The Nanbanjin Nikki


Argument by kanji: 静かさ、閑かさ



shizukasa ya iwa ni shimi-iru semi no koe

the cry of cicadas seep into the rocks

Is there any meaning to the fact that Bashō wrote shizukasa “tranquility, quietude, repose” with the character 閑 rather than the (possibly) more common 静 ?


Roy Andrew Miller, an unsung hero (villain) of academic dissing

R.A. Miller is better known for The Japanese Language, an indisputable classic of the field, and for his work on the Altaic hypothesis. However, I’ve never seen anyone draw attention to his academic reviews, the style and rhetoric of which I find to be highly entertaining (probably because I’m not the one being reviewed…). Consider the following representative lines of his comments on Bentley’s A Descriptive Grammar of Early Old Japanese Prose and on Vovin’s A Reference Grammar of Classical Japanese Prose:

The problems with Bentley’s book begin with his title. The texts with which he is concerned are in the main not prose, at least not in the usual understanding of the term; nor can the bulk of them be described as “Old Japanese”, let alone “Early”; nor is what he has published a “descriptive grammar”.

The meat is delicious: The Shinkai-san dictionary

A friend pointed me to James Somer’s article praising the older editions of the Webster’s dictionary. The main points that he raises include the facts that:

I sent him a message about a modern dictionary that I like a lot (more…)

Ishihara Yoshirō, Inaori Ringo

りんごは ちいさく

An apple –
The only one left
Unpicked – petitely
Tried to stand true.
Though a single apple
May stand true,
What good could it do?
Though pondering thus,
The apple was so very timid
And so very helpless, that it nonetheless
Decided to stand truer still
And turned about
Looking around
And went rolling
Up to the hem of the mat and
As if it hadn’t done enough
It stood proud, petitely and

Ishihara Yoshirō, Inaori Ringo. We saw this poem in the morphosyntax class and I liked it. Transcription:

Hitotsu dake Ato e
Ringo wa chiisaku
Ringo ga ikko de
Dō naru Mono ka to
Kangaeta ga
Sore-hodo Ringo wa
Ki ga yowakute
Sore-hodo Kokoro-hosokatta kara
Yappari inaoru Koto ni shite
Atari wo gurutto
Mimawashite kara
Tatami no Heri made
Kore demo ka to chiisaku
Inaotte yatta

Thanks to /u/Hyperwyrm and /u/GrammarNinja64 for corrections and insight. Inaoru, lit. “to fix your sitting” i.e. “to sit up straight”, also means “to assume a combative attitude” (especially when facing adversity). I chose “stand true” because I don’t think English has many idioms about combative sitting… Also I can’t for the life of me come up with a good Portuguese equivalent, standing or sitting.

I’m missing some nuance of bravado on that final kore demo ka… -te yatta

Gramática escolar japonesa 学校文法 para estudantes de língua clássica

Os textos de língua clássica japonesa (古語 kogo / 文語 bungo) possuem todo um aparato de apoio para compreensão: dicionários, tabelas de referência, notas, edições comentadas e analisadas gramaticalmente… Esse material de apoio pressupõe domínio da chamada “gramática escolar japonesa”, 学校文法 gakkō bunpō.

Recentemente montamos na USP uma aulinha de reforço de gramática escolar da língua moderna, planejada como apoio a estudantes que estão começando a clássica agora mas nunca viram essa gramática nem para a moderna. O handout que preparei serve de introdução a alguns pontos-chave, e está disponível aqui (referências). O material é de língua moderna, mas procurei me ater aos conceitos e terminologia que serão mais úteis na hora de partir para a clássica.

Ghost Trick’s neat word trick

After the insistent nagging enthusiastic recommendation of a certain friend, I decided to try out the Nintendo DS game Ghost Trick. My attention was instantly drawn by this:



Tenshi Sōzō Sunawachi Hikari (Português)

Comentei isto outro dia no facebook de alguém, copiando aqui pra preservar.


Day T minus 26: Fujiyama Fantasy

Japan, like any other place, is what you make of it. That’s why, rather than reading on current sociopolitics or, I’m brushing up on my dearest Lafcadio Hearn.

And boy does he fly.


Tea ceremony imagery

I like the little similes and stories we hear in the tea room.


Slowing down, & my own Peregrinaçam

After another long hiatus, I figure it’s time to admit I can’t update this blog regularly anymore. Turns out being a grad student is a lot of work! I know, who woulda thought, right? There are a half-dozen half-finished posts around, but from now on I’ll publish them irregularly. Sorry about that. There’s also RSS/Atom feeds and email notifications, should the Reader wish to make use of them.

Joining the adult academic world does have its perks, though—like being eligible for the Japan Foundation scholarship program for researchers. Long story short, after all these years, I can finally utter the following statement in a world where it has a positive truth value:

~★☆I am going to friggin’ JAPAN!!!☆★~

Yes, I’m cutting my hair in 2013! I’ll be in Ōsaka-fu for 60 summer days & learn kansaiben & go kuidaore & probably blog every single day even if to say “today I had takoyaki, again”. See you on the other side of the world~

Announcing myougiden, a command-line Japanese/English dictionary

Where have I been, you ask? I’ve disappeared for the last two weeks! I didn’t write anything, talked to no one, was nowhere to be seen!

As it happens, the Muse of Programming possessed me forcefully, and after some intense days taken by a mood, I ended up with this:

myougiden screenshot


Kanji and speech, kanji and mind

One of the things that interest me in Japanese are the references to written language—specifically, to Chinese characters (kanji)—in speech. Of course, literate speakers of most languages will sometimes refer to writing (“I meant cue, cue with a ‘c’”). It’s my subjective impression, however, that the Japanese do it more often, and the morphographic nature of kanji makes it feel… different.


Tea ceremony notes: The difference between Usucha and Koicha

A common experience when studying tea is that, as soon as you start getting the hang of a procedure, your teacher throws some new variation at you. One is always kept on her toes, so to speak, with a constant feeling of inadequacy. Though a bit disconcerting (not to mention ego-shattering), this is actually an optimum educational technique; you’re always just outside your comfort zone, which means you’re always absorbing new things.

One reason why this method works is that each new Temae (formal procedure) don’t simply start it all over from scratch; they can mostly be learned as variations on a theme, changing some points in the overall stable pattern. However, one of the most drastic steps in the Urasenke curriculum might be the very second “full” Temae, namely the basic manners for Koicha “thick tea”. Just as the student started to get happy with the flow of his beginner’s Usucha “thin tea” procedure, he’s introduced to a new form that has small but important differences almost at every turn. Furthermore, when he gets back to Usucha, he finds his blossoming fluency is now ruined with interference from the new habits. Until his body manages to sort out what to do when, he’ll close doors when they should be open and skip water when it should be added, and vice-versa. He’ll be doomed to a long period of Chigau yo. Kyō Koicha desu kara. (“No, it’s the other way around, since today we’re doing Koicha.”)

As a kind of personal exercise, I tried to write down in a table all differences I could think of between basic Usucha and Koicha temae. The results follow below.


Update to phonetic series, and Kansai-ben

This is a dummy post, just to let feed readers know that the post on phonetic components was significantly updated, with more data, more tables, and (finally) a couple graphs.

If you’re even remotely interested in Kansai-ben (the Western dialect of Ōsaka and Kyōto, once the standard), I suppose you must already know of a site with a name like I don’t know how I didn’t notice it all this time. What a great compilation! Not just there are tons of examples and contrasts, but you can even play audio conveniently just by hovering the mouse cursor. The “other resources” section pointed me to Jarinko Chie (1981), oldschool anime entirely in Kansai-ben and currently available on youtube.

Speaking of Kansai-ben, I love how Afrirampo changes from -sanai to -sarehen when they’re into it:

Testing the predictive power of phonetic components in Japanese kanji

A large majority (up to 90%) of Chinese characters have a phonetic component—a hint that suggests their pronounciations (though that’s 90% of the total, not 90% of what you’d stumble in actual use; nonphonetic characters are disproportionately more frequent). For example, 半 bàn “half” appears inside 伴 “companion” because the latter is also pronounced bàn; and further, it also suggests the approximate pronounciation of 判 pàn “judge”, 叛 pàn “rebel”, and 胖 pàng “fat”. Beginning readers often don’t notice this feature, but awareness of phonetic hints grows with proficiency.

However, this system was always imprecise, and grew ever looser as the spoken language changed and the characters were simplified in various ways. In many cases, it’s now unclear to what degree a component was originally added as a phonetic hint, a semantic mnemonic, both, or neither. For example, it’s conceivable that whoever first built the character for 判 “judge” decided to use 半 not just for its sound, but also because they thought “cutting 刂 in equal halves 半” makes sense as a mnemonic for “judging”.

When the characters are used to represent Japanese, the phonetic hints only work with Sino-Japanese readings, i.e. the on-yomi (…that’s kind of why they’re called on-yomi, “sound readings”). Moreover, even for on-yomi, the Japanese readings grew to be more imprecise than even Chinese. I wanted to try to measure their predictive power; this post report the results of a simple but quantitative experiment (for a quick summary, skip to results!).