Chinese & Japanese: adopted sisters

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Chinese & Japanese: adopted sisters

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Redigerat: dec 23, 2006, 5:15 am

The earliest mention Fogies can find of the hosonagai shimaguni "long narrow island country" as Japan is called is a few casual references in texts from the Han dynasty, mere notes of its existence. Two or three centuries later we find sufficiently detailed description to allow the inference that travelers from Japan had reached China. By the Tang dynasty there was a regular traffic of pilgrims from Japan to Buddhist temples in China.

The Japanese language is totally different from Chinese; morphology, syntax, vocabulary are all entirely unrelated. But when the Japanese set out to write their own language, the Chinese script was the only model they had. (Think how different the history of east Asia would be if the Japanese had encountered the Indic alphabets much earlier than they did.) For centuries the cultural flow, and the linguistic flow, was all in one direction, with students from Japan coming to China, learning Chinese (more or less) and taking Chinese vocabulary back with them to enrich their native language. Japanese now contains tens of thousands of Chinese loanwords.

Nothing people do remains unelaborated. Noting that in Chinese, just as in their own language, compound words could be created by combining simple ones, the Japanese began to create compound words in what is now called Sino-Japanese. An example is dooshi 同志 "comrades, fellows, colleagues." It can be found as an ad hoc compound in an early Chinese text, but it was in Japan that it became a word.

When in the 19th C some Chinese became aware that, like it or not, they would have to make some adaptation to western ways, many went as students to Europe and America, but many more found it less of a journey and less of a culture shock to study in Japan. There they encountered and brought back to China these made-in-Japan Sino-Japanese words, including even a few that were purely Japanese with no Chinese source, such as 塲合 changhe, the Chinese pronunciation of the Japanese kanji for the Japanese word baai "circumstances." There is a very informative account of this in 汉语史稿 by 王力.

Redigerat: dec 24, 2006, 12:07 am

One of the gems of the Defoe exhibit currently running at the Boston Public Library, Crooks, Rogues, and Maids Less Than Virtuous, is An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa by George Psalmanazar, a European who passed himself off successfully as a native of that island for some years. It is open to the fold-out page with his fanciful alphabet and the facing text explains, "The reason why the Japan Language differs from that of the Chineſe and Formoſans." The same text is online here; I won't spoil it for Bostonians who might get a laugh.

To be clear, Psalmanazar was an impostor and his language is made up. But that just shows how little was known in the West still at the turn of the 18th Century.

Redigerat: dec 24, 2006, 11:18 am

>2 MMcM: h/t MMcM That prompted the Fogies to choose an image for this group's profile page. It's from Asia Polyglotta by Julius Klaproth.

Here's his basic assumption (the Fogies' translation from Klaproth's German):

"The traditions of the oldest peoples of western and southern Asia are unanimous in this, that nearly all of mankind that had earlier been on the earth were wiped out by a great flood of water and that only a few couples of them escaped the waves in a ship. After floating for a long time, with the ebbing of the waters this ship came to rest on a high mountain range from which those who had been spared descended to the plains.

To Moses this mountain was known as Ararat and it is beyond any doubt the range in Armenia that is still so called, whose snow-covered peaks pierce the clouds on the south side of the Araxes, where the inhabitants maintain that a portion of Noah's ship surely ought to be found, although none of them has yet come across it. Their neighbors in the Caucasus believe that this ship first landed on the peak of snow-covered Elbrus, at the source of the Kuban, but was then pushed farther along to Ararat. In Tibet on a high mountain in the neighborhood of Lah'sa stands the monastery Buddala which has been called the ark- or ship-bearer. And even in America our excellent Humboldt has again found the same story of the flood, the ship and the landing on a mountain peak.

It is most remarkable that the Mosaic account, with almost identical circumstantial detail, only in different garb, is also found in India, so that one can maintain on good grounds that there it stems from the same source as that from which the Jews received it."

The image shows his chronology of the beginning of China, starting from Fu Xi. It goes on to a classic GIGO computation that yields the date of Noah's flood.

mar 17, 2007, 10:25 am

In respect to "our" perception of the adopted sister's, I wonder how many Chinese scholars know of Valignano's contrasting Chinese to Japanese (who are depicted as purposefully contrary) previously to contrasting Japanese to Europeans as an apologia for his policy of cultural accomodation?

Rise, Ye Sea Slugs!

Redigerat: mar 28, 2007, 11:53 am

It's interesting that by about the time of Valignano's death, educated Westerners had a notion of the writing systems of Japan and China that persists to this day. Thus The Advancement of Learning (1605):
And we understand further, that it is the use of China, and the kingdoms of the High Levant, to write in characters real, which express neither letters nor words in gross, but things or notions; insomuch as countries and provinces, which understand not one another's language, can nevertheless read one another's writings, because the characters are accepted more generally than the languages do extend; and therefore they have a vast multitude of characters, as many, I suppose, as radical words.
Latinized in De Augmentis Scientiarum (1623):
Quinetiam notissimum fieri jam cœpit, quod in China et provinciis ultimi Orientis in usu hodie sint characteres quidam reales, non nominales; qui scilicet nec literas nec verba, sed res et notiones exprimunt. Adeo ut gentes complures linguis prorsus discrepantes, sed hujusmodi characteribus (qui apud illos latius recepti sunt) consentientes, scriptis communicent; eousque ut librum aliquem, hujusmodi characteribus conscriptum, quæque gens patria lingua legere et reddere possit.
And it is now well known, that in China and the more eastern provinces, they use at this day certain real, not nominal, characters, to express, not their letters or words, but things and notions; insomuch, that numerous nations, though of quite different languages, yet, agreeing in the use of these characters, hold correspondence by writing. And thus a book written in such characters may be read and interpreted by each nation in its own respective language.

mar 19, 2007, 11:19 am

When a well-known author in japan, Oxford U asked me for a blurb for Unger: The Fifth Generation Fallacy - i could not though i love the profs erudition and style, because i do not think it an either-or matter. I would hold that there is some advantage to a script that may be read (i am not saying it usually is) to a degree without knowing the pronunciation. If i read between the lines, MMcM, would i be correct to guess you are 100% with Unger on this?

Redigerat: mar 19, 2007, 5:09 pm

Well no, not really. I think that these quotes fairly represent The Fifth Generation Fallacy:
The Japanese commitment to strong-AI research is intimately related to the nature of the Japanese writing systems. Unless a new, fundamentally different kind of computer can be built, the inefficiency of using traditional script in computer environments will become intolerable as the scope and number of computer applications grow.
Current trends in computer usage in Japan suggest that the Japanese are willing to pay anything for the dubious privilege of being able to use kanji on computers.

It turns out one of the premises was wrong. As a result, neither did strong-AI come about nor did the Japanese abandon character based writing in order to interact with their computers. Instead good solid engineering succeeded. A modern henkan (IME) is impressive. I have a working souvenir 漢字入力装置 from the old days and I think it's fair to say that most people would not have believed how good it would be in only a few decades. Especially on a phone smaller than a pack of cigarettes. Some of what was AI back then is just mainstream programming today. (Well, not around here, where the site is written in PHP, fer crissakes, but let's say Ruby.) And a lot is just Moore's law and brute force.

Unger is still on his crusade with Ideogram: Chinese Characters and the Myth of Disembodied Meaning. I think a more balanced approach is Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy or Asia's Orthographic Dilemma. One of the important points is that it isn't just Westerners who have crazy ideas about character writing systems.

In any case, character writing systems don't represent ideas or things. They represent words, for some definition of word. And they almost always end up having a significant phonetic basis: Chinese, Egyptian, Mayan, all of them. You can borrow such a writing system for a completely different language. You do get some partial ability to read across the languages. But you also get an extremely cumbersome system. The Akkadians did the same thing when they borrowed Sumerian cuneiform. It's interesting that in both cases a language with more polysyllabic words and more complex morphology took a script from a language with less. Would the borrowing have worked in the other direction?

At the end of the day, any talk of change is a spelling reform. And it has all the same tradeoffs as in other languages. If English were spelled phonetically, it would be harder to read the great novels of the 19th and 20th centuries. It would be harder for Americans to read things written by British or Australian speakers. It is less dramatic, but that is another case where one reads without knowing how the writer pronounced what they wrote. There is an instance in modern history of such a reform going through, with the expected pluses and minuses, covered in The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success.

mar 20, 2007, 9:48 am

First, thanks for the Turkish book intro. I must read it sometime!

i think we find little acknowledgement of just how much and how fast japanese went with practical AI, about 1995 a friend showed me how his ichitaro already got 5 different kisha correct by chosing on the basis of its grammar ability -- a friend demonstrated it to me -- and i do not see close to that intelligence with anything microsoft gives me today! Must one get a Japanese OS to enjoy real strong weak-intelligence?

i read ideogram:cc and the myth, i think i may have seen AO Dilemna, too. My feeling is that theory and practice are not the same. 1) Because one MUST have command of a fairly large number of characters to read Japanese, one gets it and then can make sense of words of the type one cannot make sense of in English without specialization or study of various ancient languages. 2) Having to learn the characters is, also, good for the brain and character, for it builds slowly and exercises visual memory(at least unger does not go along with claims kanji-memorizing kills creativity) and 3) i hold that even the act of writing gives one great satisfaction of the type konrad lorenz's teacher called functionlust ... and 4) i think we/unger/most-post-saussure linguists fail to see how much extra comes from what we SEE as opposed to what we hear, especially in Japanese writing (Suzuki is not all-wrong about his radio vs tv -- i prefer to think of stereo reading). Prof unger has to make do with very poor eyesight, so he has good reason to wish the visual element provides less bonuses, but other linguists, it seems to me, are just trying to be progressive.

I think we should say characters represent words (as clusters of letters do) or parts of words (as some clusters of letters do): The creature whose haiku i have gathered provides a fine example: 海鼠sea-mouse/rat in Japanese and 海参 sea-gift (?) in Chinese.

Rise, Ye Sea Slugs!

mar 22, 2007, 3:53 am

>7 MMcM: MMcM, very interesting comments.

Modern Chinese could be written entirely alphabetically, using the National Romanization of Prof. Y.R. Chao. But there would be so many homonyms that the result would probably not be a readable text for any but the simplest narratives.

(Too bad Prof. Chao landed on the losing side of the political fence; his romanization is so superior to pinyin.)