Journal issue focuses on romanization

cover of this issue of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic SocietyThe most recent issue of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (third series, volume 20, part 1, January 2010) features the following articles on romanization movements and script reforms.

  • Editorial Introduction: Romanisation in Comparative Perspective, by İlker Aytürk
  • The Literati and the Letters: A Few Words on the Turkish Alphabet Reform, by Laurent Mignon
  • Alphabet Reform in the Six Independent ex-Soviet Muslim Republics, by Jacob M. Landau
  • Politics of Romanisation in Azerbaijan (1921–1992), by Ayça Ergun
  • Romanisation in Uzbekistan Past and Present, by Mehmet Uzman
  • Romanisation of Bengali and Other Indian Scripts, by Dennis Kurzon
  • The Rōmaji movement in Japan, by Nanette Gottlieb
  • Postscript from the JRAS Editor, Sarah Ansari

Unfortunately, none of these cover any Sinitic languages or the case of Vietnam. And Gottlieb’s take on rōmaji is certainly more conservative than Unger’s. But I expect this will all make for interesting reading.

I am able to view all of the articles on my system. But perhaps others will run up against a subscription wall.

I thank Victor H. Mair for drawing this publication to my attention.

kanji scandal

The Kyoto-based Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation — the group behind the Kanji of the Year announcement and which runs Japan’s well-attended kanji aptitude tests — is registered as a public-interest corporation, which means that it is not supposed to generate profits greater than it needs to operate (much like a non-profit organization in the United States). On March 10, however, Japan’s Ministry of Education stepped in, saying that the foundation was making too much money and needed to overhaul its operations.

How much money are we talking about?

The foundation racked up profits of ¥880 million [US$8.8 million] in fiscal 2006 and ¥660 million in fiscal 2007. The value of its assets increased from ¥5 billion at the end of fiscal 2004 to ¥7.35 billion at the end of fiscal 2007. It would not be far-fetched to say that the foundation has created a kanji business. Kanken became a registered trademark. In fiscal 2007 alone, the foundation sold some 1.5 million copies of books. It is also providing kanji-related questions to TV shows.

But there are more problems than just how much of the money the foundation makes. It has been funneling money into companies controlled by the foundation’s director and his son, the deputy director. “In fiscal 2007, commissions to these companies amounted to 2.48 billion yen [US$24.9 million], accounting for about 40 percent of the foundation’s annual expenditures,” the Asahi Shimbun reported.

Moreover, it appears the companies did little work for the large amount of money they received.

The Ministry of Education has warned the foundation before, with not much in the way of results. The foundation is to report back to the ministry by April 15. Given how entrenched the foundation is within Japan, I don’t expect much to change.


China and U.S. study abroad programs

China has become the fifth most popular destination for U.S. students in study abroad programs, according to the results of a newly released study.

Top 10 destinations for study abroad by U.S. students in the 2006-07 school year
China shown as the fifth most popular destination for study abroad. The top destination is the UK, followed by Italy, Spain, and France.

It was only a few years ago that China made it into the top ten for the first time.

Top 10 destinations for study abroad by U.S. students in the 2000-01 school year
China shown as the tenth most popular destination for study abroad. The top destination is the UK, followed by Italy, Spain, and France.

The trend evident by comparing the two graphs is also backed up by the numbers: There has been a tremendous increase in the number of American students receiving credit for study abroad.

This latest increase marks a decade of unprecedented growth in the number of American students receiving academic credit for their overseas academic experience, with an increase of close to 150%, from under 100,000 in 1996/97 to nearly a quarter of a million in 2006/07.

Moreover, there has been an increasing interest in non-traditional destinations. In 1996-97, Europe took in 64 percent of U.S. students studying abroad. Although it continues to attract a majority (57 percent) of such students, many other destinations are receiving more students than ever, “fueled in part by an increase in new program opportunities, partnerships between higher education institutions in the United States and abroad, and a range of fields and program durations to accommodate the needs of an increasingly diverse study abroad population.”

Percent of study abroad performed in various parts of the world, 2006-07
Europe 57%, Latin America 15% , Asia 10%, Oceania 6%, Africa 4%, Middle East 1%, multiple destinations 7%

China’s growth as a destination has been strong this decade, other than a dip during the SARS outbreak. Note, however, that China has yet to receive even 5 percent of U.S. study abroad students in any given year, so please don’t misinterpret this post as yet more media hype proclaiming “Everyone’s going to China!” (For the 2006-2007 school year, the figure was 4.6 percent.)

Percent of study abroad performed in select Asian destinations, 1996-2006
percentage of study abroad students in select Asian destinations, 1996-2006; sharp growth for China; also dramatic growth for India, but from a lower baseline; Japan stays flat

The growth of interest in China has helped fuel Asia taking in greater numbers of students. Taiwan has also more than doubled the percentage of U.S. study abroad students it takes in, though the percentage remains so low that this is difficult to see on the graph.

Percent of study abroad performed in Asia, 1996-2006

Note that there’s no indication of just how long people stayed in given destinations. So it’s possible that students spent much more time on average in, say, England than in China — or vice versa.

Here’s the overall breakdown for the time students spent studying abroad:

  • 55% in short-term programs (“including summer, January term and any program of 2 to 8 weeks during the academic year”)
  • about 36% in semester-long programs
  • over 40% in mid-length programs (one semester, one quarter or two quarters)
  • less than 5% spend a full academic or calendar year abroad

source: Open Doors 2008: Report on International Educational Exchange

Further reading for students interested in study abroad: IIEPassport Study Abroad Funding.

that horizontal feeling

The Yomiuri Shimbun reports, “A series of classic works by renowned novelists is proving popular due to innovative designs and the fact the text is printed using lateral text rather than the vertical columns usually used for Japanese novels.”

The first two books in the Meisaku Bungaku (Masterpiece Literature) series are single volume editions of Soseki Natsume’s “Kokoro” (Heart) and Osamu Dazai’s “Ningen Shikkaku” (No Longer Human), both published on Aug. 1.

The venture by the publisher, Goma Books, is aimed at getting young people to read classic fiction in a similar manner to the way they read novels on mobile phones.

The two books feature photographs of actresses on their front covers, and the type is not the usual black, but features colors such as orange and bright green to give the books a casual feel. Such designs, coupled with the horizontal text, have helped the publisher sell more than 50,000 copies of the novels since they were put on sale.

The two books were among 60 novels made available on the Goma Books mobile phone Web site in April last year. They were selected due to their great popularity.

Copyright on all the site’s books has expired because at least 50 years have passed since the death of their authors.

Some site users said they found it easy to read the masterpieces when they were written horizontally rather than vertically. The site attracts about 100 million hits a month, prompting the publisher to put out printed forms of the works.

As well as the switch from vertical to horizontal text, other ideas also were adopted.

Reading ease was taken into account, with the publisher using fewer words per page and more space between lines. Kana syllables are also frequently printed alongside kanji to aid readers.

My favorite bit, in part because I wonder if the first sentence had ever been uttered before, comes next. Or is this a topic that has been hotly debated among the Japanese literati?

“The emotions [of the work] are not lost with lateral writing,” said Yutaka Akiyama–a former editor at publisher Iwanami Shoten–who was responsible for compiling the complete works of Soseki. “Soseki himself wrote his notes horizontally.”

The second batch of three works, which include Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s “Kumo no Ito” (The Spider’s Thread), came out Friday.

source: Laterally printed classics prove hit, Daily Yomiuri Online, August 23, 2008

Compensation for kanji-input basic technology subject of lawsuit

A Japanese man who says he invented the technology behind the context-based conversion of a sentence written solely in kana into one in both kanji and kana, as well as another related technology, filed suit against Toshiba on December 7, seeking some US$2.3 million in compensation from his former employer.

Shinya Amano, a professor at Shonan Institute of Technology, said in a written complaint that although the firm received patents for the technologies in conjunction with him and three others and paid him tens of thousands of yen annually in remuneration, he actually developed the technologies alone.

Amano is claiming 10 percent of an estimated ¥2.6 billion in profit Toshiba made in 1996 and 1997 — much higher than the roughly ¥230,000 he was actually awarded for the work over the two-year span.

His claim is believed valid, taking into account the statute of limitations and the terms of the patents.

“This is not about the sum of the money — I filed the suit for my honor,” Amano said in a press conference after bringing the case to the Tokyo District Court.

“Japan is a technology-oriented country, but engineers are treated too lightly here,” he said.

Toshiba said through its public relations office that it believes it paid Amano fair compensation in line with company policy. The company declined to comment on the lawsuit before receiving the complaint in writing.

Amano claims that he invented the technology that converts a sentence composed of kana alone into a sentence composed of both kanji and kana by assessing its context, and another technology needed to prioritize kanji previously used in such conversions.

Using theories of artificial intelligence, the two technologies developed in 1977 and 1978 are still used today in most Japanese word-processing software, he said.

source: Word-processor inventor sues Toshiba over redress, Kyodo News, via Japan Times, December 9, 2007

China shifting its position on traditional Chinese characters?

Many Web sites in China are running the story that Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese scholars have reached an agreement on unification of Chinese characters — and that this involves using many traditional characters.

If any “agreement” has indeed been reached, it probably won’t mean much, if anything at all — certainly not to the government of China. But the number of sites running this story and the prominence of some of the members of the PRC delegation make me wonder if this might just be a little more than much ado about nothing.

Zhōng xīn wǎng 11 yuè 5 rì diàn jù hǎiwài méitǐ pīlù, shǔyú Hànzì wénhuà quān de Zhōngguó, Rìběn, Hánguó Sānguó hé Zhōngguó Táiwān dìqū de xuézhě juédìng zhìzuò tǒngyī zìxíng (wénzì de xíngzhuàng) de 5000-6000 ge chángyòng Hànzì biāozhǔn zì.

Hánguó “Cháoxiǎn rìbào” kānzǎi wénzì jí shìpín bàodào chēng, dì-bā jiè “guójì Hànzì yántǎohuì” shàngzhōu zài Zhōngguó Běijīng chuánméi dàxué lóngzhòng zhàokāi, huìyì yóu Zhōngguó Jiàoyùbù yǔyán wénzì yìngyòng yánjiūsuǒ hé guójiā Hànyǔ guójì tuīguǎng lǐngdǎo xiǎozǔ bàngōngshì zhǔbàn. Huìyì jìhuà jiāng Yuènán, Mǎláixīyà, Xīnjiāpō, Xiāng Gǎng, Àomén xīshōu wéi xīn huìyuán, kuòdà Hànzì shǐyòng guójiā huò dìqū de cānyù fànwéi. Huìyì juédìng zhìzuò gè guójiā dìqū Hànzì “bǐjiào yánjiū cídiǎn”, zhújiàn tǒngyī gèguó shǐyòng de zìxíng. Huìyì hái jiù míngnián zài shǒu ěr jǔxíng dì jiǔ jiè yántǎohuì, gèguó fēnbié shèzhì 3 míng liánluòyuán (yánjiū fùzérén) dáchéng le xiéyì.

Jù bàodào, “guójì Hànzì yántǎohuì” yú 1991 nián fāqǐ. Qí mùdìzàiyú, yùfáng Dōngyà guójiā yīnwèi shǐyòng Zhōngguó Táiwān de fántǐzì, Zhōngguó de jiǎntǐzì, Rìběn de lüèzì děng bùtóng xíngzhuàng de Hànzì chǎnshēng hùnluàn, quèdìng chángyòng Hànzì de zìshù, tuījìn zìxíng biāozhǔnhuà (tǒngyī).

Běnjiè huìyì yǔ 2003 nián zài Rìběn Dōngjīng jǔxíng de dì-qī jiè yántǎohuì xiānggé 4 nián. Jù bàodào, běn cì huìyì tíyì, 5000 duō ge chángyòng biāozhǔn zì jiāng yǐ “fántǐzì” wéizhǔ jìnxíng tǒngyī, rúguǒ gèbié Hànzì yǒu jiǎntǐzì, jiù jìxù bǎoliú.

Chūxí cǐcì huìyì de Zhōngfāng dàibiǎo yǒu Wáng Tiěkūn (Jiàoyùbù yǔyán wénzì xìnxī guǎnlǐ sī fù sīzhǎng, Zhōngguó Wénzì Xuéhuì fùhuìzhǎng jiān mìshūzhǎng), Huáng Dékuān (Ānhuī Dàxué xiàozhǎng, Zhōngguó Wénzì Xuéhuì huìzhǎng), Sū Péichéng (Běijīng Dàxué jiàoshòu), Lǐ Dàsuì (Běijīng Dàxué jiàoshòu); Hánguó fāng dàibiǎo yǒu Lǐ Dàchún (Guójì Hànzì Zhènxīng Xiéhuì huìzhǎng), Lǐ Yīngbǎi (Shǒu’ěr Dàxué míngyù jiàoshòu), Jiāng Xìnhàng (Chéngjūnguǎn Dàxué míngyù jiàoshòu), Chén Tàixià (Rénjǐ Dàxué shǒuxí jiàoshòu), Jīn Yànzhōng (Gāolí Dàxué jiàoshòu); Rìběn fāng dàibiǎo yǒu Zuǒténg Gòngyuè (Zhùbō Dàxué jiàoshòu), Qīngyuán Chúnpíng (qīnshàn bù huìzhǎng); Zhōngguó Táiwān dìqū [sic] dàibiǎo yǒu Xǔ Xuérén (“Zhōngguó Wénzì Xiéhuì” lǐshìzhǎng).

source: Zhōngguo, Rìběn, Hánguó yǔ Zhōngguó Táiwān dìqū xuéjiè jiù “tǒngyī Hànzì” dáchéng xiéyì (中日韩与中国台湾地区学界就“统一汉字”达成协议), November 5, 2007

Pure Land Buddhism and Amida Buddha: a historical and philological analysis

Sino-Platonic Papers has rereleased for free Life and Light, the Infinite: A Historical and Philological Analysis of the Amida Cult (2.2 MB PDF), by Soho Machida.

Here’s a bit of borrowed biographical information about the author:

Soho Machida spent twenty years as a Zen monk at Daitokuji monastery, Kyoto, before moving to the United States, where he received a master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard University and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught at Princeton University and the National University of Singapore, and is now a professor at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. He has written extensively on religion and ethics.

And here’s the table of contents of the work.

  1. Two Names of Amida Buddha
  2. Amida, Amita, or Amrta?
  3. Amida Buddha and Indian Mythology
  4. Which came first, Amitayus or Amitabha?
  5. The Idea of Luminosity in Mahayana Thought
  6. The Encounter of Buddhism and Zoroastrianism
  7. Luminosity and the Cult of Mithra
  8. Parallel Features with Iranian Religion
  9. The Old Religion of the Indo-Iranians
  10. Conclusion
  11. Endnotes
  12. Bibliography

This was originally published in December 1988 as issue no. 9 of Sino-Platonic Papers.