Matsi nu miduri

I just realized that the Okinawa Prefectural Library has put all kinds of amazing material online in their "digital library of valuable materials" (貴重資料デジタル文庫). This is a big deal because it's difficult and/or expensive to buy even a basic modern printed edition of most of this stuff. You want to read the Chūzan seikan 中山世鑑? What force on earth will keep you from doing so? (Oh, right, capitalism.)

Or here's the Kokin Ryūka shū ("Collection of Ryūka old and new"), in glorious printlike hentaigana. Poem #1 is by Shō Kō 尚灝:

Tushi ya tachikawati/ hatsiharu nu sura ni/ niwaka tsichiditaru/ matsi nu miduri
The New Year is here, and into the early spring sky thrusts the green of the pine

(Transcription based on and translation heavily indebted to Shimizu Akira's Ryūka Taisei 琉歌大成 (1994, Okinawa Times), p729.)

Popularity factor: 7


Nice hentaigana. I wonder whether there are any computer fonts out there that include a selection of hentaigana in addition to the standardized hiragana?


I know, right? Books like that could be a thing again.

I heard from Kim "jisho.org" Ahlström about this RFC for hentaigana in Unicode. No idea what kind of step, if any, this represents towards actually getting them in there, but presumably once they are it'll be more reasonable for Japanese fontmakers at least to support them.


@Anon: There are two separate issues: fonts (collections of character glyphs), and encoding standards (an agreement about which computer codes to assign to each glyph, so that we can share texts and everyone can read them on any font or computer). The latter issue basically means getting hentaigana into Unicode, which is the proposal Matt linked to. That's an old discussion and I don't know why they have been so slow in accepting it. In the meanwhile, we can use non-standardized hentaigana fonts, like this: http://www10.plala.or.jp/koin/koinhentaigana.html (via Nicolas Tranter). But it will require the same setup on the other side to be possible to read it.


<i>That's an old discussion and I don't know why they have been so slow in accepting it.</i>

What I have heard is that the major Japanese stakeholders in Unicode weren't pushing very hard for it, which kept it at a relatively low priority. Maybe that has changed now (if it was ever true -- I have no personal experience of it).

Given that even Japanese printed books, Japanese-designed text encodings etc. almost never include hentaigana, it seems fair enough that the Unicode Consortium would not consider it a burning issue, though. Hard to say something is essential to your culture's text encoding when only a relative handful of specialists can even read it and no-one is producing it in any form (except facsimile editions).


Aren't obscure ancient texts for a handful of specialists what's Unicode all about though (I mean, other than emoji, obviously)? The last proposals approved by the Consortium include Nüshu, Tangut, Bhaiksuki (“a Brahmi-based script that was used around the turn of the first millenium CE […] only eleven inscriptions and four manuscripts written in this script are presently known to exist”), Soyombo ("an abugida developed by Zanabazar in 1686 to write Mongolian […] much too complicated to be adopted as an everyday script, it was used primarily as ceremonial and decorative ") and so on.

The stated goal is to support "all writing systems of the world, modern and ancient", and "the needs of all types of users, whether in business or academia, using mainstream or minority scripts". So I expected hentaigana to be squarely within their purposes… I mean, we already have ~cuneiform~…


Oh, I agree, it should be in there. I can just understand why it hasn't been a priority. I hope we do get actual hentaigana, though, and not just a combining mark to use with the original kanji or something...


As I understand it, the current proposal suggests that they be standard variations on the equivalent ~modern kana~, rather than the source kanji. The idea is that computers without hentaigana support would then display a readable modern-kana version. In the same email I mentioned earlier, Tranter has argued against this:

> he suggestion that hentaigana be standard variation characters means that in the absence of appropriate font support they would be rendered as hiragana with the same value. (This appears to underlie the decision to propose different codepoints and names for the polyphonous hentaigana.) I do not support this. The two main uses of hentaigana are academic and by the MoJ. Academics will only use hentaigana if they specifically need them to be rendered as such rather than as hiragana, and because hentaigana as proposed for inclusion in Unicode and hiragana that are already encoded together constitute the same pre-1900 script proofreading a text to spot incorrect renderings would be very difficult. It would be easier for academics if lack of font support rendered hentaigana simply as blanks. Similarly, MoJ name registration normally involves recording the name both in registered spelling and in hiragana transcription, so having hentaigana show up as blanks would not cause a problem.

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