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.

Popularity factor: 11


OK, if there's anyone out there with a time machine, please go back to the Meiji/Taisho whatever and have them fix the damn days of the month. In return, go ahead and keep the cool old month names. The old month names were fun! Who doesn't love a month without gods? And remembering irregular month names isn't so bad, because there's only twelve of them. But seriously, remembering all the irregular day of the month names is a pain in the ass. Why do I need to hold my breath and think before saying if something happens on the fourth or the eighth!? Fix it!

Leonardo Boiko:

I'm a bit surprised at how firmly lexicalized are these irregular counter words. Since we have such mixups as juuyokka (to be fair, I suppose tooamariyokka is too unwieldly) I'd think juuyokka/juushichinichi or juugonichi/juuitsuka would be in free variation, but no: it's always juuyokka, juugonichi.

Leonardo Boiko:

…On the other hand, the fact that my fingers refused to write "juushinichi" and wrote "juushichinichi" is probably evidence of the reason why.


What's the symbol after 四ツ? Or is it a typo?


Speaking of daycounters, just stumbled on this:

> In Seisuishō (Laughter to Wake Readers from Their Sleep), a collection of stories compiled in the early seventeenth century by Anrakuan Sakuden (1554–1642), we read of a low-ranking samurai who sent an order for bran to a merchant. The merchant was at a loss as to what to make of the order, which read: 日四五斗たまハり候へ, and so returned the message to its sender. The samurai, for his part, could not comprehend how it could be that the merchant was unable to read even the simple character 日, which he had employed in this written text to represent the word nuka “bran” on the basis of the reading for this character in 七日 nanoka/nanuka “seventh day”!

(Seeley, A History of Writing in Japan, p. 129).


Monica: It's a "repeat the previous character (with no voicing)" character. Basically the newspaper assigned the reading "よ" to the 四, and then put "ツツ" outside to give ヨッツ = よっつ in modern orthography. Soseki's letter uses 四つ, with the furigana "よ" by the 四. Apparently he didn't perceive any distinction (or any worth mentioning) between よっつ and よつ.

Anonymous: Nice! Thanks. By the way, have you seen Lurie's "Realms of Literacy"? If so, what do you think of it vs Seeley? I'm thinking of picking Lurie up, but man, 6000 yen...

Leonardo Boiko:

Anon… Oh, it was me, I forgot to fill in the name again. Don’t know Lurie, sorry. It seems kinda new? I couldn't even find the usual reviews on JSTOR or Muse. It's hard to judge a book by its table of contents, but it gives me more of a “I have a Thesis to say” vibe, which would make it a different beast than Seeley. Seeley is, I think, uncontroversial, without any grand theory, and very cursory on many important topics. He spans pre-history to present, and reachs Meiji by p. 135, while Lurie seems to focus only on history up to Man’yō, and has 300 pages. You can read a chunk of Seeley on gbooks.


I like how Seeley puts kamiyo moji first, where it belongs. Hirata is smiling from Yomi...

Lurie, while he dodges this subject, does include a fascinating discussion of so-called Suiko court texts and why only a few of them probably date to the period 600-645.


Violent cussing wetesrn show-Deadwood. My husband was addicted, and I bought him all three seasons for holidays/birthdays. He bugged me repeatedly to watch it with him, and I finally gave in to shut him up. I was very surprised to discover that I actually loved it! I don't really like violence, and the swearing was distracting for the first five or six episodes, but the story really draws you in. Great character development, too.My only complaint is that they cut it short before they had a chance to wrap up the final storyline (there was talk of a movie, but it never happened.) I did find that I was more prone to swearing after watching three or four episodes in a row, though, so watch out for that!


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