A few notes on koronia-go, by Yoshio Mase

If you live in a linguistically peripheral academic area, one easy way of generating academic essays is to “bring attention to the recent developments in the field”—that is, to translate and summarize. That’s kind of cheating, though. Even though my proposed thesis will be essentially a literature review, I’d still like to avoid merely translating stuff and then using big words to describe the result.

(Yes, everything went fine with the exams & I have a thesis now! (Note for Brazilians: “thesis” means “dissertação” and “dissertation” means “tese”. Except if they’re British, then it’s the other way around.))

But! A blog is not a thesis. (Thankfully.) So I bring you today a humble translated mini-summary of Yoshio Mase’s article, “The language of Japanese immigrants and their descendants in Brazil” (Estudos Japoneses VII, 1987).

  • Mase examined the Japanese community (hereafter “colony”) of São Miguel Arcanjo and Ibiúna towns, in the state of São Paulo. He found that the source language of their koronia-go (“colony speech”) wasn’t the standard Edo Japanese dialect but rather Western Japanese (Kansai-ben). This is expected, since 56.7% of immigrants (as of 1964) were from the West, versus 35% from the East and 8.3% from Okinawa.

  • 40% of São Miguel Japanese were from Kōchi, which has its own Western subdialect, but they used common Western in public (e.g. copula in ya rather than ja). Those from the East also used Kansai-ben in public (even though their private language would be quite close to standard Japanese). In other words, Kansai-ben had become the colony standard.

  • However, Mase couldn’t verify the distinctive Western pitch accent. There was a lot of pitch variation; fully Eastern or Western couples generally passed on their accent to their children, but the descendants of mixed couples had no pattern that Mase could discern, and by the third generation no one had accents anyway. On the other hand, there was an incorporation of Portuguese syllable-stress (which is realized as intensity plus length, and only secondarily in pitch). Stress wasn’t used to distinguish words, but rather to mark word boundaries:

    • [‘ha.na], [ha.’na.ga] (with particle)
    • [te.’re.bi], [te.re.’bi.o]
    • [mu.’ka.ʃi mu.’ka.ʃi ‘a.ru to.ko.’roː.ni o.ba.’sã.ŋa i.ma.’siː.ta]
  • The moral nasaic /N/ is difficult for descendants, who tend to articulate it as a nasalization of the previous vowel, like Portuguese does with nasal consonants (as in [o.ba.sã] above; compare branco [‘bɾã.kʊ]). These factors contribute to koronia-go having a “syllabic” more than “moraic” feel, which sounds strange to Japanese ears.

  • As is well-known, a major feature of koronia-go is the presence of Portuguese loans as a component of the lexicon (gairaigo) in place of the English component of modern Japanese. The first-person pronoun in the colony was (from Pt. eu or Spanish yo?), and the second-person was ossē (from rural Portuguese [o.’se]). Interestingly, their plural forms didn’t take after Pt. [nɔjs], [osejs], but used Japanese plurals: yō-ra, ossē-ra.

  • Nouns included some fairly basic-level terms: agua “water”, batāta “potato”, ahozu “rice” (Pt. [a.’hos]), karune “meat” (← [kaɻ.nɪ]), etc.

  • suru-verbs from Portuguese weren’t built from the infinitive like their English counterparts, but from the third-person singular present indicative: namōra-suru (← namora [na.’mɔ.ɾɐ]) “to date, to be in a relationship with”; janta-suru (← janta [‘ʒan.tɐ]) “to have dinner”. This is probably because this is a very frequent conjugation (it’s employed for both 2nd and 3rd persons in Brazilian Portuguese).

  • Adjectives usually became na-adjectives (quasi-nouns), as in English gairaigo. However, they’re still inflected for gender: ano otoko wa boniito-da (or -ya?) “that man is handsome”, vs. musume wa boniita-da “the girl is pretty”. Proper inflection was observed even with purely grammatical gender: Curitiba-no-machi wa boniita-da “the city of Curitiba is beautiful”.

  • Adverbs could be followed by ni, or be used by themselves:

    • deppoisu ni suru “I’ll do it later” (← [de.’po.ɪs])
    • jiretto ni kaeru “I’ll return straight away” (← [dʒi.’rɛ.tʊ])
    • basutanchi kudasai “give me a lot” (← [bas.’tãn.tʃɪ]).
  • Utterance-level “yes” and “no”, hai and iie, alternate with sin and non respectively. The latter are used in the “non-logical” way, as in Portuguese:

    • — mō nai ne. (There’s nothing already, isn’t it.)
      — hai, mō nai. (Yes, there isn’t.)
      — iie, mada aru (yo). (No, there is still!)
    • — mō nai ne. (There’s nothing already, isn’t it.)
      — non, mō nai. (No, there isn’t.)
      — sin, mada aru (yo). (Yes, there is still!)
  • There was some semantic interference. For example, oishii was extended from meaning “good-tasting” to “pleasurable” in general, as in kata wo monde moratte oishii ya “it feels good to get a shoulder massage”. This is theorized to be due the equation of oishii with Pt. gostoso, which has both connotations. (Gostoso also means “sexy, hunk” but the author doesn’t mention whether this meaning passed to koronia-go…)

I should add that this variation of Japanese was already dwindling when Mase presented this study (1986), and today it’s restricted to a few elders.

(All Japanese words not in phonetic notation are in Hepburn romanization; ‹ja› means [dʒa], etc.)

11 thoughts on “A few notes on koronia-go, by Yoshio Mase

  1. When I was at university in Australia, I think we used to refer to it as a ‘thesis’, which was formally known as a ‘dissertation’. So not totally a simple American/British divide :)

    Anyway, congrats on getting your thesis/dissertation topic! (Is it Coronia-go?)

  2. Thanks! No, I’ll do the thing about The Great Ideographic Debate and possible limitations of the “visible speech” model of writing. I’ve been wanting to write on this for ages, but as I dug for stuff the topic kept expanding and expanding, so it seemed like a good candidate for a lengthy master’s (and prof liked it).

  3. Yes, I think you forgot to say exactly what your topic is, but congratulations! Great post, too.

    The first-person pronoun in the colony was yō (from Pt. eu or Spanish yo?), and the second-person was ossē (from rural Portuguese [o.’se]).

    Borrowed pronouns always interest me — does Mase speculate on how this came about? I guess the easy (lazy) assumption would be that since Japanese pronouns are so tightly linked to social structure/hierarchy etc., if you’re dropped into a whole new society it’s just easier to adopt the pronouns that society uses, rather than try to establish a stable mapping of your old pronouns to the new society’s structure.

  4. He doesn’t stop to muse about it; it’s a short, descriptive essay. I recall my aged tea ceremony teacher did use [jo:] to refer to herself when speaking Portuguese; it’s quite distinct from pt. [ew], so it stood out. I wonder if it’s just a phonetic shift, or a Spanish loan out of place, or if it’s derived from some regional Brazilian dialect I don’t know. At any rate I’d think the Japanese would be the most prone to adopt new pronouns easily; hell, I’m still unconvinced “personal pronouns” is the best way of thinking about them in jp…

  5. Yeah it’s in the wishlist :) Lurie has a short essay on the debate itself.

    My personal position is that the linguists are basically correct on this, and the basic use of characters is to represent speech after all (cognitive/psycholing experiments are hard to argue with). However, I also think that there are a number of interesting special uses, particularly in the realms of literature, calligraphy/fine arts, and anthropology; and that, if you just buy the aggressive rethoric of ideographic-myth-debunkers, you’d lose some interesting points from the other side.

    One thing is characters as used in modern Chinese báihuà, say in a medicine leaflet; another thing is characters as used in a Heian poetry scroll, or in kuji-kiri magic, or in Japanese sign language.

    I also think the ideographic debate points to a larger question, the autonomy of writing in general. It’s evident for everyone that writing, other than representing speech, has some extra stuff in it; but if you ask, say, a Chomskian and a Prague functionalist, they’d differ completely on how important these extra parts are. So my thesis/lit review intends to cover:

    – The question of the autonomy (or not) of writing
    – The ideographic myth
    – The critique of the ideographic myth
    – The critique of the critique of the ideographic myth

  6. Another phenomenon I’m curious about are the references that Japanese make to “characters” in speech. It’s not uncommon to hear something like:

    — And the shinsei was quite difficult, so I…
    Shinsei? Which shinsei?
    — You know, shin as in mousu (“to say +[humble]”), and sei as in kou (“to request”)…
    — Ah, ok.

    Think about what this suggests: The Japanese mental lexicon must be organized in sets of (near-)synonymous morphemes, shin/mousu, shin/atarashii, shin/makoto and so on; and each morpheme must be marked as [+sinitic] or not, since the Sino-Japanese morphemes tend to be a more formal register and tend to be bound… Literate Japanese generally think of those sets as “pronunciations to the same character”, classified in on or kun (I call this popular conception the “character-centric view”). However, even illiterate Japanese must learn those equivalencies, so this organization isn’t really about characters at all. Nonetheless, it appears to be convenient to have a “pivot” or label to help with grasping a conceptual morpheme-set; and characters seem to be used as a symbol for them. “Knowing what’s the kanji” becomes their description of “grasping the semantics of this morpheme”.

    This is comparable to deep (morphological) writing in the alphabet: in “child” and “children”, the sequence <child-> is used for different phonological realizations of the same morpheme. But the case of Japanese is more extreme. It’s as if they wrote “liberty” and “freedom”, “green” and “verdant” with the same graph (and assuming the existence of such pairs was the rule rather than the exception); what happens with the cognitive status of the graphs—and of the sets?

    Think of DeFrancis/Unger description of characters as

    > basically a syllabic system of writing with a cumbersome logographic component that helps compensate for the shortcomings of the phonographic component.

    I agree this is an adequate model for báihuà, but I don’t think it’s sufficient to cover all the cultural phenomena surrounding characters.

  7. I’ll have to read Lurie again. (I don’t want to, because it’s maddening and frustrating to wade through that prose.) Without reading that article you linked to and speaking from a recollection of what Lurie was trying to say (as I said, it’s maddening), Lurie’s point seems to be that Japanese didn’t start out as 音 and 訓, or at least, he opposes the ‘bilingual hypothesis’ that identifies the Chinese component as originally foreign words. The Japanese concept of writing didn’t start out from the idea that Chinese was a foreign language, as opposed to their own native language. Writing was just… writing, and different modes were mixed together almost indiscriminately. The on/kun thing came much, much later. Sorry, I can’t articulate it now, and I’m too pressed for time to sit down and give it the time it needs. Anyway, the guy is groping after something, but he isn’t quite there yet.

    I wrote my own summary of my understanding of how hanzi/kanji are used at my website, http://www.cjvlang.com, but that was written a long time ago and is pretty elementary. Part of the complexity comes from the Chinese side itself, which is not as straightforward as it seems.

    Recently I read an extended quote from 岡田英弘 at a Japanese blog (which I depressingly don’t seem to have kept) which put forward the rather breathtaking hypothesis that Japanese was ‘created’ by kanji. That is, he believes that the Japanese language was created when people came up with Japanese readings for kanji. It was totally wacky, but on the other hand, the idea that the Japanese language was somehow moulded around kanji (by assigning kun-yomi to kanji) is an interesting one. If I find the quote I’ll let you know.

    Good luck with your dissertation!

  8. Oh, and the first half of Lurie’s book is about how kanji were adopted into Japanese at the very beginning. He makes much play of the fact that they weren’t a system of writing. They could be better described as talismanic symbols. People used them (sometimes in mangled ways) even though they couldn’t necessarily read them.

  9. The other very interesting point that I took from Lurie’s book is that much of the original Japanese use of kanji possibly dates back to the Koreans. That is, the original practice of using what was later codified as on-yomi and kun-yomi and other aspects of the Japanese ‘system’ first arose on the Korean peninsula and was brought to Japan by Korean teachers. Unfortunately the historical record is sadly lacking at this point. If more archaeological and written records were available, it might be possible to prove that what the Japanese have now is a natural outgrowth of Chinese and later Korean usage.

  10. Hey, you should sell me that copy of Lurie’s book!

    > I’m still unconvinced “personal pronouns” is the best way of thinking about them in jp…

    I understand the hesitancy! There was certainly something special about them in OJ (other nouns don’t have alternate forms ending in “re” — although “demonstrative pronouns” did…) but once that evaporates from the language the argument becomes a lot more difficult.

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