a word...

... and end with reasons why travel actually sucks. Anyway, as evidence for the use of mimi in the "news" sense in #2581, this is a bit oblique, but it satisfied me.

* The note on this poem vividly describes the way she spoke hoarsely, hobbled, etc. as part of her ruse. This would probably strike me as a lot more ridiculous if it weren't almost Hallowe'en and the Internet weren't abuzz with mockery of costumes like "Sexy Ebola nurse," "Sexy banana," etc.


Chigire to

A folk song from the collection Sankachōchūka 山家鳥虫歌 ("Songs of the birds and insects [around] a mountain hut", I guess), attributed to Chikuzen province:

生れ来りしいにしへ問へば 君と契れと夢に見た
umarekitarishi inishie toeba/ kimi to chigire to yume ni mita
Searching out the time when I was born [lit. "long ago when I was born"], I saw in a dream that it was because of my bond with you.

At least, I think that's what kimi to chigire means here. Was the bare /-e/ form usable to express reasons that late? Maybe only in songs? Or in Chikuzen?

Another interpretation would be that the dream somehow ordered the singer to bond with the addressee, and the kimi (affectionate "you") is typical Japanese pronominal hanky-panky to be understood as "your affectionate 'you', i.e. him." That seems a bit more tortuous to me, but maybe.

Asano Kenji 浅野健二, editor of the 1984 Iwanami edition I have, supposes that this song is about oneiromancy of some sort, but does not touch on how to interpret kimi to chigire.

Meanwhile, a century or so earlier, Bankei did something different with the same first half in his folk song-metered hymn on the Unborn:

生まれ来たりしいにしえ問えば 何も思わぬこの心
来たる如くに心を持てば じきにこの身が生如来

umare kitarishi inishie toeba nani mo omowanu kono kokoro
kitaru gotoku ni kokoro o moteba/ jiki ni kono mi ga ikinyorai

Searching out the time that you were born, you'll find a mind that thinks of nothing. Hold your mind the way it came [into the world when you were born, i.e. thinking of nothing], and this very self right now is a living tathāgata.


Shizuoka teaches you cursive

The Shizuoka Prefectural Central Library (静岡県立中央図書館)'s ongoing series on decoding historical documents written in cursive is really very decent, especially for something available online for free. It's more like an apprenticeship than a first-principles how-to, working through actual (short) texts character by character, and I particularly appreciate the way the instructor "shows their work," so to speak, saying "this character looks like X, but if we read a few characters more we can see that it's actually Y." (The very second lesson is called "Form hypotheses as you read," and is about this process.)

The peak to strive for, no doubt, is the ability to identify even the most carelessly scrawled characters in isolation, but slogging through actual texts as best you can has always been my preferred way of learning.



I usually keep my non-book-related personal life out of this blog, but this incident was actually kind of on topic.

So my wife was reading an Anpanman book to my son when she departed from the text on one page to elaborate on one of the details in the accompanying illustration. Naturally, my son immediately objected.

"You should know better than that," I said (in English). "Anpanman is sola scriptura."

"That's right," my son agreed (in Japanese). "Anpanman wa sora o tobu kara." ("Anpanman can fly, so [there].")

(Explanation for those who don't get it: My son interpreted my Latin sola ("alone") as Japanese sora ("sky"), and assumed that I was criticizing his mother's improvised elaborations on the grounds that Anpanman can fly. Which made complete sense to him as a rhetorical position, and so he immediately adopted it as his own too.

This misunderstanding was possible because the concept of superhero-style flight is usually expressed by the set phrase sora o tobu, literally "fly in/through the sky". This probably arose because tobu can also just mean "jump", which is less impressive; perhaps not coincidentally, the Superman mythos sometimes exhibits a similar ambiguity between extremely powerful and well-controlled leaping and genuine flight.)


Down, right, down

So as well all know, the default writing direction for Japanese is vertical, from top to bottom. It's not unusual though for a column of text to contain a couple of characters aligned horizontally (left to right) — most commonly figures in Hindu-Arabic numerals, like a year or temperature. The other day though I noticed a case of double nesting:

積雪が [20 [cm]] を超えないうちに必ず雪おろしをして下さい。

"Clear the snow off [the roof of this bike shelter] before it piles up in excess of 20 cm thick."

The basic orientation is vertical. "20 cm" is a horizontal block within this, but the "cm" is a vertical block within that. Using red for vertical text and green for horizontal, this can be represented schematically as follows:

積雪が [20 [ cm ] ] を超えないうちに必ず雪おろしをして下さい。

Note that this is different from the standard fits-within-a-single-space "character" for centimeters, ㌢, which is just a case of warigaki (dividing part of a line into two smaller lines, both of the same orientation as the original line, to be read one after the other before proceeding to read the rest of the original line; there are a few examples on this page).