So there I was, reading a paper by Paul Kingsbury about dating texts in the Pali Canon based on aorist forms that appears in them [PDF], when I came across this:

I'm no Greek-'n'-Latin-only traditionalist, but I think this is taking academic obscurantism too far. The bunny-ears operator was not covered in any of my stats courses.

It's not as bad as the equation on page 5, though:

Pretty sure I saw that in some ancient Sumatran ruins one time. If I recall correctly it was carved on a blasphemous altar of cyclopean scale, past which my native porters violently refused to proceed.

Still, I have to admire any paper that explains its parameter selection in a footnote that reads, in its entirety, "Why 10? Why not?"



I suppose that most people reading this are familiar with the nembutsu, which in Japanese has been more or less standardized as namu Amida Butsu 南無阿弥陀仏. Learning Pali reminded me that the first word, namu in modern Japanese, goes back to namo on the subcontinent, and I was struck by the fact that the pronunciation namo appears in the Genji Monogatari's "Yūgao" chapter as well:

明がたもちかうなりにけり。鳥のこゑなどは聞えで、みたけさうじにやあらん、ただおきなびたるこゑにぬかづくぞ聞ゆる。 [...] なもたうらいたうしとぞをがむなる。

It would soon be dawn. No cocks were crowing. All they heard was an old an's voice as he prostrated himself full-length, no doubt for a pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain. ... "Hail to the Guide who is to come!" the old man chanted. (Tyler's translation)

So I got to wondering if maybe namo was the older form (borrowed directly from the source), and namu a later version (arising out of sound changes in Chinese and/or Japanese), but I wasn't able to find much information on the topic. According to the Nihon kokugo daijiten, the 1474 CE Bunmei setsuyō shū 文明本節用集 dictionary lists a whole bunch of alternate spellings: 南謨, 南芒, 南牟, 南膜, 南麼, 納無, 南莫, 南忙, 曩謨, 那蒙, many of which suggest a namo pronunciation, but there's no information as to which is older and, as the NKD says, exactly how sources written in kanji were pronounced is anybody's guess.

I suppose the key lies in finding out how 無 was pronounced in the relevant ancient Chinese period and region, but this lies beyond my abilities. Anyone got any ideas?


The prideful

Another quick one from the Chōninbukuro:

In the reign of Toyotomi, there was graffiti which read: "The days of the prideful are numbered." By way of reply, Toyotomi wrote: "The days of the humble are numbered too."

The original graffiti is probably a reference to the opening of the Heike monogatari.

incidentally, the word I am translating as "graffiti" here is rakusho, which doesn't strictly mean graffiti (in the sense of text written on a wall) so much as anonymous lampoonery written on paper which was then posted on walls, or just left lying around, where people would see it.


What is a chōnin?

What is a chōnin? No, wait, don't look at the Wikipedia article. I think that this story from Nishikawa Joken 西川如見's Chōninbukuro 町人袋 ("Bag [of knowledge] for chōnin" is more illustrative:

At a lively gathering of many chōnin, one said "The samurai-stink of samurai, the scholar-stink of scholars, and the miso-stink of miso are most disagreeable." An elder replied, "Exactly so. And yet, the chōnin-stink of chōnin is a delight." In this there is truth indeed.

I'm just going to come out and say it. Chōnin = hipster.


Meiji koto sell-outs

I found an interesting paper by Philip Flavin: Meiji Shinkyoku: The Beginnings of Modern Music for the Koto [PDF].

This paper argues for the success of early Meiji compositions for the koto, or Meiji shinkyoku, by suggesting that the composers' adherence to premodern compositional models allowed for their continued appreciation. At the same time, however, these same composers effected a fundamental change in the esthetics of sōkyoku jiuta as they attempted to popularise their music. This change led to a new understanding of music, and allowed Tateyama Noboru (1876–1926) to turn to popular culture and initiate the modernization of koto music. This he did by introducing themes taken from Western military music and keyboard music into his compositions for koto. [...]

The excerpt from Gaisen rappa no shirabe is eye-opening — I wish I could find a recording of it online. (I did find the sheet music, but it's the middle of the night here...)



Man'yōshū poem #372:

春日乎 春日山乃 高座之 御笠乃山尓 朝不離 雲居多奈引 容鳥能 間無數鳴 雲居奈須 心射左欲比 其鳥乃 片戀耳二 晝者毛 日之盡 夜者毛 夜之盡 立而居而 念曽吾為流 不相兒故荷
parupi wo/ kasuga no yama no/ takakura no/ mikasa no yama ni/ asa sarazu/ kumowi tanabiki/ kapotori no/ ma naku siba naku/ kumowi nasu/ kokoro isaywopi/ sono tori no/ katakwopwi nomwi ni/ piru pa mo/ pi no kotogoto/ yworu pa mo/ ywo no kotogoto/ tatite wite/ omopi so a ga suru/ apanu kwo yuwe ni
[On a spring day] Mount Kasuga; [The heights of] Mount Mikasa — where every morning/ the clouds cluster/ and the face-birds/ cry ceaselessly;/ like the clouds/ my heart is heavy/ like the birds/ my love unrequited;/ by day/ all day/ by night/ all night/ I stand, I sit/ I ever brood;/ for one who will not see me

That's an ugly and unpolished translation for sure, but I don't want to showcase the detail so much as the structure. Check this out:

[On a Spring day][The heights of]makurakotoba
Mount KasugaMount MikasaNatural phenomena/backdrop
where every morning/
the clouds cluster
and the face-birds/
cry ceaselessly
Natural phenomena/actors + ceaselessness
like the clouds/
my heart is heavy
like the birds/
my love unrequited
Simile linking nature to self
by day/ all dayby night/ all nightCeaselessness (intensified, almost obsessive)
I standI sitActions of self
I ever broodEmotions of self
for one who will not see meReason

The poem starts out from the utterly impersonal: mountains (involved with stock epithets, no less). From there it is a jo-ha-kyū-style slowly accelerating burn through the natural actors who "inhabit" the mountains, their behavior, their behavior's relevance to the narrator, the narrator's behavior itself, a climactic and tempestuous declaration, and finally, almost as an afterthought, a placid (resigned, perhaps) explanation of why all this should be — why the poem even exists.

And all of this is presented in dual form right up until the climax of the poem, the second-last line omopi so a ga suru 念曽吾為流, a sentence which uses kakari-musubi form to emphasize the omopi, "thought (of someone)." The narrator is utterly in thrall to this omopi alone, and so it is appropriate that the A/B structure vanishes here — and note that the "tempo" of the duality has just increased, with both A and B in the same line: tatite wite.

This is the sort of thing that didn't survive when chōka ("long poems") went out of style.

Incidentally, it is no longer clear what a "face-bird" is. Maybe the cuckoo, maybe not.