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Chinese Characters and the Japanese Language (3)

Chinese Characters and the Japanese Language 3

Takashima Toshio

“History” and “progress” are concepts that Japanese learned from the West. In the Western way of seeing things, human societies are all moving down the same path toward a single objective, and differences in location mean that some are in the lead while others lag behind. Of all the things Japan learned from the West, this idea is among the most basic: Humankind is progressing along a single path and that is the path of history. I think this notion was quite new to Japanese.
 Having once been taught this way of viewing things, Japanese of the mid-nineteenth century compared themselves to Westerners and saw how far apart―how far “behind”―they stood. There was nothing to do but move ahead, to catch up and advance to superiority and glory. And Japanese thought that the way to accomplish this would be simple: just do things the way Westerners do. They began to study everything assiduously, from political and economic institutions to industry, transportation, education, and the arts.
 The most important thing to be learned, because it related to everything else, was language. Language, being not only one among the subjects learned from the West, but also the means without which all those things could not be acquired, was also the target of discussion for reform. Even before the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the high-ranking shogunal official Maejima Hisoka (1835-1919) proposed that use of Chinese characters (kanji) be abolished, and particularly in the first two decades following the change of government, various theories advocating radical reform of the language were debated.
 The advocates of language reform could be divided into two main schools. One consisted of those who asserted that Japan should make English the national language of Japan. The best thing to do, they were convinced, was to abandon completely the “inferior” Japanese language and adopt English as the vernacular, both written and spoken. From our contemporary perspective, such a step might seem rather rash, yet there were in fact numerous cases in which weaker peoples switched completely to the language of a dominant people―even today there are quite a few countries where communication in educated circles goes on in a foreign language (for example, English or French) ―so it was not really such an outlandish idea. Nevertheless, it would probably have been impossible to achieve in Japan.
 The other argument on modernization of the language centered on changing to a writing system based on phonetic characters, either alphabetic or syllabic. The biggest difference between Western languages and Japanese is that the former are all written using phonetic alphabets, whereas Japanese depends heavily on Chinese ideograms (in combination with phonetic syllabaries). Advocates argued that since the “advanced languages” use phonetic characters, Japan should also adopt a phonetic writing system, thereby moving its language into the modern age.
 The government made conversion of the writing system to phonetic characters a policy objective. Opinion was divided, however, over what form this should take. There were two camps: those who argued for doing away with kanji (some 40,000 to 50,000 characters could be used) and relying solely on the kana or phonetic syllabaries (hiragana and katakana, 48 of each type), and those who were convinced that the ideograms and the kana should be completely done away with and replaced with roman orthography .
 Implementation of this policy, however, made no progress whatsoever. As explained in the second part of this article (see Japanese Book News, No. 24), thousands of new kanji compounds had been coined in order to translate the many new foreign words introduced in the process of modernization, and many of them were homophones. Without those new words, the westernization that was taking place in the lives and activities of the people would not have progressed. The usage of those new words, moreover, depended on the characters. The word joki, for instance can mean both “steam” and “excitement,” and the meaning can only be determined by the kanji or the context. Given the large number of homophones, confusion would have been rampant. The usages of kanji had dramatically increased by comparison with pre-1868 times; government, industry, scholarship, and education would have come to a standstill without them (to be precise, without the Western words and concepts that had been translated using ideograms). Abolishing the use of kanji might have succeeded, albeit at great sacrifice, if it had been attempted before the end of the Edo period, before the influx of all the new vocabulary, but by the 1870s-1880s, it was too late. This was not entirely evident, however, to many people at the time.

The Language Reform Movement
In the early twentieth century, the government set up an official commission, the Kokugo Chosa Iinkai or National Language Research Council. This council is a government organ whose ultimate objective is to make Japanese into something like a Western language, in short, to confine its orthography to phonetic characters. Save for a short interruption, the council has continued to exist for nearly one hundred years until the present day, and its purpose has not essentially changed. In 1934, its Japanese name was changed to the Kokugo Shingikai (National Language Council, NLC).
 For about forty years from the time of its founding, the NLC drew up repeated proposals and presented them to the government, but none of them became the basis of government ordinances to implement the exclusive use of phonetic characters throughout the country (or even in part of it). Each time such proposals were made, strong protests would arise from various sectors. The council’s recommendations were always divided into two parts. One consisted of reforms of kana usage and rules for writing words based on the way they were actually spoken. The other consisted of proposals to determine the overall number of characters permitted for official use, with a view to curtailing the number of kanji as the first step in ultimately abolishing them altogether.
 The advocates of switching to a kana orthography and those arguing for the romanization of Japanese script and the organizations that backed them continued to be active, and until the end of World War II, the language reform movement was led by the NLC, kana-advocacy groups, and proponents of romanization. From around 1920 onward, representatives of the leading national newspapers made up the largest proportion of NLC members. Newspapers had to be printed with great speed, and since fewer characters would mean greater speed in typesetting and printing, the newspapers were eager to see the number of characters decreased to the lowest possible number. The romanization movement was led by scholars in the natural sciences. Scientists wanted a Japanese orthography in which it would be possible to incorporate Western language terms used in their writings just as they were (in horizontally written, romanized characters). The kana-advocacy movement was made up of people outside of government who disliked kanji for one reason or other.
 What all three groups active in the movement for language reform initially had in common was their conviction that language was simply a tool for expressing one’s will. If language is merely a tool, it made sense to improve it and make it more convenient to use. As research continued, however, people gradually came to realize that language may be used as a tool of expression, but is also inextricably linked to matters of spirit and tradition. Those who had studied linguistics in university were rarely part of the language reform movement; indeed, they were often its outspoken opponents.
 The end of World War II with defeat for Japan presented the members of the NLC with a golden opportunity. Japan has lost the war, some opinion leaders argued, not just because of the deficiencies of its armed forces and economic resources, but because its culture was inferior to that of the West. That cultural inferiority ultimately ought to be blamed, they held, on the shortcomings of the language and the orthography. In November 1945, the influential Yomiuri daily newspaper published an editorial entitled “Kanji Should be Abolished,” which argued that if kanji were done away with and roman script adopted, Japan would become an efficient country like the United States and would progress steadily toward cultural advancement and civilian government.
 In 1946, the U.S. Education Mission to Japan presented a directive to the Japanese government to the effect that it should abolish kanji and adopt roman script. In the same year, the NLC, too, presented another of its proposals on language reform; and this time their proposal, consisting of two parts―adoption of phonetically consistent rules of the syllabary and restrictions on the use of kanji to 1,850 characters―was immediately made into a government ordinance.
 One of the members of the NLC who played a leading role at this time was a man named Matsusaka Tadanori. Born in poor circumstances, Matsusaka had not been able to attend elementary school regularly and had had great difficulty in mastering kanji. Resentment of the barrier presented by kanji led him to champion the kana cause for many years. Ultimately the number of characters for daily use (toyo kanji) was fixed at 1,850, and he was the one who adamantly opposed any attempt to increase it by even one character.
 All government institutions and schools were required to conform with the stipulations of this ordinance and the newspapers as well immediately set out to implement it. The grand issue that had been debated and studied since the mid-nineteenth century was suddenly settled by imposing it upon the government apparatus, the schools, and the press.
 Gradually, scholars and other intellectuals who had left Tokyo during the war began to return, but it was several years after this ordinance went into effect that they began to raise their voices in protest, calling on the Ministry of Education to rescind the language reforms. The MOE had no intention of turning back, but it became clear that complete conversion to a phonetic orthography would not happen as quickly as supporters of national language reform had initially envisioned.
 The NLC continues to exist today, but it is now a very moderate body. No longer driven by the mandate to attain the ideal phonetic form of the language, it does not display much energy regarding fundamental review of postwar language reforms. In the last fifty years, the number of characters permitted for regular use has slightly increased, a step taken as a result of demands from the newspapers―which had been the strongest champions of limiting the number of kanji-saying it was difficult to write articles within the 1,850 kanji limit.

Blessing and Burden of Kanji
Western linguists say that language is basically a set of sounds. Writing is simply the shadow or image of those sounds. A writing system, they say, is not inherent or essential to language, and of course they are correct. Human beings have possessed language for tens of thousands of years, and the invention of writing systems in that long history is relatively recent. Not all languages spoken on earth, moreover, have writing systems. Languages without orthography are not necessarily impaired in any way. Indeed, writing is not indispensable to language.
 But Japanese is the exception to this rule. Probably more than half of its vocabulary cannot be properly distinguished without recourse to a written form of the word. Japanese is in fact a very peculiar language, perhaps the only one of its kind in the world, in that it has so many words that can be empty or meaningless in spoken form alone. One wonders if a language like this can be called healthy. We must conclude, as I hinted in my first article, that Japanese is an odd, one might even say deformed, language. It is a language that matured with all of its deformities intact and functioning.
 It was not always like that. It ended up that way after the Chinese language and writing system were introduced to Japan nearly 1,500 years ago, and the indigenous language ceased to develop. Particularly from the time of the Meiji Restoration in 1868 onward, many home-made kanji compounds were created in the process of translating Western books and concepts, and these words became a dominant part of Japanese life and thinking.
 Today, the words for very concrete things around us (mountains, stars, birds, etc.), and frequently used verbs and adjectives are wago, the lexicon that goes back to indigenous Japanese. For these words, sound specifies meaning. The written word is only its shadow. More sophisticated concepts and terms for things that were brought into Japan after 1868, however, are almost exclusively expressed using the Chinese-character-based kango. These words are of course pronounced, but they are often indistinguishable without reference to the kanji used to write them. When people speak (particularly when the content is of an intellectual nature), they are constantly referring in their minds to the characters with which the words they speak are written.
 The post-Meiji phonetic script movement had resolved to bring the language back to normalcy by imposition of government controls. The leaders of the movement believed that through such drastic measures, they could cause Japanese to be reborn as a “normal” language, like those of the West, in which sound lay at the core and orthography (in phonetic syllabary or roman letters) was (properly) its image.
 Gradually people began to understand that it would be impossible to perform such an operation all at one stroke. The first phase toward this end was the postwar language reform. It is questionable whether Japanese drew any closer to the Western languages as a result; when the number of kanji permitted use was decreased, it definitely became a language with less precision and power.
 Today the movement is in limbo. While the government hesitated, fearing that going any further might actually be rather risky, and wary of the strong opposing voices being raised, leadership of the phonetic script movement passed out of the Ministry of Education and the NLC.
 As we have seen, Chinese characters have been a very troublesome burden for the Japanese language, and yet they are a burden that has become firmly grafted onto the body of the language. Kanji didn’t really suit the constitution of the Japanese language to begin with, and they do not fit any better despite several reforms made over the past centuries. Still, to deprive Japanese of kanji would be to send it back into its infancy; if handled badly, it could be fatal. The burdens imposed by kanji did cause various problems, and yet without them the Japanese language cannot survive. They are both blessing and bane. From now on, too, Japanese can only survive, I believe, by coping with kanji’s mixed blessings. (This article is based on an original essay by the author abridged by the Japan Foundation with the author’s permission. Takashima Toshio is former professor of Chinese literature at Okayama University.)
Japanese Book News, Number 25, Spring 1999, The Japan Foundation 国際交流基金 ) © T.Takashima &The Japan Foundation

Chinese Characters and the Japanese Language (2)

Chinese Characters and the Japanese Language 2

Takashima Toshio

Having adopted the use of Chinese characters, as described in the first article in this series, the Japanese language came to be composed of two major vocabularies. One is wago or yamato-kotoba, both of which refer to the indigenous words of Japan used before Chinese and its orthography were introduced. The indigenous name for ancient Japan was “Yamato”; expressed in Chinese style it was called “Wa.” The indigenous word for words or language is kotoba, while the Chinese-style term is go: yamato-kotoba and wago, therefore, are two different ways of saying the same thing. As discussed in the previous issue, the development of the Yamato vernacular came virtually to a halt with the introduction of Chinese orthography, so very few words of indigenous origin have been coined since. Modern language has been enriched by continuous borrowing from other languages, but the indigenous language was suspended in its infancy.
 The other major vocabulary in Japanese is kango. “Kan” means China or Chinese, and “go,” as noted above, means “words” or “language.” These words are of Chinese origin and are customarily written in kanji, Japan’s ideograms. Their pronunciation is not a close approximation of the original Chinese sound, but in Japanized, simplified sounds. Over the more than one thousand years since Chinese and Chinese characters were introduced to Japan, in addition, a wide variety of words have evolved that lie somewhere in between wago and kango.
 One type of these in-between words are so called “Japan-made” or newly coined kango. These words are always written with Chinese characters and read with Chinese readings, so they have all the appearance of ordinary kango, but in fact were invented in Japan. For many of these words there is no direct connection between the kanji used to write them and the meaning of the word. Examples are yakunin 役人 (official; public servant) and karo 家老 (high-ranking official in local administration of the domains under Japan’s pre-modern feudal system). Other examples are banto 番頭 (a clerk or manager of a shop) and detchi 丁稚 (shop apprentice) . While the characters and the meaning are not closely related, you can tell the sounds have been chosen carefully in order to form an easy-to-understand combination. Few of these words have homonyms of different meaning.
 There are also many words that combine the features of wago and kango. Among the oldest is shiragiku 白菊, “white chrysanthemum.” Shira (shiro) is the wago meaning “white,” and kiku is a kango meaning chrysanthemum (in Japanese, the k- becomes the voiced g- in combination with a preceding word). We may call these the hybrid wago-kango vocabulary.
 The Japanese language today is, strictly speaking, composed of four vocabularies: wago, kango, the coined or hybrid vocabulary, and words of Western origin, seiyogo. Most Japanese today are hardly conscious of these distinctions, except perhaps for words of Western derivation. They make no association between kango and Chinese, which stands to reason, as that vocabulary has been part of strictly Japanese usage for more than a thousand years.

Watershed of Language
Given the coexistence of different vocabularies as outlined above, one might imagine that confusion reigned throughout the several-hundred years of the history of the Japanese language. In fact, the situation did not cause undue complications until the end of the Edo period (1603-1867), or more precisely, until about 1870, Up to that time, the spoken language of the intelligentsia (the majority of which consisted of samurai, the warrior class) was sprinkled with a certain number of kango and all official documents and records were written exclusively in kanji characters. For the language of everyday life as far as ordinary people were concerned, wago, enriched by some hybrid vocabulary, were quite sufficient.
 The complications and confusion began following the Meiji Restoration, which toppled the feudal regime that had unified and governed the country since 1603 and established a new, modem-style government. Two antithetical movements occurred simultaneously regarding the language. One was the massive use of kanji, now without regard to sound, but utilizing only their meaning. This led to the emergence of countless words that could not be understood from sound alone. Indeed they often make no sense unless you look at the characters.
 The other movement was one seeking to adopt a phonetic orthography, which was based on the assumption that since words were essentially sounds, all the orthography had to do was to express the sounds.
 In this issue, let us take a look at the former movement, the unprecedented proliferation of kanji words. Following the formation of the Meiji government, Japan embarked on a remarkable endeavor to adopt everything possible from Western civilization. It borrowed not only governmental and economic institutions but industries in every field, architectural techniques and styles, means of transportation and communication, schools and other educational institutions, fields of scholarly and artistic endeavor, not to mention clothing, food, and articles of household use. In every field, with every borrowing, came new words and new terminology. These had to be expressed in Japanese, so kanji characters were mobilized and tens of thousands of kango were coined.
 The newly introduced kanji words can be divided into two types. One makes use of words found in the ancient Chinese classics. Naturally, there was a large gap between ancient China and the modern West, but Japanese searched for terms that more-or-less resembled the meaning required, in a process one might call recycling obsolete words. The word hoken (the translation of “feudalism”) is one such term. The overall number of these overhauled words, however, is not large.
 The vast majority of words to translate phenomena and terms from the West were newly coined. Most of them were made by combining two kanji in a compound, and when that was not sufficient sometimes three kanji. For things related to electricity, for example, the character den 電, meaning electricity, was used to create many words: densen 電線 (electric line), dento 電灯 (electric lamp), denpo 電報 (telegram), and denwa 電話 (telephone). “Japan-made” kango differ greatly in character before and after the beginning of the Meiji era. Until the end of the Edo period they were predominantly terms, as mentioned earlier, in which the characters (usually two) of which they were composed were not closely related to the meaning. The sounds, on the other hand, were distinctive.

Real as Written
The new kango created from Meiji onward, however, were based strictly on the meaning of the individual characters. For example, in densen (electric line), the first character means “electrical power” and the second means “line.” On the other hand the comers of these words were little concerned about what the resulting pronunciation would be; it did not bother them if a new word turned out to be a homonym of other, totally unrelated words. Since the Japanese sound system, as discussed in the previous installment of this article, is very simple and the number of distinct sounds used in Japanese is rather limited, if people had worried too much about phonetic dissonance or similarity, they would never have been able to create the tens of thousands of new words that were needed to modernize the country.
 This situation, indeed, seems to have further encouraged the general Japanese disinterest in or indifference to the sounds of words and their tendency to stress instead how they are written.
 The above sound densen, written 電線, means “electric line,” but written 伝染, it is the translation of “contagion.” Dento, written 電灯 means “electric lamp” but written 伝統, it is the translation of “tradition.” Because the characters are different, Japanese don’t find the identical pronunciation confusing; indeed, probably few native speakers of the language pay much attention to the fact that the two words are pronounced the same.
 The change at the end of the Edo period was historic. Until then, language to most people had been mainly the human communication they spoke and heard. To them, verbal speech was the real form of language. But from the beginning of the Meiji era onward, such a momentous transformation took place that for Japanese today, language seems real only in its written form. The sounds of words have become mere echoes or shadows of real words cast by pronunciation of written language. It doesn’t bother people when the shadows of one word and another overlap or mingle. When the verbal shadows overlap too much, they can easily undo the confusion by examining the word’s “real form,” that is, how it looks in writing.
 Needless to say, language is inherently verbal. However, since Japanese today is used as if it were inherently written, you often cannot be sure of the meaning of something you hear until you can link it to a specific written context. In that sense, it is a topsy-turvy language.
 The reason that the reality of language is now associated with its written form, one might observe, is because of the proliferation of kango. In the years following the Meiji Restoration, Japan westernized every aspect of its society, and, since the primary terminologies needed in that process were the newly coined kango, this was probably inevitable.
 Perhaps most important, however, is that Japanese themselves are not much bothered by such confusion. They may realize this only when someone points out to them that the language seems real only in its written form and that the spoken form is simply a sometimes-fuzzy shadow of that form. Indeed precisely because they were not conscious of this, another, completely opposite movement sprang up around the time of the Meiji Restoration: a movement to switch Japanese to use of a phonetic orthography, as shall be discussed in the concluding installment of this article.
Japanese Book News, Number 24 , Winter 1998,The Japan Foundation 国際交流基金) ©T. Takashima & The Japan Foundation

(つづく)

Chinese Characters and the Japanese Language (1)

(本文を掲載するにあたり、御参考までに、文春新書『漢字と日本人』の「あとがき」冒頭を引用し、経緯を紹介しておきます。なお、本文は国際交流基金発行のJapanese Book News, Number 23-25〈1998年秋,、冬、1999年春〉に掲載されたものです。今回、国際交流基金の許可を得てそのまま転載します。)

「 あとがき
 数年前のこと、国際交流基金という団体から、「日本における漢字の問題を、日本に関心を持つ外国の人たちに紹介する文章を書いてください」という注文をいただいた。原稿は日本語で書いてくださればよい、それを英訳して雑誌にのせます、とのことである。
 漢字を一字も使わないで漢字について書いてみるのもおもしろいんじゃないか、と思い、おひきうけした。英訳する人がとまどうようなことがあってはいけないので、文章は極力そのまま英語になるように書いた。術語ははじめから英語にしておいた。漢字はChinese characters、中古漢語はMiddle Chineseといったふうに。
 原稿は注文枚数を大幅にこえるものになってしまったが、英訳者が適当にちぢめて訳してくれた。
 そのすこしあと、雑誌「This is 読売」にたのまれて、「字体について」という文章を書いた。この題はおとなしすぎたのか、雑誌が送られてきたのを見たら「戦後国語改革の愚かさ」という題になっていたのでびっくりした。しかし内容はたしかにそのとおりであったにちがいない。
 文藝春秋出版局の照井康夫さん――いつもわたしの「お言菓ですが…」単行本をつくってくれる編集者である――がこれを読んで「おもしろかった」とほめてくれたので、「こんなのもあるんだよ」と、国際交流基金のために書いた日本語原稿を見せた。かなりきたない手書き原稿のコピーなので、照井さんは自分でよむのがめんどくさかったのかどうか、おなじ出版局の、文春新書の嶋津弘章さんにまわした。――この嶋津さんも、文春新書にうつる前は『週刊文春』の随筆欄のデスクであったから、かねてよりの知りあいである。
 嶋津さんは、このきたない原稿コピーをていねいによんでくださり、その上「おもしろい。英語と類比しながら説明してあるのでわかりやすい。ふくらまして文春新書にしましょう」と言ってくださった。もともとの原稿が英語しか知らない人たちのために書いたものだから、英語との類比は当然のことであり、またそれしか手がなかったのだが、そのために話がわかりやすくなったというのはケガの功名のようなものであった。新書にしようというお話は、もとよりよろこんで承知した。
 英米人むけに書いたものを日本人むけに手なおしして分量をふくらますだけだし、それにこんどは遠慮なく漢字をつかっていいんだから話がしやすい、作業はいたってかんたんだ、と思ったのだが、それがなんと一年以上もかかってしまった。……以下略……」



Chinese Characters and the Japanese Language 1

Takashima Toshio

Japan did not have an orthography until more than 1,500 years ago, when Chinese characters were introduced sometime before the third century. Some people might conclude that Japan lacked an orthography until that time because its culture was backward, but it would be more correct to say that China’s culture simply emerged much earlier, while that of Japan came later. The superiority or inferiority of cultures, as with people, has nothing to do with how early or late they were born. Japanese culture, as it happened, emerged long after Chinese culture had considerably advanced, so at the time the two came into contact, its language was not yet fully developed and it did not yet have a writing system of its own.
 Japan, Korea, and China are often lumped together culturally because they all use Chinese ideographs (known in Japan as kanji) for their orthographies, and the assumption made that they belong to the Chinese linguistic family. In actuality, Japanese evolved from entirely different roots. Chinese belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family of languages along with Tibetan, Thai, and Burmese. The origins from which Japanese evolved have not, in fact, been clearly established (some scholars assert that it is related to the Tamil language of southern India, but I do not believe this has been substantiated); there is no other related language anywhere on earth. Not only is Japanese of totally separate linguistic roots from Chinese; its grammar, syntax, and phonetics are completely different, as I shall show below.
 Surely Japanese is indebted to Chinese, most might think, for having provided it with a writing system. By implication the adoption of kanji to write Japanese must have been fortunate. But this, too, is a misconception. Indeed, it was not so fortunate.
 Why unfortunate? First, because the adoption of kanji effectively brought an end to the development of the indigenous language. Japanese at the time had developed to the point where it could express the specific and concrete (such as things one can see and hear), but there was little to express the abstract or conceptual. It could identify things individually but did not have terms to describe them generally or abstractly. In other words, the language was still in its infancy. If it had continued to grow naturally, no doubt the vocabulary of generalization and conceptualization would have evolved in due course. As it was, kanji were introduced- (and it must be remembered that the orthography came from China, then a far more highly developed civilization than that of Japan), and Chinese words themselves were adopted. From that time, the indigenous language lost the capacity to coin new words and concepts truly its own.
 The second reason that kanji are not such a boon to Japanese is that they were meant, obviously, for writing Chinese. The relationship between the Chinese language and its writing system is virtually ideal. Considering the nature of a vernacular and its orthography, Chinese is perhaps one of the most highly perfected, sophisticated languages in the entire world. That did not mean, however, that kanji were necessarily the ideal orthography for just any other language.
 Suppose, for instance, that there was no orthography for writing down the English language, and that the only orthography that existed in the world was Chinese ideographs. English would have to be expressed using kanji. Just imagine how difficult that would be.
 Yet that was exactly the situation that Japanese faced in antiquity. Chinese and Japanese were linguistically so completely different that the adoption of kanji caused great consternation and confusion. Indeed, those difficulties have continued over many centuries to this very day. But at the time, Japanese had no alternative but to adopt Chinese: it was the only orthography available to them. As far as they knew, this writing system was not just the writing system of China; it was the sole orthography in use by human civilization.

Linguistically Incongruous
Let us look briefly at Chinese characters and the Chinese language. As a general rule, all Chinese words are of one syllable: 日 (ri); 高 (gao); 捕 (bu). Like “sun,” “tall,” or “catch” in English, words of one syllable are the smallest units of pronunciation. Since the basic vocabulary of English consists predominantly of words of one syllable, this may be easy to understand. In Japanese, however, there are few one-syllable words, most being composed of two or more.
 Chinese words are all basically words of one syllable and each of them is written with a separate character. In other words, each and every character possesses a specific sound and meaning. Individual kanji, then, are equivalent to individual English words such as “sun,” “tall,” and “catch.”
 The number of ideographs normally used for writing in China is between 3,000 and 5,000. This roughly corresponds to the 3,000 to 5.000 words that make up the basic vocabulary of English. One could just as well call Chinese characters “Chinese words.”
 So, while each Chinese character is a single syllable, in Japanese the ideographs were pronounced usually with two syllables. “Red,” in Chinese chi, is seki in Japanese. One reason for this was that Japanese do not pronounce consonants separately. This feature is very closely related to the problems of kanji usage in Japan.
 Chinese is not an inflected language. Words are not inflected for different grammatical constructions as they are in English (go, went, gone; happy, happiness; have, has, had, etc.) The word da (big) is simply da, no matter whether it means “something big” or “bigness” or “become big.” Indeed, Japanese and English are similar in that they are both inflected languages (although the forms of inflection in Japanese are far more numerous than for English). Obviously, it was a very troublesome matter to adapt an orthography intended for an uninflected language to the needs of an inflected one.
 Inevitably, over the first several centuries after the introduction of kanji, Japanese made quite a few changes and adjustments in order to employ them to write their language, among which was the development of the phonetic syllabaries katakana and hiragana.
 First, Japanese borrowed Chinese words verbatim and mixed them with their own vocabulary. They made some changes in the sounds of the characters in order to make them easier to pronounce. The changes may not have been intentional. Japanese probably tried to pronounce them as faithfully as possible to the original, but ended up pronouncing them Japanese-style.
 The basic sounds that make up Chinese are quite complex, while those of Japanese are extremely simple. The Japanese tongue is accustomed to pronouncing only a limited number of sounds, and sounds that are different and distinguishable in Chinese become the same sound in Japanese. For example, words pronounced yang, yong, you, and ye(p) in Chinese all come out “yo” in Japanese. In Chinese each of these sounds is spoken in several distinct tones and corresponds to a number of different words. Since all these sounds ended up being reduced to “yo” in Japanese, inevitably adoption of kanji led to numerous homophones among words of totally unrelated meaning.
 Chinese characters were also given Japanese readings. This means that many kanji have two readings, one based on the Chinese pronunciation of the word (the on reading) and the other adopting the Japanese reading (kun). For “mountain” (shan in Chinese), for example, the on reading is san and the kun reading is yama. Of all the peoples surrounding China that borrowed its writing system, Japanese were the only ones to apply their own readings to kanji. Needless to say, these numerous innovations made the language extremely complex. For example, the Japanese word noboru is used to mean any of the various forms of “rise.” But Chinese is a highly developed language with different words for specific types of “rising,” discriminating for example for “going up stairs,” for “smoke rising,” for “rising in an organization,” or for “prices rising.” And naturally the kanji are different for each usage. The discrimination could not have been maintained by simply reading all the different Chinese characters for “rising” as “noboru.”
 Just the opposite phenomenon occurred as well: various Japanese words congregating around one kanji led to cases where one kanji might have ten or more readings. It was a situation that was inevitable, since Japanese and Chinese words by no means made a neat match.
 And then, as mentioned before, Japanese created their own syllabaries (kana) by abbreviating kanji. Kanji all have a specific sound and a fixed meaning, but kana have only sound and do not carry specific meaning. They became sound symbols somewhat akin to an alphabet. The reason these symbols were developed was that writing Japanese using the Chinese ideographs alone had proved so awkward and inconvenient. One reason was the inflected nature of Japanese, as mentioned above: special symbols were needed to express the endings of inflected words. Two syllabary sets were created, katakana and hiragana, and used for different purposes.
 The “ka” of kana suggests “not the real/genuine thing” or “provisional” and the “na” means “letter” or “character.” Kanji, by contrast, were known as “mana,” ma” meaning “genuine.” In other words, kana were not considered characters specific to Japanese usage on a par with kanji, but temporary, lesser features subordinate to Chinese characters.
 Kana were first made to represent only sounds, but in the course of time they came to indicate words as well. The same process occurred as did in the case of English. Words like “night” and “knight” were undoubtedly pronounced exactly as they were spelled even though today the “gh” of “night” and the “k” of “knight” are not pronounced. If sound was consistent with characters, spelling would change along with pronunciation and you might think that both “night” and “knight” would become “nite.” But language has not developed that way. At present, both “night” and “knight” show not only sound, but represent the words. It is precisely this same process that occurred in the case of Japan’s kana.  
Japanese Book News, Number 23 , Fall 1998,The Japan Foundation 国際交流基金) ©T. Takashima & The Japan Foundation

(つづく)

内田魯庵傳

 内田魯庵傳(野村喬著、リブロポート)

  内田魯庵、といっても、今はもう知らない人が多いかもしれない。せいぜい一部の人が「丸善の魯庵」としてその名を知る程度であろうか。
 魯庵は、明治から昭和はじめにかけての高級知識人であり、オールラウンドの文筆人である。古今東西なんでも読んでなんでも知っているというほどの博識、くわえてその文章は軽妙にしてエスプリに富む。本好きにとってはつきぬ魅力のある人だ。
 これは、その魯庵の詳細な評伝である。著者は長年魯庵を研究しておられるかた。洪水の如くでてくる多くは粗製濫造の本のなかで、まれにこういう周到な準備の上に成った渾身の作に出あうと、ほんとうにうれしい。
 魯庵は、明治四年閏四月、江戸下谷のうまれである。その前年におなじ下谷で露伴が、また牛込で漱石がうまれている。同年うまれは美妙、透谷、蘆花など。慶應四年は九月に明治と改元するから、魯庵は明治の年数と年齢とがおなじである。
 十五歳のころから築地に下宿して立教学校に学び、また教会の聖書講義にかよってフルベツキにかわいがられた。いわば日本のなかの西洋に留学したみたいなものだ。この時期にイギリスの書物、特に文学書を多読する習慣を身につけた。同時に江戸文学を耽読した。これは魯庵だけのことではないが、西洋文学によって文学の何たるかを学び、その目で日本の文学をふりかえってみると、最も質の高いものは西鶴と近松であった。魯庵の教養の核心をなした二本柱はイギリス文学と江戸文学である。
 明治二十一年、処女評論「山田美妙の小説」を巌本善治の『女学雑誌』に発表、わずか二十一歳で一躍、石橋忍月とならぶ文芸評論のスターになった。といっても、この時代はみんな若いのである。忍月だってこの年二十四歳だし、そもそも魯庵の評論の対象になった美妙が魯庵と同年であることは上にいったとおりだ。なお忍月の評論の基盤はドイツ文学である。
 やがて巌本と考えがあわず『女学雑誌』をはなれ、徳富蘇峰の民友社にはいって『国民新聞』や『国民之友』を発表の場とした。
 この間明治二十二年に二葉亭四迷と知りあい、親友になっている。二葉亭は魯庵より四つ年上である。魯庵は友人の多い人だが、最も敬意をいだき、重んじた友人はこの人であった。
 明治二十五年から翌年にかけて『罪と罰』を翻訳刊行した。本邦初訳である。魯庵はロシア語はできないから英訳からの重訳だが、二葉亭の助力があったから部分的には原文を参照している。
 この本は、一面大成功、一面大失敗であった。「この書の反響はすさまじいものがあった」「巻之一の現れるや批評紹介をなすもの凡そ七十種」は大成功だが、かんじんの本は四百部ほどしか売れず、それでもがんばって巻之二は出したが巻之三はとうとう出せなかった、というほうは大失敗だ。当時の文芸界のせまさを端的に示す話である。
 しかしこれをきっかけに、アーヴィング、ヴォルテール、トルストイ、シルレル、アンデルセン、ポー、とつぎつぎに翻訳を発表した。すなわち二十代の魯庵は、文芸評論家兼翻訳家である。
 明治三十一年『くれの廿八日』を発表して小説家に転身。以後数年の魯庵は小説家である。
 同三十四年に書籍部顧問として丸善に人社。なにしろ魯庵はヨーロッパの書物についてよく知っている人である。無論文学書だけではない哲学、宗教、科学、音楽、美術、なんでも知っているし読んでいる。欧州諸国のおびただしい新刊書のなかから、重要なもの価値あるものを選んで仕入れをせねばならぬ洋書輸入専門店としては、こういう生き字引のような人がぜひとも必要だったのだ。 
 丸善にはいった魯庵はPR誌『学鐙』の編集をひきうけた。現在は、岩波の『図書』、新潮社の『波』など出版社のPR誌がたくさん出ているが、明治三十年創刊の『学鐙』が断然歴史がふるい。そしてああいうスタイルは魯庵が作り出したものなのだ。六年ほどまえから紅野敏郎さんが『学鐙』に、「『学鐙』を読む」と題する『学鐙』史を連載していて、そのときどきの『学鐙』所載の文章を完全に原文のままで読むことができる。ちょっと御推薦しておきます。
 明治四十二年に親友二葉亭が死ぬと、魯庵は文壇からしりぞいて随筆家、時評家になり、昭和四年六十二歳の死まで書きつづけた。この時期の魯庵について長子の巌さんは、「彼は夜店商人の如く、その雑学を絶えず自嘲を交へながら叩き売りした」と書いている。
 「日本最大の読書人」というのが、著者野村氏の魯庵総括である。
 (1994.8.1 毎日新聞「今週の本棚」)

嗚呼、大ヶ瀬幹人先生 (4)

 一年生の時の夏休み日記が、昭和二十四年七月二十二日(金)から八月三日(水)まで、十三日分だけ残っている。毎日大島と遊んでいる。次に藤堂と遊んでいる。だいたい、外で活潑なことをする時は大島と遊び、家のなかでおとなしいことをする時は藤堂と遊ぶという区別がある。
 この二人は性格が正反対だった。大島は乱暴者で、しかも抜け目がない。いっしょに悪いことをしても必ず自分だけ助かる手を考えている。叱られる時は一番うしろにいて、あっという間に姿をくらます。
 藤堂はおっとりした秀才である。それともう一人川口。この三人がわたしの一番の仲良しだった。わたしの母はいつも、「藤堂さんを見習いなさい。大島さんの真似をしたらあかん。川口さんはええ子やけどオッチョコチョイなんが玉に疵や。」と言っていた。大島は二年生になる時に明石のほうへ越して行った。今加古川のあたりで医者をしているそうだが、四十年も会っていない。
 少し夏休み日記を引く。
  七月二十七日水曜日
  ぼくと小林君と大島君とでかいきんばしへ行って見るとまだだれも来て居なかったので、三人で大西先生の家へ行くとごはんを食べていた。
  今日はエコウの者でいわし浜へ行くのである。
  それからかいきんばしへ行くともうみんな集って居た。
  きょうは藤堂君は行かないと飯田君が云って藤堂君に頼んで置いた「あめ」をもって来てくれた。
  てんま一そうとボート二そうで行ったがぼくはてんまだった。
  七時半に出発して八時半についたがその時はまだ少しさむかったのでボートに乗ったりしていて晝から泳いだ
  ぼくは豆を持って行かなかったのが殘念だった。
  松尾君がなまこを十匹ほどつかまえてなまで切って食べた。
  四時頃に向うを出発しててんまの中でみんなねた。ボートは二そうとも先に帰ってしまった。
  相生港について見るとかいきん橋の水が向うにくらべてきたないのにおどろいた。
  帰りがけあら木君と寺本君が口げんかをしたが、聞いていると面白かった。
  あら木君は云うことがなくなるごとに「そこらがさんぱつ屋や」と云った。
  タ方大島君の家へ明日行くか行かないか聞きに行くと、しんどいから行こまいと云った。
  ついでにしょうぎをして都づみにされた。
 「エコウ」はこだまの意味だが、どういうグループであったのか、おぼえがない。 
 「小林君」は英一か?
 松尾の辰ちゃんは相生駅前で舟曳理髪店をやっている。
 卓球がうまかった寺本は大阪で、これも理髪店をやっているよし。
 「あら木君」は荒木。今も那波にいる。
  七月二十八日木曜日
  朝、寝坊をして九時半頃御飯を食べて居ると赤尾君が本をはらってもらいに来た。
  赤尾君が帰ってからすぐ藤堂君が来てしょうぎして居ると大島君が来たので、しょうぎで金取りをして、やめる時一番負けて居た者があとの二人にしっぺをされる事にした。
  だんだん大島君が負けて来た。
  すると大島君はぼくらのゆだんを見すましてパッと逃げ出したので、二人で追っかけたが、高げたを手に持ったままとうとうにげてしまった。
  がすぐ玄関で「たかしまあ」と云うしょぼんとした大島君の声が聞こえるので出て見ると「げたのはがないんや」と云ったので、さがしたが見あたらなかった。
 那波小の子がそっくりそのまま那波中に進んで、原則として出入りなしだがよその学校へ行った者が数人あった。赤尾はその一人で、家が那波から藪谷に移っていたので相中へ行った。ほかに河野□が若狭中へ行き(金子□子も?)、村越□子と山本□子が姫路の日の本へ行った。
 赤尾は疎開である。
 われわれの同級生は、大きく分けて、根っからの相生の子、造船所関係で相生へ来た子(これが最も多い)、疎開、引揚げ、と四種類だったように思う。
 疎開もいろいろで、藤堂や大島はうんと早い目の疎開(都会が危くなるのを見越しての転勤)、赤尾や久安などはいよいよ危くなってからの疎開、もしくは焼け出されだった。だから(三年生まで大阪にいたわけだから)赤尾や久安はいかにも都会の子という雰囲気があった。服も靴も言葉も違っていた(われわれはそもそも靴なんかはいてなかった)。あとも、赤尾や久安のように都会がおちつくと帰って行ったのもおり、そのまま相生に居ついたのもいた(先日潮見□子にあったら「わたしと河内さんは疎開同士で仲が好かったと言っていた。ほかにも疎開はいたと思う)。
 引揚げは、村田□子、陸井□子などたくさんいたように思う。村田なんかは引揚げで一学年おくれて、いかにも大人びて見えた。

            ※

 二年生になってもあまり先生は変わらなかったが、国語が大ヶ瀬先生になった。上の学年を教える先生ほどえらい先生なんだとわたしは思っていた。それでわたしは、新しくあらわれたこの、逆長三角形の顔の上半分をきらきら光る額が占めていて、度の強そうな眼鏡をかけ、大きな口、分厚い唇の、これまでの先生がたとはまたよほど異る風貌の先生を、輿味津々眺めていたものだ。
 この時先生は満二十一歳で、われわれと八つ違いだった。──もっともわたしがそのことを知ったのはよほどあとのことである。当時のわたしには、先生はもっとずっと老成して見えた。
 先生は自己紹介から始められた。黒板に「大ヶ瀬」と書いて、「これは珍しい苗字なんだ。大古瀬というのはたまにあるが、大ヶ瀬はまずほかにはない」と言い、ついで、「ぼくは名前が二つあるんだ」と「幹人」「俊策」の二つの名を黒板に書いて、どっちかがおじいさんのつけた名前でどっちかがお父さんのつけた名前で、両方使っているんだと言われた。へえ、名前が二つあるなんてすごいなあ、とわたしは感心した。
 大ヶ瀬先生の国語の授業は、あとで考えると、つまり「文学」というものをわたしたちに教えてくれる授業だったのだと思う。それまでわたしは、国語というのは漢字の書き取りをしたり読みがなをつけたりするものだと思っていたから、大ヶ瀬先生の国語の授業はこれまで出会ったことのない新鮮なもので、いつも国語の時間を一番の楽しみにして待った。
 昔の同級生たちと大ヶ瀬先生の話をすると、誰もが一番印象に残っているのは、右手をズボンのポケットに入れて、斜めに窓のほうを向いて、ちょっとあごを反らせて、顔を紅潮させて、あの音量のあるいい声で、「秋の日の、ヴィオロンの、ためいきの、……」とか、「あはれ、秋風よ、こころあらば伝へてよ、……」とか、「われは思ふ、末世の邪宗、きりしたんでうすの魔法……」とか、朗々と詩を詠じてくれた先生の姿である。
 それらももちろんだが、またわたしには、「千里鶯啼いて緑紅に映ず…」や「朝に辞す白帝彩雲の間…」などの衝撃も強烈だった。今までまったく知らなかった世界がパーッと展開した感じだった。ああいうのは教科書にはなかったはずだが、どういう機会に教えてくれたのだったか。
 短歌もたくさん教えてくれた。わたしが、いいなあ、と思って今でもおぼえているのは、白秋の「草若葉色鉛筆の赤き粉の散るがいとしく寝てけづるなり」である。
 わたしは、そうした詩や、漢詩や、短歌などを好きになるとともに、またそういうものをいくらでも知っていて教えてくれる大ヶ瀬先生を崇拝するようになった。
 わたしよりもっと大ヶ瀬先生を崇拝したのが立花□だった。 
 先生は八棟の一部屋を借りて住んでいたが、ある時立花といっしょに行くと先生は起きたばかりで、棟の端にある水道場へ顔を洗いに行くところだった。われわれもついて行った。先生はざっと顔を洗っただけである。立花が「先生歯ア磨かないんですか」と聞いた。先生は笑って「歯なんか磨くもんか」と例によってひとくさり歯を磨くのは俗人の因習だというような理窟を述べた。立花は非常に心服して以後歯を磨かなくなった。そして、「わしの歯もだんだん大ヶ瀬先生みたいに黄色うなってきたやろ」と、よく歯をむき出してわたしに見せた。しかしそんなに黄色くもなかった。大ヶ瀬先生はうんと煙草を吸うからあんなに黄色いので、立花がそれに追いつくのは無理であった。

            ※
                  (つづく)
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