Fernão Mendes Pinto in Japan

Fernão Mendes Pinto (1509–1583) was a Portuguese sailor, trader and adventurer who wrote a sprawling 226-chapter epic on his travels to the Orient, the Peregrinaçam (“Pilgrimage”; modern spelling Peregrinação)—or, to cite the full title, “The Pilgrimage of Fernam Mendez Pinto where he accounts for many and very strange things he saw and heard in the kingdom of China, of Tartaria, of Sornau, which is vulgarly called Sião, of the Calaminhamn, of the Pegù, of the Martauão, & in many other realms & lordships of the Oriental parts, about which in these ours of the Occident there is very little or no news”. His tales were so tall that people were skeptical from the beginning, and the author quickly acquired the punny nickname Fernão, mentes? minto! (“Fernão, are you lying? I am!”). Much of the Peregrinaçam is clearly fantasy, but a surprising amount turned out to be plausible as we came to know better the peoples of Asia.

The journey includes a brief passage in Japan. Compared with the intellectual 16th-century Jesuit writers (João Rodrigues, Luís Fróis &c.), Fernão has a completely different aura; uncouth and blunt, he seems to even take a certain “New Yorker’s pride” in his own barbarism. In this post, I tried to cite some examples I found interesting. Continue reading “Fernão Mendes Pinto in Japan”

Martin on speech levels in Japanese (aka Keigo)

Martin’s classic article Speech Levels in Japan and Korea (first presented in 1958) doesn’t seem to be on the Internet. Being a fan, I dug around for Dell Hymes’ Language in Culture and Society, an anthology that includes it, and …Dude! What a book! Big! Heavy! Dusty, musky, hefty in the kind of cloth cover that makes it feel like a movie prop! And all the celebrities are in there: Hymes himself, and Boas, Lévi-Strauss, Pike, Malinowski, Firth, Mauss, Evans-Pritchard, Haas, Sapir, Whorf… Academia has this way of getting you to know the names (and general ideas) of the previous paradigm, without actually ever reading them. I’m sorry, generative linguists, but you’ll never have the sheer amount of cool of anthro people; pondering over hermetic syntactical operations while redrawing trees like a comp-sci major simply doesn’t compare in sexiness to living with exotic peoples to chart their fascinating cultures, then switching societies like jackets and coming home to tell the story. Finding this book was like going to a bar and meeting Indiana Jones (or Oriental Jones…)

Continue reading “Martin on speech levels in Japanese (aka Keigo)”