End of year

The 2014 end-of-year-in-Japan roundup is up at Néojaponisme. Go check it out!

Something I learned too late to write about: the passing of Roy Andrew Miller. Well, learned too late, and also, what is there to say? I don't think he was right about Altaic, but the very title Japanese and the Other Altaic Languages is a lesson in academic argument.

His work was also one of the most consistent guilty but informative pleasures of the review pages. Just yesterday I ran across the casual yet utterly devastating cruelty of "The volume concludes with a small number of remarkably uninteresting plates" in a 1957 review of The Zhima Funeral Ceremony of the Na-khi of Southwest China, by Joseph F. Rock.


Not at all

Happy holidays and/or regular workdays, everyone! In lieu of a proper post, here's a delightful, not at all unsettling picture of Santa Claus by Matsushita Haruo (松下春雄).

Note that Santa's list of names is written vertically.



So I noticed in Tsutaya recently that the movie The Legend of Hercules has been given the Japanese title Za Herakuresu, literally "The Hercules."

I suppose that this was done to differentiate it from the film Hercules, which is just Herakuresu in Japan — must have called dibs on the title first, even though it was released later.

Obviously, "The Hercules" would be an odd title in English for a film about Hercules himself. (It would make a fine title, though, for a Seinfeld episode about, say, Elaine sending an unwanted boyfriend on repeated "quests" in the hope that he would get sick of it and break up with her.) What I wonder is whether the za is best understood as a vestige of The Legend of — another case of spooky action on a non-constituent.

(Note also that Japan uses the Greek form of Hercules's name.)



Here are some thoughts on foxes from Isonokami Nobutsugu 石上宣続's Bōka enman roku 卯花園漫録 ("Deutzia Garden Miscellany"), a collection of trivia apparently compiled in the late 19th to early 18th Century.

It is said that foxes are yin by nature, so that even most male foxes will transform into a woman and have relations with men.

I never thought about this before, but it's true. (For values of truth encompassing fiction. You know what I mean.) On the other hand, I'm pretty sure Bugs Bunny dresses as a woman due to an excess of yang, so I'm not sure how much that has to do with it.

When one cannot tell whether another's suffering is from illness or the work of a fox, brew the leaves of the Japanese star anise (shikimi) and have them drink it. If possessed by a fox, they will refuse out of fear. If truly ill, they will drink it though they complain about the smell.

It turns out that shikimi is toxic and shouldn't be consumed by anyone. I suppose that the caution against seeing foxhood in mere reluctance to drink a cup of liver-failure tea was added to prevent false positives arising from this fact. ("Hey, this guy doesn't want to drink poison!" "I knew he was possessed by a fox!")

Incidentally, my source for Isonokami is Yoshikawa Kōbunkan's Nihon zuihitsu taisei edition (volume 23), ed. Nihon Zuihitsu Taisei Editorial Dept. (日本随筆大成編輯部).


Furuike no

I can't believe I never heard these two great senryū before.

furuike no/ soba de Bashō wa/ bikuri suru
Old pond—/ nearby, Bashō/ startled, jumps
Bashō-ō/ pochan to iu to/ tachidomari
Bashō/ hearing a splash/ pauses

Both are quoted in Hayashi Eriko 林えり子's Ikiteiru Edo-kotoba 生きている江戸ことば ("Living Edo-ese") (Shūeisha 2000, p67)

(My first impulse was to translate Bashō-ō 芭蕉翁 as "Old Bashō", but (a) that might imply a parallel with furuike which isn't there at all, and (b) 翁 is actually a respectful way of addressing an aged man, while "Old X" in English is rustically affectionate at best.)


[The intricacies of] prose and poetry

Here's a poem I like from the Kaifūsō 懐風藻 ("Reminiscences of Poetry"), the oldest surviving collection of Chinese poetry by Japanese authors (compiled in 751 CE, the Nara period). The poem is by Ochi no Hiroe 越智広江, a scholar of the Chinese classics, and so I've gone ahead and provided the Baxter-Sagart Old Chinese reconstruction, too. ("But Matt, isn't that pointless, given that these poems were written according to the standards of Middle Chinese, centuries after the Old Chinese period?" Yeah, that's true, but as far as I know there aren't any texts written by Japanese authors in Old Chinese, so we're just going to have to make do.)

文藻我所難 莊老我所好 行年已過半 今更為何勞

*mə[n] [ts]ˤawʔ ŋˤajʔ s-qʰaʔ nˤar
*[ts]raŋ C.rˤuʔ ŋˤajʔ s-qʰaʔ qʰˤuʔ-s
*Cə.[g]ˤraŋ C.nˤi[ŋ] ɢ(r)əʔ kʷˤaj pˤan-s
*[k]r[ə]m kˤraŋ-s ɢʷ(r)aj-s [g]ˤaj [r]ˤaw

Roughly: "[The intricacies of] prose and poetry are hard for me; *[Ts]raŋ-tsәʔ and *C.rˤuʔ-tsәʔ are what I like. The better half of [my] years have already passed; why should I start making an effort now?"

(I'm assuming that for 難 "difficult" in 我所難 "[considered] difficult by me" you want the adjective *nˤar rather than the noun *nˤar-s, and similarly that for the 勞 "toil" in 為何勞 "toil for what?" you want *[r]ˤaw "toil" rather than *[r]ˤaw-s "reward for toil." If anyone feels differently, let's hear it in comments. Syntax, alas, is one thing that Baxter and Sagart don't do much explicit reconstruction of.)

Now, this is a juéjù 絶句, meaning that at the very least lines 2 and 4 are supposed to rhyme. Their Japanese on-yomi (Chinese-derived) pronunciations rhyme: 好 /ko:/ < /kɔ:/ < /kau/ vs 勞 /ro:/ < /rɔ:/ < /rau/. Their Middle Chinese reconstructions also rhyme, as far as I can tell: 好 xawH vs 勞 lawH. (The "H" just signifies departing 去 tone.)

But in Baxter-Sagart OC they could hardly be more different. *[r]ˤaw is a recognizable ancestor of lawH and , but *qʰˤuʔ-s is, well, I'm as tired of lazy lolnonEnglishphonology jokes as anyone else, but when I was trying to pronounce this syllable earlier my family literally thought I was choking. (Probably not coincidentally, the aspirated, pharyngealized, uvular stop in the BS reconstruction is the consonant that comes in for the most scorn in that Paleoglot post a couple of years ago.)

Conclusion: Yes, this was pointless, but I hope we all had a good time pronouncing *C.rˤuʔ-tsәʔ. (What consonant do you assign to "unidentified preinitial consonant *C-"?)


Tai, or whatever

Oh wow, you aren't seriously using the OC reconstructions in Schuessler's ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese are you? Like, 吠 is OCM *ba(t)s < *bos?, OCB *bjots? That's so 2006, man. Get with the times and download the all-new (September 2014!) reconstructions from Baxter and Sagart's Old Chinese: A New Reconstruction already. They're free! (吠 is now *Cә.bo[t]-s.)

No, but seriously, I also lucked into a very cheap secondhand copy of OCNR, and so far it's been great reading. Like, the very second footnote is entertaining:

We adopt the term "Kra-Dai" proposed by Ostapirat (2000) in place of the traditional "Tai-Kadai," since to Thai speakers, "Tai-Kadai" evidently sounds unintentionally funny, meaning something like "Tai, or whatever" (Montatip Krishnamra, p.c.)

Does anyone reading this know enough Thai to elaborate here?

I do have one complaint about the book, although it doesn't reflect poorly on its authors at all: the printing feels cheap. The text has just enough digital artifacts and jaggies to be obnoxious, and the paper is just thin enough to show through noticeably. None of it's bad enough to harm readability, but it's a shame; a book like this should be a pleasure to look at.

(I honestly thought that I'd ended up with a cheap edition intended for Asian markets or something, which would of course be a whole different story, but I can't find any indication that this is the case, and the title page says "Printed in the United States of America". Î don't know — maybe I got taken by a very specialized gang of counterfeiters?)


Bigibigi Ekting Ebriweya

The Charles Darwin University Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages is "a digital archive of endangered literature in Indigenous languages of the Northern Territory". This site is amazing; I'm sure that pretty much everyone reading this will understand the appeal of a giant headline reading "Click on the map to start looking at books."

You can also browse by language, author, or just title. For example, there are 69 books in Gupapuyŋu, a Dhuwal dialect of Yolŋu. Here's a not-bad online dictionary of Gupapuyŋu, or you could download Beulah Lowe's dictionary [PDF]; I wasn't able to find a decent online resource for grammar.

Or there are 101 books in Kriol, such as the truly great Bigibigi Ekting Ebriweya ("Pigs Acting (Like People) Everywhere").

Special bonus: Rripangu Yirdaki: Negotiating Musical Identities in a Northeast Arnhem Land Tourism Business, Philip Abraham Clark's 2011 thesis for "the degree of Master of Music in Music with a concentration in Musicology" (I'm not sure but I think that this field of study may have something to do with music).

ETA: "Who will teach our* languages?", by John Hobson. Footnote reference: "* Because all Australians should accept responsibility for keeping them alive." You can also go ahead and download (for free) Re-awakening languages: theory and practice in the revitalisation of Australia's indigenous languages, edited by Hobson + Kevin Lowe, Susan Poetsch, and Michael Walsh.


Comic relief

Check this out: furigana across a constituent boundary.

The target of the furigana here is the text コミックな一息, which would usually be pronounced komikku na ikinuki. The furigana, however, specifies that the na ikinuki is to be pronounced reriifu, thus giving us komikku reriifu, "comic relief."

This is unusual because while furigana usually target a constituent, these furigana cross the constituent boundary: komikku na | ikinuki. It's sort of an orthographic parallel to a non-constituent book title like A Scanner Darkly — not forbidden or anything, but kind of weird.

Here's what I think happened. The author (Takayama Hiroshi 高山宏) wanted to use "comic relief" as a straight-up loan. On the other hand, he (or perhaps his editor) was afraid that not enough readers would understand if it were just written in katakana. The word komikku is fairly common, but reriifu less so, so he replaced only the latter with a native Japanese word, ikinuki. This necessitated adding the na to komikku, since komikku is a "na adjective."

So now he has komikku na ikinuki and he wants to indicate that it should be pronounced as if it were a loan of "comic relief." He can't just change the ikinuki, because that would give you komikku na reriifu, which is rather affected: a calque of a phrase using the exact words in the phrase, loaned individually. On the other hand, if he applies the furigana komikku reriifu to the whole phrase, it looks strange to have furigana on katakana (komikku) that are the same as the actual katakana (komikku). "Comic [pronounced 'comic']".

Changing komikku to a native Japanese word and saving komikku for the furigana would be one way out of this dilemma, but instead he has simply applied reriifu to the entirety of the phrase that isn't komikku.

I can't believe how much I wrote about this.

Edit: Full citation:

Takayama, Hiroshi 高山宏. "Yume no kikagaku" 夢の幾何学 ["Geometry of a Dream"]. Sōseki kenkyū 8 (1997): 60-67. Print.