2015-04-23

Ocean seal

I can't believe I never read this before: Translating Dōgen, by Carl Bielefeldt, co-editor of the Soto Zen Translation Project. This is not one of those essays about how translation is really hard, man, with a few challenging lexemes thrown in as examples. Bielefeldt really digs into his topic. Here he is after his first example from Ocean Seal Samādhi:

Here, in Dōgen's view, the ocean seal samādhi is not just about the Buddha sitting under the bodhi tree in total enlightenment, or about us sitting on our meditation cushions tripping out on the universe; it’s about everything that's going on around us all the time, about us already embedded in, interacting with, what's going on. It's about the self as the practice of reaching out to others and letting ourselves be touched by them. I don't know about you, but I like this passage. This is the kind of Dōgen I really like.

Unfortunately, this is not what Dōgen actually said in his Ocean Seal Samādhi. I called it "Dōgen's view" of the samādhi, but it's really Carl's personal view of what Dōgen meant to say about the samādhi. That's probably why I like it: it's my homemade commentary on the text, not a translation. Here's a translation of what he actually said.

As far as I know, Bielefeldt is still working on Dōgen more than a decade later. I wonder how his views have evolved.

2015-04-16

A child is born

"Why do so many Japanese women have given names ending in -ko?" is a question that... actually you don't hear asked that much any more, because names ending in -ko are out of fashion. But for a good few decades in the middle of the 20th century, such names were very popular, to the extent that in any given class of schoolchildren you would expect more female students with names ending in -ko than without.

Now, this wasn't always the case. A century before that, barely anyone had names ending in -ko. So, even from a historical perspective, "What happened?" remains a valid question.

"Ko" no tsuku namae no tanjō 「子」のつく名前の誕生 ("The birth of names ending in ko"), by Hashimoto Junji 橋本淳治 and Itō Nobuhiko 井藤伸比古 is the record of an amateur primary-source research attempt to answer this question (guided by non-amateur Itakura Kiyonobu 板倉聖宣). I'll tell you up front that they don't actually identify a smoking gun, but it was an enjoyable read nonetheless.

Probably the most intriguing part of the story is the sheer fluidity of names well into post-Meiji Restoration times. -Ko was originally a suffix applied out of respect, originally reserved mainly for the nobility. This kind of thinking apparently persisted into the Showa period at least; the authors share several anecdotes about people from older generations who used to call their wives X-ko even though their "real" names were actually just X, books on polite correspondence advising the addition of -ko, and so on. But at the same time, this overlapped with a slightly different understanding of -ko that emerged later: that it was part of the name, not an appended honorific.

Obviously, it was the latter that led to -ko names qua names becoming overwhelmingly popular among the general population. But it's hard to see how this could happen if the understanding of -ko as an honorific was similar to the understanding of, say, -san today. So either the general population was completely ignorant about the use of -ko among the nobility, and reanalyzed it as part of the name rather than as an honorific, or the very distinction between name and honorific was less clear back then.

Now, it wasn't that the common folk had no honorifics at all — they used the O-X-san pattern. So it seems unlikely to me that they just didn't understand what the noble -ko was doing. Which makes the second option more likely, in my opinion.

One interesting fact the authors dig up is that if you look at the names of female characters in popular fiction, there is a distinct boom in -ko names in 1899, the year after the monster hit novel Hototogisu ("The Cuckoo") introduced its heroine Namiko to the world. The percentage of fictional female names ending in -ko jumped from 5% in 1898 to almost 10% the following year, and steadily increased after that until it was at nearly 30% by 1910. The increase in real-life names ending in -ko apparently began around the turn of the century.

The authors also find two essays published around the same time saying, in effect, "Why shouldn't the common people name their daughters X-ko? I think it's lovely." In other words, mass media may well have played the decisive role in promulgating -ko names among the people of Japan, by including them both explicitly and implicitly in the the post-Meiji national identity that the media shaped.

2015-04-13

Shǐjì as paired rhyme

Kogachi Ryūichi made a short post on his blog back in 2013 containing an interesting observation about Shǐjì 史記, as in the modern title given the Han-era Records of the Grand Historian 太史公書. It seems that in Wang Li's reconstruction of Middle Chinese, 史記 is ʃǐə kǐə, making it a 畳韻 or "paired-rhyme disyllabic compound" (credit to Jingtao Sun [PDF] for this English term).

I don't know enough about rime tables to engage with the idea properly, although I will note that the Baxter and Sargent reconstruction looks less like a rhyme: MC sriX kiH < OC *s-rәʔ *C.k(r)ə(ʔ)-s. Still, the idea that the venerable-sounding title Shǐjì might have the same morphological motivation — meta-etymology? — as, say, "look book" is too good to ignore.

2015-04-09

Edith Aldridge on syntax

Your East Asian (and Austronesian!) treasure trove of the day: Dr Edith Aldridge's "Publications" page. Her two papers on Chinese historical syntax are a great 80-page overview of the topic and a fine complement to Pulleyblank's invaluable but more lexeme-centric Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar. Her papers on word order in hentai kanbun also make worthwhile reading if you care about that topic (and I do!). And she's put it all online for free, because she's on the side of good.

2015-04-06

Manji

Atsuji Tetsuji's Bushu no hanashi 部首の話 ("Talks on Radicals") mentions, as a interesting tangential remark, that the pronunciation of 卍 in Japanese is manji because it means "man (万/萬, 'myriad') character (字, ji)". I'd never actually thought about this before; I suppose this means that manji isn't actually its pronunciation, but its name.

Poking around for more information, I found this passage in the Fanyi mingyi ji xu 翻譯名義集 ("Collection of names and meanings in [Buddhist] translations"), itself quoting a document called 華嚴音義, presumably some sort of commentary on the Avataṃsaka Sūtra (I haven't been able to identify it precisely):

T2131_.54.1147a04: [...] 案卍字。本非是字。
T2131_.54.1147a05: 大周長壽二年。主上權制此文。著於天樞音
T2131_.54.1147a06: 之爲萬。謂吉祥萬徳之所集也。

Which I think means, roughly: "The character 卍 was not originally a character. In Changshou 2 [693 AD] of her Great Zhou Dynasty, the Empress [Wu Zetian] provisionally declared that this symbol would represent (? 著於 = be represented by?) Dubhe with the sound 萬, (wàn in Chinese, man in Japanese). It means 'the gathering of auspicious signs and the myriad virtues.'"

So does this make it one of Wu Zetian's characters? I should note that I wasn't able to find any evidence that she ever declared it a symbol of the sun — all the sources I found were quite clear that she associated it with Ursa Major. Does anyone know where the sun claim comes from?

2015-03-23

The Martian

It might have been the recent PR about Ridley Scott's movie adaptation of The Martian, but I've seen the Japanese translation (by Onoda Kazuko 小野田和子) prominently displayed in a couple of bookstores recently. The translation of the title is interesting: Kasei no hito 火星の人, literally "Person of Mars."

Is there no word for "Martian" in Japanese? No, there is one: Kaseijin 火星人. The Kasei part means "Mars" (lit. "fire planet") and -jin, meaning "person," is the suffix used to form words such as Amerikajin, Nihonjin, Chikyūjin ("Earthling"), etc. You'll notice that -jin is written with the same Chinese character as hito in Kasei no hito; -jin is the Sino-Japanese pronunciation, while hito is native to Japan.

So it would have been possible to translate the title literally. Why wasn't this done? I poked around looking for opinions online, but there weren't many. A couple of people argued that Kaseijin implies, you know, a tentacley or at least green alien, so it wouldn't be appropriate for a story about a human stranded on Mars — but this is the case in English, too; that irony is the whole point of the title. This blog entry, interestingly, links the Japanese title to lightness and readability, which may well have been a consideration. (It's worth noting that Kasei no hito doesn't have any explicit meaning, either; it doesn't have the strong creature feature associations of "Martian," but neither does it necessarily imply that the "Person of Mars" is human.)

I wonder, actually, if the different titles might not reflect slightly different understandings of what it means to be an X-jin. Just as being stranded in Japan didn't make William Adams Japanese, so being stranded on Mars doesn't make Mark Watney a Martian, not even to the extent where the joke makes sense. Insisting on a connection between ethnicity and nationality isn't unique to or universal within Japan, of course, but I think it's fair to say that it's more common here than it is in California, where Martian author Andy Weir was raised.

(In a way, I guess this hypothesis is the same as the argument that Kaseijin implies a bug-eyed monster, really, just with the implicit connections to ideas of nationhood made more explicit.)