85 percent of Japanese report weakening of ability to write kanji: poll

I may have understated the headline by using “weakening.” Regardless, though, the figures are dramatic.

People are becoming accustomed to computer-aided input of kanji and thus forgetting how to be able to write them by hand. This is only going to get worse, not better.

For a brief English article on this, see the link below.

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new book on language policy in Taiwan during the Japanese era

photo of the cover of the book discussed in this postWhile browsing at Eslite the other day I happened across a new book that sounds interesting: Tónghuà de tóngchuángyìmèng: Rìb?n zhì shíq? Táiw?n de y?yán zhèngcè, jìndài huà y? rèntóng (???????: ??????????????????), by Chen Pei-feng (Chén Péi-f?ng / ???).

Although the book is written in Mandarin and has essentially no English, it has a strange but intriguing English title: The Different Intentions Behind the Semblance of “Douka”: The Language Policy, Modernization, and Identity in Taiwan during the Japan-Ruling Period. This doesn’t quite match the Mandarin.

I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has read this.

make romanizations, not war

closeup of the romanization discussed in this postWhile a lot of things might be unusual about this old print of a Japanese soldier having sex with or simply raping a Western soldier, what particularly startled me is the use of romanization. Given that much of the text in the full image (note: definitely not safe for work) isn’t accompanied by romanization, it appears the intent is to help indicate which lines are being said by the Westerner. (But I can’t read Japanese, so I don’t know for sure.)

Has anyone noticed this practice — the romanization, y’all — in other Japanese prints?

Commenters on Eros Blog (again, not safe for work) translate the text and place the cartoon from the time of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05.

online books from the University of California Press

[Note: links revised July 2009.]

The University of California Press has made the full text of hundreds of its books available online. That’s right: hundreds.

Among these many books, twenty-four 29 are classified as pertaining to Asian studies, thirty-five 49 to Asian history, six to Asian literature, and five 10 to language and linguistics. (There is some overlap.)

Among these books is Passions of the Tongue: Language Devotion in Tamil India, 1891-1970, by Sumathi Ramaswamy, which has the following intriguing description:

Why would love for their language lead several men in southern India to burn themselves alive in its name? Passions of the Tongue analyzes the discourses of love, labor, and life that transformed Tamil into an object of such passionate attachment, producing in the process one of modern India’s most intense movements for linguistic revival and separatism. Sumathi Ramaswamy suggests that these discourses cannot be contained within a singular metanarrative of linguistic nationalism and instead proposes a new analytic, “language devotion.” She uses this concept to track the many ways in which Tamil was imagined by its speakers and connects these multiple imaginings to their experience of colonial and post-colonial modernity. Focusing in particular on the transformation of the language into a goddess, mother, and maiden, Ramaswamy explores the pious, filial, and erotic aspects of Tamil devotion. She considers why, as its speakers sought political and social empowerment, metaphors of motherhood eventually came to dominate representations of the language.

Festschrift for John DeFrancis now available for free

Most readers of Pinyin News will already know of John DeFrancis, editor of the ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary and author of The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy and many other important works. (If you haven’t read The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy yet, order it now.)

In recognition of the 95th(!) birthday today of Professor DeFrancis, Sino-Platonic Papers is rereleasing Schriftfestschrift: Essays in Honor of John DeFrancis on His Eightieth Birthday. Previously, this important compilation, which runs more than 250 pages, was available only in a printed edition priced at US$35. The fifteenth-anniversary edition, however, is being released for free as a PDF (15 MB — so have a fast Internet connection, or a lot of patience).

I’d like to draw special attention to an article written in Pinyin: “Hanzi Bu Tebie Biaoyi,” by Zhang Liqing. (Zhang’s work also appears here on Pinyin Info, in her translations of The Historical Evolution of Chinese Languages and Scripts and of the amazing Comparing Chinese Characters and a Chinese Spelling Script — an evening conversation on the reform of Chinese characters.)

Feel free to print out a copy of the Schriftfestschrift for your own use or for inclusion in a library. Just don’t sell it.

The original publication contained several color photos. I’ll add those later. Also, the English tex is searchable to some degree, as I used OCR after scanning these pages; but the results weren’t perfect.

Here are the contents:

  • Tabula Gratulatoria
  • Introduction, by Victor H. Mair
  • Publications of John DeFrancis
  • Hanzi Bu Tebie Biaoyi, by Zhang Liqing
  • Typology of Writing Systems, by Zhou Youguang
  • Dui Hanzi de Jizhong Wujie, by Yin Binyong
  • The Information Society and Terminology, by Liu Yongquan
  • A Bilingual Mosaic, by Einar Haugen
  • The Polysemy of the Term Kokugo, by S. Robert Ramsey
  • Memorizing Kanji: Lessons from a Pro, by J. Marshall Unger
  • Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard, by David Moser
  • Ethnolinguistic Notes on the Dungan, by Lisa E. Husmann and William S-Y. Wang
  • Korean Views on Writing Reform, by Wm. C. Hannas
  • Language Policies and Linguistic Divergence in the Two Koreas, by Ho-min Sohn
  • Okinawan Writing Systems, Past, Present, and Future, by Leon A. Serafim
  • Proposal of a Comparative Study of Language Policies and Their Implementation in Singapore, Taiwan, and China (PRC), by Robert L. Cheng
  • The Topical Function of Preverbal Locatives and Temporals in Chinese, by Feng-fu Tsao
  • Yes-No Questions in Taipei and Peking Mandarin, by Robert M. Sanders
  • Patronizing Uses of the Particle ma: Bureaucratic Chinese Bids for Dominance in Personal Interactions, by Beverly Hong Fincher
  • Gender and Sexism in Chinese Language and Literature, by Angela Jung-Palandri
  • A zhezi Anagram Poem of the Song Dynasty, by John Marney
  • Some Remarks on Differing Correspondences in Old Chinese Assumed to Represent Different Chinese Dialects, by Nicholas C. Bodman
  • Can Taiwanese Recognize Simplified Characters?, by John S. Rohsenow
  • Simplified Characters and Their (Un)relatedness, by Chauncey C. Chu
  • The Teaching of Culture and the Culture of Teaching: Problems, Challenges, and Opportunities in Language Instruction, by Eugene Eoyang
  • The Culture Component of Language Teaching, by Kyoko Hijirida
  • Thinking About Prof. John DeFrancis, by Apollo Wu
  • Wo suo Renshi de De Xiansheng, by Chih-yu Ho
  • Two Poems for Professor John DeFrancis, by Richard F. S. Yang
  • Announcement, by Stephen Fleming

Happy birthday, John! And many happy returns!

kanji conversions cause crash

This is a weird one: Sharp Corp. has acknowledged that more than 10 million of its cell phones have a “software glitch that disables the handsets when certain hiragana phrases are converted into kanji when writing e-mail.”

The phrases known to freeze the phones are: “mirare makuccha,” which roughly means “people’s eyes were fixed on me,” and “kazega naori kaketa,” meaning, “I was recovering from a cold,” according to Nikkei Net, a Web-based business and information technology news site.

I’m not sure I could come up with a proper comment on this even if I didn’t have a bad case of jet lag.


learn kanji through noh?

Studying kanji while taking in a Japanese noh drama — what could more exciting? Heh.

A common problem for those new to Japanese traditional performing arts is that–even for native Japanese speakers–it is hard to understand the story and old-fashioned language used in noh recitation or gidayu, a form of narrative chanting that accompanies bunraku performances. With a view to solving this problem, there has been a marked increase in productions using Japanese subtitles at the National Theatre in Tokyo and National Bunraku Theatre in Osaka. The National Noh Theatre in Tokyo also plans to make greater use of subtitles on screens it will introduce in autumn.

The new computer-controlled system to be introduced at the National Noh Theatre in Tokyo, where prior improvements to seats and other theater facilities are scheduled for completion in August and September, will allow Japanese subtitles to be displayed on flat-panel screens installed in seat backs.

“We will provide Japanese and English subtitles for the time being, although the system will allow us to use four channels in total,” said an official at the noh theater. Noh recitation will be displayed as it is in Japanese, while the plot of the play and a briefing on scenes will be provided in English along with a translation of the recitation….

Some bunraku performers at first questioned why Japanese subtitles were necessary since most audience members are Japanese.

“But they don’t voice such objections any more. Some even say the subtitles are useful in learning kanji…,” said Takemoto Sumitayu, a bunraku narrator and a living national treasure.

The National Bunraku Theatre hopes that the service “will help overcome the image of traditional performing arts as hard to understand.”

I suppose as long as the chairback is below the stage, the text would still be subtitling. But I can’t help but wonder if there’s a more precise term. It’s not likely to be real captioning. And what’s the word for texts that are presented on the sides of stages?

source: Does Japanese theater need Japanese subtitles?, Daily Yomiuri, July 8, 2006