Two papers

First, Japanese has syllables: A reply to Labrune (2012), by Shigeto Kawahara:

In a provocative article, Labrune (2012b) argues that there is little phonetic or psycholinguistic evidence for syllables in Tokyo Japanese (henceforth Japanese), and that phonological phenomena which have been hitherto analyzed in terms of syllables can be reanalyzed by deploying a distinction between a "regular/full mora" and a "deficient/special mora". She concludes that Tokyo Japanese does not have syllables, and as a further theoretical consequence of this view, she argues that not all prosodic levels are universal, extending on the suggestions by Hyman (1985, 2008). Although this proposal is very thought-provoking and its theoretical consequence is an important one, it does miss some of the previous experimental findings about the existence of syllables in the prosodic organization of Japanese. Therefore, this reply article summarizes evidence that Japanese does show evidence for syllables both phonetically and psycholinguistically.

I like Kawahara's directness here, from the title of the paper to its conclusion ("In conclusion, Japanese has syllables"); for what it's worth, I also found Labrune's arguments unconvincing at the time (I haven't read the 2012 paper Kawahara specifically refers to, but she discussed the issue in The Phonology of Japanese (2012), which I did read, and it doesn't sound like she used substantially different arguments there.)

Kawahara also recently published a couple of papers on "maids," i.e. employees in maid cafes, which may be of somewhat less universal interest although I found them good reading: "The phonetics of Japanese maid voice I: A preliminary study" and "The sound symbolic nature of Japanese maid names", both available here (along with the rest of his papers, it seems).

Two experiments show that obstruents are associated with tsun-type maids, whereas sonorants are associated with moe-type maids. [...] Morever, the identified sound symbolic relationships exemplifiy cases of emergent sound symbolic relationships, not based on conventionalized rules, as the notion of "tsun" and "moe" are new notions.

Second, Helen J. S. Lee's Writing Colonial Relations of Everyday Life in Senryu (2008).

Life in the colonies for Japanese settlers was — as life everywhere is — largely shaped by class status. Peter Duus provides an insightful distinction of class membership by identifying two types of settlers: immigrants and colonists. The working-class Japanese settlers depicted in the poems belong to Duus's definition of "immigrants," which he opposes to "colonists" whose presence in the colonial territory was subsidized by the state and who had membership in the dominant stratum of the host society. The elevated and privileged status of "colonists" engendered markedly different colonial experiences from those of their countrymen who went to colonial territories as "immigrants"; the latter were "oppressed, assimilated, and rejected by the host society," although they still ended up contributing to the exploitation of the colonized in one form or another.

[...] Senryu poetry illustrates the diverse colonial experiences of Japanese immigrants who took up a wide range of occupations, such as day laborers, peddlers, shop clerks, and factory workers. Rather than assert a monolithic portrayal of these working-class Japanese settlers, this article explores the colonial dynamics rendered in each poem as a way to offer insight into the multifaceted lived daily experiences of Japanese immigrants in colonial Korea.

The details and close reading get denser towards the end of the paper. It's worth the buildup.

The book Lee uses as her main source, Chōsen Senryū 朝鮮川柳, is actually available online (albeit in hated .djvu format). This allowed me to confirm that kahetamanma on page 617 of Lee's article is indeed the weird transcription error it appears to be. The original is 咬へたまんま, which although a bit obscure orthographically (the "standard" Japanese reading for 咬 is kamu) is almost certainly to be pronounced kuwaeta manma — cf 鉛筆なんか咬へて pronounced enpitsu nanka kuwaete here.



Fun fact for the day: Japanese lexicography seems to be in agreement that mimi ("ear") could be used in Old Japanese to mean "news, rumor, thing heard," but all the authorities use the same example — #128 in the Man'yōshū, from Ishikawa no Iratsume to Ōtomo no Tanushi.

吾聞之 耳尓好似 葦若末乃 足痛吾勢 勤多扶倍思
wa ga kikisi/ mimi ni yoku niru/ asi no ure no/ asi yamu wa ga se/ tutwometabu besi
It is just like the "ear" [i.e. news] I heard. My sore-legged darling, you must take care.

I have omitted the pillow-word(s) asi no ure no ("tips of the reeds") from my translation; they are there solely because asi ("reed") is homophonous with asi ("foot"). There is also a note attached to the poem explaining that it was sent to Ōtomo as a sort of get-well message when he had a literal, actual sore leg, which is very helpful.

Let the record show that Ishikawa no Iratsume and Ōtomo no Tanushi had a history of flirtatious banter. In the previous two poems, she complains that she had heard he was a gentleman, but he must be a bit dim not to have taken advantage with her when she dressed up as an old woman to seduce him. * He responds that sending her home that night rather than letting her stay was precisely the gentlemanly thing to do. In their commentary on this poem in the Iwanami Shin Nihon Koten Bungaku Zenshū, Satake et al say that this poem feels like playful teasing from I. no I. in return for O. no T. having rejected her advances; it certainly does seem to refer back to her previous poem — "I heard you were a gentleman, and that was a wash, but this time I guess what I heard is true."

Satake et al also offer the only other proposed example of mimi for "thing heard" that I have been able to find: MYS #2581.

言云者 三々二田八酢四 小九毛 心中二 我念羽奈九二
koto ni ipeba/ mimi ni tayasusi/ sukunaku mo/ kokoro no uti ni/ wa ga omopanaku ni
Spoken in words, it's easy as an "ear." But what I feel in my heart isn't something small.

At first I was dubious about this; couldn't mimi ni tayasusi just mean "it's easy on the ear" or something? But, digging deeper, there are a couple of later poems that combine ni yasusi with koto ("word(s)"). Those poems are #3743 and #3763, both of which start exactly the same way:

多婢等伊倍婆 許登爾曾夜須伎
tabi to ipeba/ koto ni so yasuki...
"Travel" is easy to say as a word...

... and end with reasons why travel actually sucks. Anyway, as evidence for the use of mimi in the "news" sense in #2581, this is a bit oblique, but it satisfied me.

* The note on this poem vividly describes the way she spoke hoarsely, hobbled, etc. as part of her ruse. This would probably strike me as a lot more ridiculous if it weren't almost Hallowe'en and the Internet weren't abuzz with mockery of costumes like "Sexy Ebola nurse," "Sexy banana," etc.


Chigire to

A folk song from the collection Sankachōchūka 山家鳥虫歌 ("Songs of the birds and insects [around] a mountain hut", I guess), attributed to Chikuzen province:

生れ来りしいにしへ問へば 君と契れと夢に見た
umarekitarishi inishie toeba/ kimi to chigire to yume ni mita
Searching out the time when I was born [lit. "long ago when I was born"], I saw in a dream that it was because of my bond with you.

At least, I think that's what kimi to chigire means here. Was the bare /-e/ form usable to express reasons that late? Maybe only in songs? Or in Chikuzen?

Another interpretation would be that the dream somehow ordered the singer to bond with the addressee, and the kimi (affectionate "you") is typical Japanese pronominal hanky-panky to be understood as "your affectionate 'you', i.e. him." That seems a bit more tortuous to me, but maybe.

Asano Kenji 浅野健二, editor of the 1984 Iwanami edition I have, supposes that this song is about oneiromancy of some sort, but does not touch on how to interpret kimi to chigire.

Meanwhile, a century or so earlier, Bankei did something different with the same first half in his folk song-metered hymn on the Unborn:

生まれ来たりしいにしえ問えば 何も思わぬこの心
来たる如くに心を持てば じきにこの身が生如来

umare kitarishi inishie toeba nani mo omowanu kono kokoro
kitaru gotoku ni kokoro o moteba/ jiki ni kono mi ga ikinyorai

Searching out the time that you were born, you'll find a mind that thinks of nothing. Hold your mind the way it came [into the world when you were born, i.e. thinking of nothing], and this very self right now is a living tathāgata.


Shizuoka teaches you cursive

The Shizuoka Prefectural Central Library (静岡県立中央図書館)'s ongoing series on decoding historical documents written in cursive is really very decent, especially for something available online for free. It's more like an apprenticeship than a first-principles how-to, working through actual (short) texts character by character, and I particularly appreciate the way the instructor "shows their work," so to speak, saying "this character looks like X, but if we read a few characters more we can see that it's actually Y." (The very second lesson is called "Form hypotheses as you read," and is about this process.)

The peak to strive for, no doubt, is the ability to identify even the most carelessly scrawled characters in isolation, but slogging through actual texts as best you can has always been my preferred way of learning.



I usually keep my non-book-related personal life out of this blog, but this incident was actually kind of on topic.

So my wife was reading an Anpanman book to my son when she departed from the text on one page to elaborate on one of the details in the accompanying illustration. Naturally, my son immediately objected.

"You should know better than that," I said (in English). "Anpanman is sola scriptura."

"That's right," my son agreed (in Japanese). "Anpanman wa sora o tobu kara." ("Anpanman can fly, so [there].")

(Explanation for those who don't get it: My son interpreted my Latin sola ("alone") as Japanese sora ("sky"), and assumed that I was criticizing his mother's improvised elaborations on the grounds that Anpanman can fly. Which made complete sense to him as a rhetorical position, and so he immediately adopted it as his own too.

This misunderstanding was possible because the concept of superhero-style flight is usually expressed by the set phrase sora o tobu, literally "fly in/through the sky". This probably arose because tobu can also just mean "jump", which is less impressive; perhaps not coincidentally, the Superman mythos sometimes exhibits a similar ambiguity between extremely powerful and well-controlled leaping and genuine flight.)


Down, right, down

So as well all know, the default writing direction for Japanese is vertical, from top to bottom. It's not unusual though for a column of text to contain a couple of characters aligned horizontally (left to right) — most commonly figures in Hindu-Arabic numerals, like a year or temperature. The other day though I noticed a case of double nesting:

積雪が [20 [cm]] を超えないうちに必ず雪おろしをして下さい。

"Clear the snow off [the roof of this bike shelter] before it piles up in excess of 20 cm thick."

The basic orientation is vertical. "20 cm" is a horizontal block within this, but the "cm" is a vertical block within that. Using red for vertical text and green for horizontal, this can be represented schematically as follows:

積雪が [20 [ cm ] ] を超えないうちに必ず雪おろしをして下さい。

Note that this is different from the standard fits-within-a-single-space "character" for centimeters, ㌢, which is just a case of warigaki (dividing part of a line into two smaller lines, both of the same orientation as the original line, to be read one after the other before proceeding to read the rest of the original line; there are a few examples on this page).


Nationalists and patriots

From Masao Miyoshi's Accomplices of Silence (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974):

The dominant literary school [when Natsume Sōseki published Light and Darkness], for instance, was that of the "Naturalists," having as their spokesemen writers like Tayama Katei (1871-1930), Shimazaki Tōson (1872-1934), Kunikida Doppo (1871-1908), Tokuda Shūsei (1871-1943), and Masamune Hakuchō (1879-1962). But their actual works are far from "naturalistic" as we understand the term. Although they professed a debt to Zola and Maupassant, the influence is apparent only in their subject matter, which is usually restricted to the shady side of life. Otherwise, their techniques and assumptions are about as conventional and moralistic as those of any other group of writers at the time. Tayama Katai's The Quilt (Futon, 1907), commonly considered the best example of Naturalism, is the story of a middle-aged writer's suppressed love for his beautiful disciple. The most famous scene, almost embarrassing to read nowadays, occurs at the end where the hero buries his face in the girl's bedding after she leaves him for a younger man. But the story was shocking enough to Meiji readers, and it was at once ranked with Germinal and Une Vie.

The "Naturalism" of these writers consists then of little more than their misuse of the imported term, and before long in fact their manifestos pretty much disappear from the literary scene. There is one feature of their works that stands out, and that is their markedly personal and confessional quality. Soon to develop into a genre called shi-shōsetsu (I-novel), these works require that literature be "truthful." To simplify a bit, telling the truth here means one, accuracy in recording; two, honesty in disclosure; and three, sincerity in confession. According to this recipe, the writer, in recording his own life, must present it in the worst light possible, but to do this, he must first have a "disreputable" life to write about — something of a problem, given the typical puritanic restrictions of Japanese life. Thus the adventures of these "bohemians" are pretty tame stuff, confined for the most part to the purchase of a willing lady for an evening. (pp 72-73)

Miyoshi's book is still a great read, not in small part thanks to his willingness to pass searing judgments of this sort. (This is normally the spot reserved for a token hand-wring about overreliance on one critic's opinions, but it's 2014 now; cautious, just-the-facts historiography of the Japanese novel's early development should not be difficult to find.) Oddly, a contemporary review is available online here, for anyone interested.

Next, a magnificently dry summary of the middle path from Alistair D. Swale's The Meiji Restoration: Monarchism, Mass Communication and Conservative Revolution (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009):

Finally, it is perhaps needful to further emphasize what this reformation of the worldview [i.e. the early stages of the Meiji Restoration] did not entail. It was not a democratic revolution. It was not a blanket conversion to Western ways of living and seeing the world. It was not a rejection of traditional authority altogether but rather a redefinition. Eventually, it would become apparent to a broad stratum of Japanese society that it was actually possible to cut your hair in the Western style and not lose all sense of Japaneseness or patriotism. It was equally still possible to retain one's disdain for foreigners; however, one would no longer go out of one's way to kill them. (p 55)

I enjoyed Swale's book a lot, and although I'd be out of my depth attempting a serious evaluation of its arguments, I applaud his stated aim of bringing some recent Japanese scholarship on the matter to the attention of the English-speaking world.


Tariki Sensei

One of the interesting things about pre-genbun itchi Japanese diglossia is that although in theory the written language had been faithfully preserved for centuries, in practice it was more often used as a simple encoding for the contemporary spoken language. One area where this is often becomes apparent is in the mass of past and/or perfective verb endings.

That particular part of Japanese reached its peak of complexity during Early Middle Japanese; it's been a downhill slope of simplification ever since, and today we're basically down to the -ta ending. But because Early Middle Japanese also served as the model for Classical Japanese, as the centuries rolled on the literary community were expected to master and preserve fine distinctions of a sort that their native language clear-felled and paved over increasingly far back in the mists of history.

[Update: Leonardo Boiko has done the hard work of listing up all these suffixes with their traditional analyses along with Frellesvig's views, for those who want more context.]

In Kanbun kundoku to kindai Nihongo no keisei 漢文訓読と近代日本語の形成 ("Kanbun kundoku and the formation of [Late] Modern Japanese") (Bensei Shuppan, 2011), Saitō Fumitoshi 齋藤文俊 quotes a marvelous rant on this topic by Ochiai Naofumi 落合直文, from an essay published in 1890 called "Shōrai no kokugo" 将来の国語 ("The national language/Japanese of the future"). After listing the various past/perfective verb endings (ki, tsu, etc.), Ochiai says [warning, casual translation]:

Each of these various endings must be used at different times. Sometimes the normal past [普通の過去] is required, sometimes the imperfect [半過去], sometimes the natural past [自然の過去], sometimes the caused past [使然の過去], sometimes the exclamatory past [驚嘆の過去], and sometimes the settled past [治定の過去]. To go further, each has its meaning, and these should not be confused. Yet is it not the case that people today are indifferent to these distinctions, so that the keri partisans [けり党] use only keri, the nu faction [ぬ派] use only nu, the tsu league [つ団] use only tsu, the tari union use only tari, and the ki group use only ki? [...] Even in an age of economism like today, this is really too much.

Among my friends is a man known as "Tariki Sensei." He got this name because whenever he speaks of the past he uses tariki. Another of my friends is indifferent to verb endings. He once showed me something he had written in which he first used ki, then followed this with nu, threw in a tari, a tsu, a keri, and who knows what else. This struck me as uncharacteristic given his customary indifference, and when I read more closely, strange to say, it turned out that he was simply using whichever ending he pleased, no matter the intended meaning. When I asked him about it, he replied that the variation was intentional, to avoid making the text dull by repeating the same word too many times.

(Part of Saitō's project is to explore the different verb endings preferred for essentially the same meaning in kanbun-influenced and "pure" Japanese texts — for example, keri is almost never used in the former. Thus, the rules included not only semantic distinctions but also arbitrary stylistic requirements.)



Shoki shamisen no kenkyū 初期三味線の研究 ("Research into the early shamisen") is a recent collection of papers by Japanese music historian Gamō Satoaki 蒲生郷昭. The first part of the book, which I read this week, is an exhaustive philological analysis of the early history of the word shamisen, beginning with its well-known first appearance in the late 16th-century diary of Uwai Kakuken/Satokane (上井覚兼日記). (Spoiler: "しやひせん", in kana, twice.)

Gamō concludes from his investigations that the word shamisen entered Japanese from a Ryūkyūan language (rather than from Chinese directly), pointing out that most early attestations were in kana rather than kanji, even in otherwise kanji-heavy works; this suggests that these early witnesses either had no Sino-Japanese morphological model of the word or wanted to emphasize its exoticness.

Following the early kana phase (Gamō goes on), several different kanji spellings (ateji) are seen. The current standard, 三味線 (borrowing the kanji for sanmai 三昧, a loan via Chinese of Sanskrit samādhi), was first adopted by Kyoto-based haikai poets in the Kan'ei era (1624-1643). However, this spelling didn't catch on outside haikai circles until the Manji era (1658-1661), when Asai Ryōi 浅井了意 began using it in his popular kanazōshi works:

... 三味線を引寄せ、でつるてんと引く撥音、軈て買手をあがり鯰にせんといへる響きあるゆゆしき ...

... she pulls the shamisen to her, and grim indeed is the way the de-tsuru-ten sound of the pick on the strings seems to sing of her patron's impending penury ...

This, it seems, was the final push that made 三味線 the winner.

Incidentally, in Gamō's discussion of the word's appearance in the 1595 Dictionarium Latino Lusitanicum, ac Iaponicum, he throws out a mystery I can actually solve. For context, here's the original DLLI entry in full:

Lyra, ae. Lus. Viola, ou outro inſtrumẽto de cordas. Iap. Fiqu biua, xamixen. ¶ Itẽ, Hum ſino caleſte. Iap. Foxino yadori.

Having covered the directly relevant first half of the above, Gamō adds, "After this in the same entry, following some other Portuguese, it says 'Foxino yadori.' I suppose this is 'Starry abode,' but what can it mean?" (なお、同項ではこのあとに、別のポルトガル語につづけて "Foxino yadori" とある。「星の宿り」であろうが、何を意味するのだろうか。) Well, it refers, of course, to the Lyra, the constellation. Mystery solved.

Also, note that the first Japanese translation for lyra above is fiqu biua, "biwa that you play [by plucking]". Presumably this is to avoid confusion with the other biwa, the loquat. A brief glimpse into an alternate reality where kanji were eliminated entirely from Japanese orthography, and a thousand "ink pen"-style disambiguatory elaborations arose in response.