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


No-sword’s post on this is already brief, so I won’t shorten it here other than to note that sentences like “The furigana undermine the kanji at the most fundamental level, but the overall meaning of the poster remains unchanged” are the sort of thing that really make my day.

Just go read the whole post, which discusses something at the intriguingly titled Moji no ura-d?ri (which Matt translates freely as “The Back Streets of Orthography”).

early Romaji texts

Matt of No-sword has two recent posts (<gue> to fabulas and I just can’t stop talking about old Portugo-Japanese texts online) on translations into Japanese of several books related to Aesop. These books are from the late sixteenth century and are the work of Portuguese Jesuits. And they’re in R?maji.

Here’s a link to the fable of the horse and the ass. For more links, see Matt’s posts.

W-use letter

Matt at No-sword talks about the uses of the letter W in Japan:

Many English initialisms are used in Japan, like CM for “commercial [movie]”, but W is a special letter: it can represent meaning all by itself. This is because it is generally pronounced “double” instead of “double-u”, so it’s handy for referring to things that are doubled.

Read the whole piece: Let the pretending to be injured begin.

Taiwan architecture and political statements

The main reason I haven’t been posting much lately is that for several weeks I’ve been extremely busy showing various groups of VIPs around Taipei. As the viewing floor near the top of Taipei 101, the world’s tallest building, is one of the standard stops along the tour, I usually take advantage of the bird’s-eye-view to point out some of the architectural features of the city. A few of these features are related to Chinese characters / Japanese kanji.

Japan controlled Taiwan from 1895 until 1945. The design of some significant buildings from this time reflects the desire of the Japanese authorities to put Japan’s stamp on Taiwan — in more ways than one. The buildings that now house Taiwan’s Presidential Office and the Executive Yuan (Cabinet) are from that era. Both are built in the shape of a Chinese character / kanji used in writing the name of Japan: ?. This is not a coincidence. (Before anyone asks: I haven’t seen any buildings, though, built in the shape of ?, the other character used in writing the name of Japan.)

Here are some screenshots from Google Earth, which gives satellite photos of much of the globe.

Below is Taiwan’s presidential building:
satellite photo of Taiwan's presidential building

And here is the Cabinet building, with north rotated 90 degrees clockwise:
satellite photo of Taiwan's Executive Yuan (Cabinet building)
The buildings on all but what is here the left side are additions that date from after the Japanese were forced out of Taiwan. (BTW, my old office in the Government Information Office is just below the bottom right corner of the ?.)

After the Japanese authorities were evicted from Taiwan and the island was controlled by the Chinese KMT, Taipei built a new city hall, and in so doing made an architectural statement of its own. Taipei City Hall, which is at the far end of a long road that leads to the Presidential Office, is built in the shape of two characters for the number 10, placed side by side: ??
satellite photo of Taipei City Hall
Thus, this is 10 10, which stands for October 10, which refers to the starting date of the revolution that overthrew the Qing dynasty in 1910, leading to the establishment of the Republic of China. (Officially speaking, Taiwan remains the Republic of China and October 10 remains its “National Day.”)

click to enlarge satellite photo of Taipei, showing the Presidential Office and Executive Yuan in the west and Taipei City Hall in the east
(click photo to enlarge)

If you’d like to use Google Earth to view these for yourself, enter the following coordinates:

  • Presidential Office: 25 02 24 N, 121 30 42 E
  • Executive Yuan: 25 02 47 N, 121 31 14 E
  • Taipei City Hall: 25 02 15 N, 121 33 52 E

Also, the pond behind the former Japanese Governor-General’s house, now the modestly named Taipei Guest House, is supposed to be, with a little help from some decorative rocks, in the shape of the character for “heart”:

But I haven’t found any photographs or maps that show this clearly.

Can anyone comment on the architecture of Japanese-era governmental buildings in Korea?

evolution of simplified Chinese characters: dissertation

Stockholm University’s Department of Oriental Languages has just released Long Story of Short Forms: The Evolution of Simplified Chinese Characters (10.4 MB PDF), a Ph.D. dissertation by Roar Bökset.

Here is the abstract:

A script reform was carried out in China between 1955 and 1964 by simplifying the shape of a number of characters. Most of the simplified forms adopted had already been in popular use for a long time before this reform, while a few were invented for the occasion.

One objective of this dissertation is to estimate the proportion of invented forms. To this end, use of simplified variants before 1955 was surveyed. Pre-reform writing turned out to be more heterogeneous than expected. In fact, already Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) handwriting differed considerably from the norms set up by contemporary dictionaries and model texts.

One aim of the script reform was to unify writing habits and make them conform better with established norms. To evaluate the Script Reform Committee’s success in this field, this dissertation surveys the use of different unofficial short forms even after the reform. Success turned out to be moderate. Many pre-1955 short variants survived, and, what was worse, new ones emerged after the reform. Particularly confusing was the use of different unofficial short forms in different parts of China. The existence of such local variants was confirmed by extensive reading of signs, advertisements, price tags and wall newspapers in twenty-one provinces, and by interviews with informants at four hundred localities. Results of that survey are displayed on twenty-four maps.

A few years earlier, even Japanese characters had gone through a reform which made many simplified forms official. Some of the new official Japanese forms differed from those which came to be official in China, creating a discrepancy which has at times been lamented. However, this dissertation compares the short forms used in pre-reform Japan with those of pre-reform China, and shows that most of the present discrepancies have roots in differences in Chinese and Japanese writing traditions, which bound the hands of reformers in both countries and enforced the decisions which were eventually made.