Donkey's years

Flipping idly through my copy of Kunchū Zenrin kushū 訓註禅林句集改訂版 ("Annotated 'Collection of phrases from the forest of Zen': Revised Edition"), ed. Shibayama Zenkei 柴山全慶, when I found the word 驢年. The characters literally mean "donkey" and "year", and Shibayama glosses it thusly:

In the Twelve Branches system, there is no Year of the Donkey. This phrase therefore refers to a year that will never arrive. Similar to the colloquialism "Year of the Cat, first year of Hōraku" [猫の年、法楽元年]."

I have not located any evidence for that colloquialism, but okay: "Year of the Donkey" meaning a time that will never actually come. I guess that to someone to whom the Twelve Branches were second nature, "the Year of the Donkey" sounds as ridiculous as "when pigs fly."

But if you look up 驢年 in the Nihon Kokugo Daijiten 日本国語大辞典, you find the word 驢年犬日 ("donkey, year, dog, day"), with this definition and a citation from 1771:

Something without value, as the years lived by a donkey and the days passed by a dog. Inferior writing. "The braying of donkeys, the barking of dogs" (驢鳴犬吠).

... Which obviously is quite different.

Then I found this essay by Yoshizawa Katsuhiro 芳澤勝弘, at the International Research Institute for Zen Buddhism, in which the two definitions both appear. According to Yoshizawa, Iriya Yoshitaka 入谷義高 and Koga Hidehiko 古賀英彦, in their Zengo jiten 禅語辞典 ("Dictionary of Zen vocabulary"), quote Mujaku Dōchū 無著道忠 giving the "Twelve Branches" explanation above, but rejects this as "unconvincing" because it fails to explain why the donkey specifically should have been chosen as the never-never animal. They then give a "Worthlessly spent life" definition similar to the one from the NKD above.

But Yoshizawa then offers half a dozen examples from the canon where 驢年 is paired with a word/morpheme meaning "arrive at" or "reach", meaning that it is understood as a point in time rather than a way to spend time.

So it seems that the original meaning of 驢年, at least in the Zen context, is "time that will never arrive." On the other hand, the NKD's 1771 citation for a "time without value"-related meaning shows that that interpretation has at least a few centuries behind it, too. I wonder if the two meanings diverged from a single source or were coined separately.


Benzaiten Imagery in Japan

Mark "Onmark Productions" Schumacher has published an insanely detailed introduction to Benzaiten Imagery in Japan.

Prior to the 12th century, Benzaiten's Hindu origins as a water goddess were largely ignored in Japan. But sometime during the 11th-12th centuries, the goddess was conflated with Ugajin (the snake-bodied, human-headed Japanese kami of water, agriculture, and good fortune). Once this occurred -- once Benzaiten was "reconnected" with water -- the level of her popularity changed from a trickle into a flood.


See also: Schumacher's introduction to Bodhidharma imagery in Japan.


An Introduction to Ryukyuan Languages

Here's the full text of An Introduction to Ryukyuan Languages (2010), ed. Thomas Pellard and Shimoji Michinori. From Shimoji's introduction (yo dawg, we heard you like being introduced to things...):

This book, entitled An Introduction to Ryukyuan Languages (IRL), is a collection of grammatical sketches of six Ryukyuan languages: Ura and Yuwan (Amami Ryukyuan), Tsuken (Okinawan), Ikema and Ōgami (Miyako Ryukyuan), and Hateruma (Yaeyama Ryukyuan). The target readers of IRL are not limited to specialists of Ryukyuan; IRL is open to both specialists and non-specialists including theoretical linguists, typologists, and linguists working on non-Ryukyuan languages. In fact, IRL is deliberately organized in such a way that common typological topics likely to be asked by a non-specialist of a given language (e.g. word order, case alignment, morphological typology, property-concept encoding, etc.) are addressed by all authors [...]. IRL is, literally, an introduction to Ryukyuan languages.

I haven't read the whole thing yet, and I'm not in any position to judge the book's content in terms of accuracy in any case, but I read Pellard's chapter on Ōgami and found it lucid and enlightening. I also found only one non-trivial error, making the chapter literally orders of magnitude more polished and readable than a book from [Prestigious UK University] Press that I spent five figures on earlier this year.

(The error: on page 122, /Ci/+/ɑ/ is said to coalesce to both /Cɛɛ/, but then lower down the list the same combination is said to coalesce to /ɛɛ/. I guess it's possible that this isn't, in fact, an error — that both are true — but in that case I'd expect them to be on the same row and/or accompanied by an explanation.)

Speaking of Pellard, I recently read and enjoyed his Proto-Japonic *e and *o in Eastern Old Japanese (2008), also freely available online.

Adnominal forms with a final /-o/ or reconstructible with an *-o are thus attested in several different (sub-)branches of the Japonic family (EOJ, Hachijō, Toshima, Akiyama and Ryukyuan). Hence this excludes the possibility that these forms are a common innovation. The geographic distribution, with several attestations in very distant and isolated areas, also excludes the possibility of borrowing. [...] Therefore it seems rather unlikely that the adnominal forms arose late in Japonic, as proposed by Frellesvig (2008), since there is definitely evidence for reconstructing the adnominal/conclusive opposition in PJ from comparative evidence.