Cur buddica latine?

Alexander Ricius has a page of various Japanese and Buddhist texts translated into Latin (and, uh, one H. P. Lovecraft story). Here's Hojoki seu EREMITORIVM:

Defluentes amnes cursu non cessant, quorum aqua vero pristina non exstat. In stagnante quae fluctat spuma modo solvitur, modo creatur, nec diu remanet umquam. Hujus mundi homines habitationesque non aliter esse constat.

Orsa de Sapientiae Excellentiae Corde, a.k.a. the Heart Sutra, is there too. As an old D&D player, it was a surprise to see Avalokiteśvara translated "Catoblepas," but okay, I guess the etymology fits.

I know what you're thinking: cur buddica latine? Ricius has an answer for you.

Magis etiam prodesse visum est antiquissimo aeternoque sermoni latino buddicas scripturas committere quam loquelarum multitudini. Post saeculum nemo legere velit hodiernam vulgarem eloquentiam; omnia denuo scribi debebunt ut istius aetatis novi homines sensus intellegant. At sermo latinus non mutabitur; quae hodie vertuntur, post annos mille legent docti, tam facile quam nunc apud nos legentur Boethius, Johannes Scottus Eriugena, Eginhardus.

I probably wouldn't have chosen Boethius as a paradigmatically facilis Latin author, but OK.


DeBoer on accent

Elisabeth M. deBoer of Leiden University has uploaded a 616-page book to academia.edu called The historical development of Japanese tone, with the subtitle "Part 1: From proto-Japanese to the modern dialects; Part 2: The introduction and adaptation of the Middle Chinese tones in Japan." (She seems to have posted it before, too – no-one tells me anything.) Here's the abstract:

The reconstruction of the historical development of the modern Japanese tone systems is one of the major issues in Japanese historical linguistics. The prevalent theory (Kindaichi 1951), which regards the Kyoto type tone system of central Japan as most archaic fails to explain the modern dialect data. In 1979 R.S. Ramsey proposed an alternative theory, which regards the peripheral Tokyo type dialects as archaic. Even though this theory offered a convincing explanation for many problems that remained unsolved in the prevalent theory, it failed to find acceptance.

Part I of Elisabeth M. de Boer’s study shows how data from a host of Japanese dialects, from the north-eastern tip of Japan to the Ryukyu archipelago in the south-west, offer additional proof for Ramsey’s theory. The final chapter deals with evidence from Japanese loanwords in Ainu.

Part II shows how – contrary to what has often been thought – Ramsey’s theory is not in contradiction with the philological data. The final chapter deals with the interpretation of Buddhist chant as a source of historical information on the Japanese tones.

This is a monster slab of learning aimed right at one of my greatest weaknesses when it comes to Japanese linguistics, so I don't have much to say about it. I will note that the Ramsey paper referenced is "The Old Kyoto dialect and the historical development of Japanese accent" (Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies; 39, 1979, 157-175), available on JSTOR (see link above).

Ramsey's argument is that the Heian accent data (representing the "Old Kyoto dialect") has been misread as showing an early form of the Kyoto-style accent, when really it is closer to the Tokyo-style accents, and it is Kyoto that was the site of innovation (most importantly, the accent nucleus moving one syllable towards the start of the word). This also makes sense under a "center and periphery" model, since Tokyo-style accents are found both east and west of Kyoto — i.e. the map looks exactly like you would expect it to if you had an accent system shared Honshu-wide and then some folks in the middle started messing with it.


The unreadable font

This image has been making the rounds on the Japanese internet recently under the billing "The font that [only] Japanese people can't read." It's written in the font Electroharmonix (by Typodermic Fonts, apparently) which repurposes katakana and katakanaic bits into English letters. Apparently, the result is that it really is difficult to read for Japanese people (or "people whose 'mother script' is Japanese," I suppose).

Although I only have an unscientific sample of a few people I know personally, it sounds from their anecdotal reports that it's like trying to force one of those convex/concave optical illusions to pop the other way — you know you should be able to interpret the shapes differently, but by the time the image passes through the vision-processing part of your brain and into your conscious control, it's already too late to do anything about it.


Ten nights dreaming

I forgot to mention this, but I guess my translation of Natsume Soseki's Yume jūya for Dover has been available for purchase for two months now. Also includes a foreword by Michael Emmerich and a (very extensive) introduction by Susan Jolliffe Napier. Why not buy it, and then write to Dover and ask when they'll be publishing more books translated by me? (Update: Don't tell them I misspelled "foreword".)

I am particularly happy that they OKed my preferred English title, Ten Nights Dreaming. This is actually a Finnegans Wake style pun: "Ten nights['] dreaming" + "Ten nights [spent] dreaming." This is, I feel, the best solution for recreating the compact but crisp feel of the original title.


The hundred boxes

Something from the Premodern Japanese Studies List: the Hyakugo Archives, or "Archives of Toji Temple Contained in One Hundred Boxes Online" as they call themselves. (Hyakugō 百合 = "Hundred" + the counter word , presumably applying in this case to boxes because 合 means "come together" and can be used to count things with a lid.

Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the archives don't actually contain one hundred boxes, and never did, either. Quick translation:

Before the beginning of the Edo period [1603 - 1868], Tō-ji [temple]'s documents were stored in leather bags and boxes of various kinds. Tradition says that in 1685, when Kaga daimyō Maeda Tsunanori 前田綱紀 copied the temple's document collection, by way of thanks he not only created a catalog of the documents before returning them, but also had them put into one hundred specially made boxes of paulownia wood with the hiragana and katakana (in iroha order) and the character 京 ("capital", i.e. Kyoto) on them. However, as there are presently only 94 boxes, and in any case the total number of hiragana plus katakana plus the character "京" falls short of 100, whether the Kaga domain gave the temple 100 boxes of which some were lost or whether 100 should be viewed as an approximate number has been considered a mystery. In 1997, on the occasion of the exhibition "The world of Tō-ji's 100,000 documents" 東寺文書十万通の世界 at the Tō-ji treasure house 東寺宝物館, investigations led by Uejima Tamotsu 上島有 revealed that Maeda's offering to the temple was originally 93 boxes and that the 94th was a later addition made of a different kind of wood (momi fir). In any case, the original belief that there were 100 boxes led to these documents being known as the Tō-ji Hundred Boxes of Documents 東寺百合文書.

(If there were originally 93 boxes, then that makes 46 each of katakana and hiragana, plus one 京. But the Iroha poem has 47 characters, so I don't know what's going on there. If you browse the boxes by character you will observe the necessary omissions but I see no pattern to them; perhaps Uejima's work explores this.)

Not gonna lie, using this site to do meaningful historiography is beyond my current form, but pretty much anyone can enjoy the stories they post explaining some of the context behind the documents. Also, the terms are fantastic: virtually everything is provided under a "Creative Commons Attribution 2.1 Japan License," which as I understand it means you can do whatever you like with it as long as you credit the source.

2015-10-14 update: Light edit for readability.


Circumcision, reviewed

My latest review for the Japan Times: Male Circumcision in Japan, by Genaro Castro-Vazquez. Gird loins as appropriate. I suspected that this one would attract a few comments, and indeed it did.


And for thy name which is no part of thee/ Take all my selfe

John H. McWhorter has a characteristically readable article in the Wall Street Journal arguing for Shakespeare in translation:

Most educated people are uncomfortable admitting that Shakespeare's language often feels more medicinal than enlightening. We have been told since childhood that Shakespeare's words are "elevated" and that our job is to reach up to them, or that his language is "poetic," or that it takes British actors to get his meaning across.

But none of these rationalizations holds up. Much of Shakespeare goes over our heads because, even though we recognize the words, their meaning often has changed significantly over the past four centuries.

This isn't just a bolt of contrarianism out of the blue, incidentally; according to McWhorter, "[t]he Oregon Shakespeare Festival will announce next week that it has commissioned translations of all 39 of the Bard's plays into modern English, with the idea of having them ready to perform in three years."

McWhorter gives one example of what the result might look like, although it doesn't seem to be from the actual OSF project, and even its creator, "a teacher named Conrad Spoke," admits that it's really more of a light edit — a "10% translation," targeting the one-tenth of Shakespeare's verbiage that is liable to be misinterpreted by today's audiences (as quantified by Ben Crystal, apparently). So "hath" and "trumpet-tongued" stay in, but "faculties" gets updated to "authority".

This strikes me as a good idea overall. I agree with McWhorter that it's counterproductive to minimize the difficulties of Shakespeare for a contemporary reader, particularly when trying to introduce his work to schoolchildren. It's too easy for people to conclude that their inability to enjoy or even properly follow the text as-is is a personal failing, rather than an inevitable consequence of language change, and that they just aren't smart enough for Shakespeare. A world where even just 50% of high school graduates really got an updated version of Macbeth or Julius Caesar sounds a lot better to me than one where maybe 5% achieved the same level of understanding of the original, untouched text. I ain't going to authenticity-shame someone who would rather see a Shakespearean comedy with a lightly updated script that allows them to get the jokes.

Personally, I would not be interested in such texts or performances. I am as interested in what Shakespeare wrote as what he meant, you might say, although to be even more precise, I'm interested in what got printed at the time; I dislike even spelling and punctuation modernizations. But if Shakespeare appreciation bifurcated into "Shakespeare as literature" and "Shakespeare as exemplar of Early Modern English," like what has happened to the Greek and Latin classics, people like me would probably be much better served, because it would no longer be felt necessary for every edition of Shakespeare to please everybody from researchers to middle schoolers.

It's interesting to compare this with the situation in Japan. In terms of popular understanding, pretty much anything written before the Meiji Restoration (1868) or so as kobun, literally "old writing(s)." (Some people prefer to exclude the Edo period.) The bad side of this is that it can give people the impression that everything from the Man'yoshu through Noh plays to Bashō's travelogues were written in the "same language," which is not true. But the good side is that it clearly distinguishes contemporary Japanese from earlier forms. Everyone understands that you have to study the language that Bashō's work is written in to understand it; it's qualitatively different from the language of today, not just an "elevated form" of it, and a translation into contemporary Japanese is a completely unremarkable idea. None of this seems to have done any harm to the survival of the original.