Watashi and shi

Reading Patricia J. Wetzel's Keigo in Modern Japan: Polite Language from Meiji to the Present, I noticed something interesting in her translation of a passage from a set of keigo guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture in 1941 under the name Reihō yōkō (礼法要項, translated "Important points in manners" by Wetzel). Here's the passage (p53):

For self (jishō) reference, one uses the usual watashi 'I'. With regard to superiors, it is a matter of using either shi 'sir' or the name. With regard to men, it is all right to use boku 'I' with equals (dōhai), but not with superiors.

And here's the original, with kanji modernized:


So, I see two errors in Wetzel's translation:

  1. The intended reading of 私 is surely watakushi, not watashi. I wasn't able to find an original printing of Reihō yōkō to check for furigana, but a flurry of books based on the Ministry's guidelines in 1941-1942, and they all agree that it is watakushi. My general understanding is that in 1941, watashi was still considered rather informal. (It wasn't new; it dates back to the Edo period, but, for example, the ruling class didn't use it then either.) In fact, I think that the 1952 pronouncement in the Kokugo shingikai's Kore kara no keigo ("Keigo from now on") that "watashi will be taken as the standard form" (「わたし」を標準の形とする), with watakushi designated "a special form for formal contexts" (あらたまった場面の用語) might have been watashi's big break. Certainly, declaring by fiat that the forms that were used when speaking to superiors and equals would, respectively, now be considered "standard" and "special", with no hierarchical implication at all, fits very well with the stated aim of Kore kara to transform keigo from something "based mainly on vertical relationship(s)" to something that "must be based on mutual respect" and reflects "mutual equality" (all translations Wetzel).
  2. The second sentence actually means "When talking to superiors, the surname (氏) or given name (名) are sometimes used [for self-reference]." Wetzel has mistaken the intended usage of 氏 for another usage of the character, which means something like to "the [aforementioned] gentleman" (in turn deriving from a usage which is more or less equivalent to "mister").

Note that I don't intend this post as a cheap gotcha. Anyone writing seriously on a topic of any depth is bound to make the occasional mistake. (I put the chances at about 50% that I've gotten something wrong in the corrections I wrote above, for example; after I hit post, the deluge of commenters providing documentary evidence that watashi was okay to use with superiors.) To be honest, I think this underscores her thesis: keigo is so prone to arbitrary redefinition and reanalysis, so liable to be discussed as a Platonic ideal rather than with reference to the actual current state of the language, that it is possible for a modern scholar to misunderstand the details in something issued to scholars, as guidance, only a couple of generations ago.

One other interesting thing about Kore kara no keigo: it specifically singles out jibun ([my]self) as something to be avoided (避けたい) as a replacement for watashi. Could this be because, as I suspect, the use of jibun was associated with the armed forces and militarism in general?


Double translations

Here's an interesting translation war story I found in Daniel Boucher's rewarding "Gāndhārī and the Early Chinese Buddhist Translations Reconsidered: The Case of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra" (JSTOR, but available through R&R):

Double Translations
One of the most unusual features of Dharmarakṣa's translation idiom [...] is the occurrence of what I call double translations. These are cases in which an Indic term is rendered twice in close proximity, presumably because two different words had collapsed together in pronunciation, at least as recited by Dharmarakṣa. His translation assistants, unable to decide between two or more possible options, offered both possibilities despite the fact that such a rendering almost always resulted in nonsense. We will look at several examples of this phenomenon below.

KN 162.5: lokavidū = one who understands the world (epithet of a buddha)
Dh 89b.13: 世之聖父 = sagely father of the world (Krsh, 108-9)
KN 193.1: yathā vayaṃ lokavidū bhavema = just as we will become knowers of the world
Dh 93b.23-24: 吾等當成世之明父 = we will become wise fathers of the world (Krsh, 119)

Dharmarakṣa appears to have rendered both -vidū (wise) and -pitu (father). While there are a number of instances of an interchange between p and v in kharoṣṭhī documents and inscriptions - if that were the script of Dharmarakṣa's manuscript - it is obvious that both words could not have been represented in the same place. Such a mistake suggests that the pronunciation of these two words (-vidu and -pitu) had coalesced, and therefore, Dharmarakṣa's translation assistants, unable to determine the proper reading, deduced that two voiced consonants here (-v-, -d-) could have been derived from two unvoiced consonants (-p-, -t-). [...]

KN 301.6: svākārāś caiva te sattvāḥ = and these beings of good disposition
Dh 111a.6: 衆生善因室 = beings who have good causes/rooms (Krsh, 176)

It appears here that Dharmarakṣa and/or his assistants understood both ākāra (ground, reason, cause, disposition; cf. BHSD, 86) and āgāra (dwelling, house, room). [...] What is astounding here though is that a decision was not made between the two possibilities, resulting in an incoherent translation.

Note: "Krsh" refers to Karashima Seishi 辛嶋静志's The textual study of the Chinese versions of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra in the light of the Sanskrit and Tibetan versions (The Sankibo Press, 1992).

Reading this, I wondered if the translators mightn't have been attempting to faithfully reproduce what they saw as intentional ambiguity or wordplay in the original. Maybe they thought that lokavidū was supposed to mean both "world-wise" and "world-father"; maybe the apparent incoherence of "beings who have good causes/rooms" was, in their view, an accurate rendition of a deep mystery in the original. (It surely wouldn't be the first time in history that garbled religious transmission became revered canon, and I've seen plenty of incoherence arise from attempts to render ambiguity in Japanese waka, for example.)

But then Boucher points out that lokavidū is translated correctly when it appears in a standard list of epithets (twenty instances!), and on the other hand is translated in a differently incorrect way elsewhere. This seems to scuttle my theory. Boucher argues that this curious inconsistency suggests that the problem was a communication breakdown within the translation process, rather than an incompetent translator as such. In particular, he "Dharmarakṣa's principal assistant, Nie Chengyuan" (聶承遠) as the probable "source of such problems" — always with sympathy for Nie's difficult, pre-Internet position, of course.

This is all just one corner of a piece that ranges wide and provokes thought; I look forward to seeing who cites it (14 days from now).


Register and read

Given the vehemence and obstinacy with which I advocate for public dissemination of the fruits of academia, it would be ungracious and churlish of me not to note that JSTOR have finally instituted a program giving us plebes limited access to their archives.

They call it Register & Read, and by the full list of participating journals is much more impressive than I expected. Here's a short list of available publications of probable interest to No-sword readers:

  • Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies
  • Japan Review
  • Japanese Journal of Religious Studies
  • Japanese Language and Literature
  • Journal of Japanese Studies
  • Monumenta Nipponica

Thanks, JSTOR and participating journals!

So anyway, I'm reading Edwin McClellan's "The Implications of Soseki's Kokoro" right now. Anyone want to share any other recommendations?


non + x 8

The new issue of non + x ("an experimental e-journal dedicated to the critique of Buddhist and other contemporary cultural materials") is out!

You want a Lacanian take on anattā? Tom Pepper wrote "Taking Anatman Full Strength and Śāntideva's Ethics of Truth" [PDF] just for you.

The mind, while dependent on the brain, is not in any way reducible to the brain. This is true because the mind, and so thought, does not completely (and possibly not mostly) take place within single brains, but takes place in a symbolic/imaginary structure which incorporates or makes use of multiple brains for its existence. The concepts of symbolic and imaginary to which I am referring are part of the Lacanian discourse of psychoanalysis, and I will give a brief and simplified account of them here.

I also quite liked "What Kind of Scientist was Buddha?", Pepper's review of The Scientific Buddha: His Short and Happy Life (Lopez 2012) and Buddha's Brain: the Practical Neuroscience of Happiness (Hanson and Mendius, 2009).

According to Hanson and Mendius, what the Buddha realized, his great insight, was that "the brain is the cause of suffering" (12), apparently because "something transcendental is involved with the mind, consciousness, and the path of awakening—call it God, Spirit, Buddha-nature, the Ground... it's beyond the physical universe" (9). The problem is, this soul or atman or whatever we want to call it, is trapped in a brain that is not engineered for the modern world. Fortunately, we can change the brain, so that we can make our soul more comfortable during its stay. The important thing, apparently, is that we do not get the mistaken idea that human suffering results from, say, oppression, starvation, or war. No, what we do in the world is unimportant, so long as we adjust our brain so that we can do it comfortably—sort of like adjusting the power seats in a luxury car. [...] Now, clearly this has nothing whatsoever to do with anything Buddhism has ever been in the past. As Lopez puts it, "if Buddha had sought to alleviate only the most superficial form of suffering," he would have done better to have "set forth the Indoor Plumbing Sutra and the Lotus of Good Dental Hygiene" (109).

I want that Lopez book now.


Japanese on the Mariana Islands

Happy (solar) new year! After the traditional unannounced No-sword holiday, it's a bit late for special new-year content (let alone year's-end content), so I'm going to write about a book I read last week called Mariana Shotō ni zanzon suru Nihongo マリアナ諸島に残存する日本語 ("The Japanese [language] that has survived on the Mariana Islands"), by Daniel Long and Arai Masato 新井正人.

The book begins with a quick overview of the period between WWI and WWII when Japan had control of the islands (as "mandate territories" previously part of the German Protectorate of New Guinea). The islands were soon home to thousands of Japanese immigrants, mostly from Okinawa and western Japan (but with a sizeable minority of Tokyoites), and by 1938 the population was more than 50% Japanese. This meant Japanese neighbors, Japanese bosses, and Japanese schooling.

The specifics of how Japanese was taught and used at the time are the focus of the next part of the book, an oral history based on interviews conducted in 2004-2006 with informants who experienced the interwar educational system. The schools the islanders generally attended (as opposed to the separate schools for Japanese children) were called 公学校, a word meaning something like "public schools" or "general schools". Some informants who attended these public schools report teachers who spoke in local languages, but on the whole it seems that classes were conducted by Japanese teachers in Japanese, with other languages forbidden, and reading/writing meant kana and kanji. The general Japanocentricity of the curriculum is illustrated by the fact that one informant was still able to recite the opening of the Imperial Rescript on Education, but top-down imposition wasn't the only way that knowledge of Japanese spread; apparently it wasn't uncommon for children to already know some Japanese when they began school, having picked it up playing with Japanese children living in their neighborhood.

This oral history makes great reading, and some parts are very affecting.

R: 負けたけどね、ま、勝てないね、戦争。要するに、アメリカか日本が来て、戦争、戦争したでしょう、ね。 [うん] それで戦争して、もう、われわれんとこ、island、we didn't invite them to come to our island ね to fight, came to our island、戦争してさ、家ぶっこわしてさ。ばあっと帰るでしょ。 [うん] われわれ「どうするんだろう?」。「知らない」日本人は「アメリカ人だから」。アメリカ行ったら「知らない。日本人だったから」。

R: We lost, you know. Well, we can't win, not a war. It's like, America or Japan turns up and fights, fights a war, right? [Interviewer: Mm.] They fight a war, but our, our island, we didn't invite them to come to our island, you know? To fight, [they] came to our island, they fought a war, destroyed our houses. Then they clear out. [Interviewer: Mm.] We asked "What should we do?" "Don't ask us." The Japanese said: "That's for the Americans [to handle]." We go to the Americans, [they say] "Don't ask us. That was the Japanese."

"You can not do anything, because us, you have no power, no identification," says the same informant later (in English). "Just a bunch of dog みたいなね。 I love you people, I love American, I love Japanese ね、but, since ね、あったからな [It happened, you know?]"

The final part of the book examines a few interesting characteristics of the actual Japanese spoken by the islanders. Good reading, but not great blog post material: relative percentages of various types of errors and so on. There's also a list of Japanese loanwords in Carolinian, culled from a dictionary and confirmed (or not) with an informant. As you might expect, this looks a lot like Joel at Far Outliers' lists of Japanese loanwords in Pohnpeian and Palauan. Here are a few interesting items not on Joel's list:

  • ambwooli - -li is apparently a suffix deriving verbs from nouns, and this verb means "to carry someone on one's back," so it is presumably derived from (a loaned version of) the Japanese word ombu (piggyback).
  • zanbara - From chambara, specifically the sense of kids staging pretend sword-fights and other battles
  • ne - The Japanese sentence-ending particle, adopted as-is into Carolinian.

Great book, and available at a non-ridiculous price! It's actually part of a series on Japanese outside Japan; the first book was about Taiwan, and the next about Sakhalin.