Koto no okori

So very early in the first chapter of the Genji monogatari, public opinion turns against Genji's mother, with courtiers saying:

"Morokosi ni mo, kakaru koto no okori ni koso, yo mo midare asikarikere."
China DAT TOPIC-EMPH, such-a:RENTAI thing GEN happening DAT FOCUS-KOSO, world TOPIC-EMPH become-disordered:RENYO be-bad.MODAL-PAST:IZEN

Arikawa Takehiko's modern edition of Kitamura Kigin's Kogetsu shū quotes Motoori Norinaga's Tama no ogushi on this passage as follows (Kigin II.5):


One must read first "kakaru" ["such a"], and then "koto no okori" ["thing GEN happening"]. To read "kakaru koto no" ["such-a thing GEN"] as continuous [= as a constituent] is wrong. "Okori" is 起り ["happening"] and is like saying "beginning". To interpret it as 驕 ["Pride", "luxury"] is an error.

Motoori is arguing that the second sentence should be analyzed as in (1) below, and not as in (2):

  1. ... [kakaru [koto no okori]] ni koso ...
    [such-a [thing GEN happening]]
    "Such a happening-of-a-thing, such an occurrence"
  2. ... [[kakaru koto] no okori
    [[such-a thing] GEN happening]
    "The happening of such a thing, such a thing's occurrence"

What difference does this make to the translation? Behold the many versions:

SuematsuThere had been instances in China in which favoritism such as this had caused national disturbance and disaster ... (19)
Waley... [I]n the Land Beyond the Sea such happenings had led to riot and disaster. (7)
SeidenstickerIn China just such an unreasoning passion had been the undoing of an emperor and had spread turmoil through the land. (19)
TylerSuch things had led to disorder and ruin even in China ... (3)

Suematsu's "favoritism" and Seidensticker's "unreasoning passion" both seem to accept the 驕 interpretation Motoori dismisses, although it's possible that both are interpolations, consciously added for an expected audience of enfeebled oafs unable to remember events for more than a sentence at a can has cheezburger lol.

Royall's "such things had led to" seems to be Motoori's forbidden [[kakaru koto] no okori] construction, although it could just be that he is translating koto no okori as "things." (Royall is also the only translator who has "even in China" for morokosi ni mo, which is interesting, but I think I side with the [tacit] "in China, as well" of the other translators.)

Really Waley is the only translator that unambiguously follows Motoori's dictates: "such happenings" is clearly "[kakaru [koto no okori]]". Waley also deserves credit for trying to do something interesting with Morokoshi, an old word that means "China" but certainly feels more like "the Land Beyond the Sea", at least to the modern reader.

Motoori is, of course, not the final authority on these matters, but his interpretations are still highly influential in the world of Genji scholarship. For example, the Shōgakukan Shinpen Nihon koten bungaku zenshū 新編日本古典文学全集 edition has koto no okori footnoted (Murasaki/Abe et al. 15):

"Koto no okori" as one phrase. Cause, origin.


  • Kitamura, Kigin 北村季吟s. Genji Monogatari: Kogetsu shū (zōchō): Jō. Ed. Arikawa Takehiko 有川武彦. 1982. Tokyo: Kodansha, 2002.
  • Murasaki Shikibu. Genji Monogatari 源氏物語. In Abe, Akio 阿部昭夫; Akiyama, Ken 秋山 虔; Imai, Gen'ei 今井源衛; and Suzuki, Hideo 鈴木日出男, eds. Shinpen Nihon koten bungaku zenshū 20-25. Tokyo: Shōgakukan, 1994-1998.
  • —. Seidensticker, Edward G, English trans. The Tale of Genji. 1976. New York: Everyman's Library, 1993.
  • —. Suematsu, Kenchō 末松謙澄, English trans. Genji Monogatari. 1900. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1997.
  • —. Tyler, Royall, English trans. The Tale of Genji. 2001. New York: Penguin, 2002.
  • —. Waley, Arthur, English trans. The Tale of Genji. 1925-1933. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1986.


Take fureba

Here is a tale from the Shiragi shui den 新羅殊異伝 ("Unusual Tales of Silla"), as it appears in the Tōyō Bunko edition of same.

Kim Yushin was returning to the capital from the western lands when he noticed an outlander on the road ahead with an abnormal air about him. When the man stopped to rest under a tree, Kim followed suit, and pretended to sleep. The man waited until the road was clear and then produced a bamboo tube from his sleeve. When he shook the tube, two beautiful women emerged and sat down to talk with him. They eventually returned to the tube, which he put back into his sleeve before rising and setting off again. Yushin caught up to the man and struck up a conversation. The man was eloquent and agreeable and together they reached the capital. Yushin accompanied the man to Namsan. They sat down under a pine tree to feast, and the two women appeared again. "I live on the west coast," said the man, "But I married a woman [or "women", see below] from the east coast. We are on our way to visit her [their] parents." Just then, the wind rose and clouds darkened the sky, whereupon and the man vanished.

Wizards in fragmentary legends aren't known for their lucid exposition, I know, but this one strikes me as especially egregious. If you have time to explain where your wife grew up, you have time to explain why you carry her around in a bamboo tube, and I think we all know which topic Kim Yushin was more interested in.

Masuo Shin'ichirō 増尾伸一郎, who edited this chapter in the TB edition (as well as co-editing the volume as a whole), notes that given what the man says it seems reasonable to suppose that at least one of the women in the tube was married to the stranger, but it's not clear whether the second woman was another wife or some other type of mistress or hanger-on. So many questions.

Also: East Asia and women emerging from bamboo, man. It's a thing.


  • Komine Kazuaki 小峰和明 & Masuo Shin'ichirō 増尾伸一郎 (Eds.). (2011). Shiragi shui den. Tokyo: Heibonsha.


Shi vs yottsu

So we all know that Japanese has two separate number systems, one native and one borrowed from China. Here's a 1907 letter from Natsume Sōseki 夏目漱石 to Shibukawa Genji 渋川玄耳, editor of the Asahi Shinbun, the newspaper serializing Sōseki's novel Gubijinsō 虞美人草 ("The Poppy"), about a sort of "minimal pair" across these two systems. I found this letter quoted in Natsume Sōseki to kindai Nihongo 夏目漱石と近代日本語 ["Natsume Sōseki and Modern Japanese"] by Tajima Masaru 田島優.


Regarding the corrections to The Poppy: I am most grateful for the fact that a large number of my errors were amended thanks to the attentions of your proofreaders, but some of their changes to the manuscript have laid me quite open to complaints from my readers. The change of Yogawa to Yokogawa [横川] is one example. Now, when you balance that sort of thing against my own errors that were fixed, it would really be me who came out on top, so I do not usually mind. However, what I found in today's installment is rather problematic and so I take the liberty of bringing it to your attention.

In chapter 10, part 3, there is a line that reads "Mō akete yottsu ni narimasu" [もう明けて四ツヽになります, "He's [twenty-]four this year"]. This is problematic. As an abbreviation for thirty-four, twenty-four, four-four and so on, in Tokyo we do say "He turned shi [four]", but we never say "He turned yotsu [four]". Using yotsu makes it sound like Fujio is a baby. I am sure that I quite clearly indicated that this 四 was to be read shi, but it was changed to yotsu in both places. It is most vexing. [...]

In other words, in Sōseki's dialect (or, as he puts it, "in Tokyo"), it is acceptable to abbreviate an age like "twenty-four" to just the units position, saying the equivalent of "four" instead because the "twenty" is already understood — but to say that "four," you have to use the Sino-Japanese word. If you use the native Japanese word yottsu instead, it cannot be interpreted as an abbreviation: it means "four," and the hero of your novel turns into a toddler.

(I'm not sure whether there actually were dialects that worked differently, or whether Sōseki is just putting it that way to politely point out that the proofreader hadn't been reading carefully enough.)

Interestingly, it's my impression that in contemporary Japanese "-four" in ages is generally yon rather than shi (except in special cases like nijūshi, -go, "twenty-four or -five"). But the distinction vs yottsu remains the same.


Kawahara on rendaku

Here's an interesting little article about Japanese phonology by Kawahara Shigeto arguing (eponymously) that "Lyman’s Law is active in loanwords and nonce words".

Lyman's law, as any fule kno (and as Kawahara xplain), is "a general phonotactic restriction in Japanese which prohibits two voiced obstruents within the same morpheme," famously observable via its blockage of rendaku in cases where the second element of a two-morpheme compound already contains a voiced obstruent. Or, as Lyman himself put it, "the second part of a compound word takes the nigori [Japanese for "voiced form"]; that is if beginning with ch, f, h, k, s, sh, or t, those consonants are changed into the corresponding sonant ones ... [but] the general rule does not apply ... when b, d, g, j, p, or z already occurs anywhere in the second part of the compound" (Lyman 1894).

There's more to rendaku than this, of course, and even Lyman observed as much, but the one-voiced-obstruent-per-morpheme insight is the interesting one. (Naturally, Motoori Norinaga and Kamo no Mabuchi reportedly had it first, although I wasn't able to find the exact terms they framed it in.)

Anyway, the question of whether Lyman's Law applies to modern loanwords is a complicated one, not least because said loanwords often already feature multiple voiced obstruents.However, Kawahara cites three pieces of evidence, from three separate papers, supporting the idea that Lyman's Law is still an "active" process at work in loan words and "nonce words" (pseudowords specifically):

  1. Vance (1980), finding via wug test that Japanese speakers appear less likely to apply rendaku to compound nonce words when the second morpheme contains a voiced obstruent, i.e. the rendaku would violate Lyman's Law.
  2. Tateishi (2003), observing that the English plural suffix -s appears in Japanese as /zu/ in most cases, but /su/ when attaching to words already containing a voiced obstruent (e.g. the baseball team names /faitaa.zu/ "Fighters" vs /taigaa.su/ "Tigers") (there are a lot of other factors at play here and Kawahara goes into them if you are interested)
  3. Nishimura (2003), arguing that the general tendency to avoid repeated voiced obstruents is the reason why loanwords like /baddo/ "bad" can be devoiced to loanwords /batto/ while loanwords like /reddo/ "red" cannot be devoiced to /retto/

Kawahara then describes three experiments he performed to investigate further. The first two are updates on Vance's 1980 wug experiment. Kawahara more or less replicates Vance's results, except that (1) where Vance told his subjects that the words were pseudowords, Kawahara also tried telling his subjects that the words were Old Japanese, thus theoretically testing for and failing to find a difference in how subjects treated "Japanese vocabulary" and other words; (2) Kawahara's experiment did not reproduce Vance's finding that the proximity of an offending voiced obstruent to the compound word break can affect acceptability of rendaku.

In the third experiment, Kawahara investigated the /batto/ vs /reddo/ issue, for both real words and nonce words, and came up with surprisingly clean graphs showing that the "naturalness of devoicing" is, from highest to lowest:

  1. Geminate consonant + Lyman's Law violation (e.g. /baddo/ "bad")
  2. Geminate consonant (e.g. /reddo/ "red")
  3. Non-geminate consonant + Lyman's Law violation (e.g. /bagu/ "bug")
  4. Non-geminate consonant (e.g. /hagu/ "hug")

Interestingly, the spread of variation is wider in real words than in nonce words. In other words, it's more acceptable to devoice a real "Geminate consonant + Lyman's Law violation" word than a pseudo-word with the same structure, and less acceptable to devoice a real "Non-geminate consonant + no violation" word than a pseudo-word with that structure. Perhaps this represents the effects of a historical "strong Lyman's Law" preserved in the lexicon combined with an ongoing weakening of the law itself. That is, it might be that real loan words were affected more strongly by Lyman's Law in the past, so that /baggu/ → [bakku] is even now considered much more acceptable than /reddo/ → *[retto], but nonce words, having no history, are subject only to a weaker, present-day Lyman's Law, producing less polarized acceptability judgments.


These are the references from Kawahara's article for the other papers mentioned above, plus Kawahara's paper itself for good measure:

  • Kawahara, Shigeto. 2012. Lyman's Law is active in loanwords and nonce words: Evidence from naturalness judgment studies. lingBuzz/001344
  • Lyman, Benjamin S. 1894. Change from surd to sonant in Japanese compounds. Oriental Studies of the Oriental Club of Philadelphia.
  • Nishimura, Kohei. 2003. Lyman’s Law in loanwords. MA thesis, Nagoya University.
  • Tateishi, Koichi. 2003. Phonological patterns and lexical strata. In The proceedings of International Congress of Linguistics XVII (CD-ROM). Prague: Matfyz Press.
  • Vance, Timothy J. 1980. The psychological status of a constraint on Japanese consonant alternation. Linguistics 18: 245–267.



No time to write much today, so check out this site a workmate showed me earlier: DictJuggler.net, put together by "Yoichi Yamaoka and his successors, Naoshi Fujimoto, gaia-translators, and Marlin Arms Corporation." The array of dictionary and similar searches is impressive, but what's really interesting is the 翻訳訳語辞典, a dictionary of how various words have been translated in a range of real translations.

For example, searching for 最後 (last, concluding) gives you everything from "(人の)顔だって最後にはどんなふうになるかわからないんだという不安を呼び起こす: make sb worry about sb's face in its closing days" from Murakami Haruki's translation of Mikal Gilmore's Shot in the Heart to "最後に〜を附け加える: conclude the letter with ..." from Edwin McLellan's translation of Natsume Soseki's Kokoro こゝろ. Neat.