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Old 09-11-2009, 11:44 PM   #28
Erick Mead
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Dojo: Big Green Drum (W. Florida Aikikai)
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Re: Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 15

Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
The typically Japanese thing she is doing is finding associations through homophones, to an extent that is impossible with an alphabet-based language like English. Homophones were also a problem in early Chinese, but the Chinese appear to have solved this problem--and kept to their principle of one meaning for each character--by adding radicals to distinguish the semantic element from the phonetic element. With alphabets, the semantic element has completely disappeared.
Actually, in Chinese the homophone issues are believed to have developed more severely over time and Old Chinese was far less homophonic than Middle or Modern. The tones of Modern monosyllabic Chinese are believed derived from the different sound emphasis of eroded terminal consonants (or dropped multiple syllables) of the older tongue. Some of that erosional shift no doubt has to do with the polyglot and shifting ethnic boundaries (and therefore "slurred" pronunciations) within the "Chinese" polity at any given time, -- an item of eager criticism on the relative "impurity" of Chinese culture that Norinaga made no end of pointing out ...

Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
The great danger with Japanese discussions about language--and I have participated in such discussions hundreds of times, is that certain crucial distinctions are ignored. The crucial distinctions are between the graphic aspects of zodiographs, pictographs, ideographs and logographs (including their evolution, etymology, constituent parts and mnemonic devices for learning them), and their role as words in the language.

Why do such discussions take place? I think there are various reasons. Given the vast number of homophones, Japanese is rich in puns and such puns are a constant source of humor. The ability to use the language in such a way is taken to be a sure sign of literary culture. .... In England there are no best sellers on the Great Vowel Shift and few native speakers of my acquaintance know much about the etymology of the language. .... here is a quote from the work of Jacqueline Stone, mentioned by Don in his post.

"The kanjin-style interpretation mode found in many medieval kuden texts aims at retrieving hidden meanings held to embody the most profound insights of religious liberation. Such hidden meanings, it was thought, could be accessed only by those with enlightened insight and transmitted only to the properly initiated; they were not part of the common doctrinal understanding. This mode of interpretation has been characterized by modern scholars as undermining orthodox doctrinal understanding by encouraging the proliferation of arbitrary, private readings. ... Something very like the kanjin mode of interpretation still persists in certain quarters, for example, in the folk etymologies of new religious movements. ... But a long time has passed since scholars have deemed this a legitimate way to read texts; indeed the entire way of seeing the world that underlies and supports this mode of interpretation has become quite foreign to us."
I think the basic legitimacy of ways of reading of texts is not dictated by scholars but by those who express it in playing with the language and render its function by using it according to rules and manners that they mutually understand and appreciate -- or even invent -- and thereby give meaning to. Kotodama is in this mode of language. Playful craft in lively bending language endures far longer than any scholarly work of dissection. That is not to make a value judgment -- but merely an observation as to developmental and cultural priorities in the uses of language. I am not alone in this conclusion.

"The basic pleasure in the phonetic elements of a language and in the style of their patterns, and then in higher dimension, pleasure in the association of these word-forms with meanings, is of fundamental importance. This pleasure is quite distinct from analytic understanding of its structure. It is simpler, deeper-rooted and yet more immediate than the enjoyment of literature . Though it may be allied to some of the elements in the appreciation of verse, it does not need poets, other than the nameless artists who composed the language. It can be strongly felt in the simple contemplation of a vocabulary, or even in a string of names. ... I will at any rate say that language -- and more so as expression than as communication --is a natural product of our humanity. But it is therefore also a product of our individuality. We each have our own linguistic potential: we each have our own native language. "
-- J.R.R. Tolkien -- English and Welsh

Last edited by Erick Mead : 09-11-2009 at 11:47 PM.


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