Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Language’ Category


I was intrigued recently to see a blog post (from 2017) indicating that it’s actually quite common in Korean news (and other Korean contexts?) to refer to the current “emperor” of Japan [and also historically? I’m not sure] not as “emperor” (天皇, 천황, K: cheonhwang), but by terms such as “Japan king” (日王, 일왕, K: il wang). Interesting, right?

To begin, we must note that the association of these East Asian terms with the English “emperor” and “king” is a construction, and a somewhat arbitrary one. Neither term really “means” “emperor” or “king” directly, but rather they have very particular meanings within the long history of East Asian history, suggesting connotations of that figure’s relationship to Heaven (the ultimate source of sovereignty and legitimacy), to the land and the people, and to rulers of other lands within the region. We must also note that the use of “Japan king” (日王) in Korean vs. the term “emperor” (天皇) in Japanese is not merely a simple linguistic difference, an accident of how word usage differs from one language to another, like how Chinese uses 一天 (lit. “one heaven”), to mean “one day” while Japanese uses 一日 (lit. “one sun”). This “emperor” 天皇 vs. “king” 王 terminology difference is not like that.

Here’s the blog post: The reason why Koreans Call the Emperor of Japan as “King of Japan”

And the Tweet which brought it to my attention:

As the author of this blog post explains, English-language translations of these Korean news sources typically render such terms as “emperor,” as is the typical and standard way of referring to that individual in English. This is why most of us went on unaware of the Korean terminology for so long. This of course makes a certain sense in a journalism context – just quickly and easily making it directly clear to English-speaking readers who it is we’re talking about (the emperor), without getting caught up in matters of translation. After all, isn’t that in a certain sense what translation is all about? Conveying information, making information in one language accessible and easily understood in another; it’s not the journalist’s job to get hung up in linguistic complexities. In fact, to a certain extent, it is precisely the translator’s job to make the translation seem as natural as possible, hiding any awkward or unusual linguistic differences, and indeed hiding the fact that the passage even originated in another language to begin with.

But, of course, for those of us with just a slightly deeper interest in how Korean government, news media, etc. sees / views / understands Japan, the language is actually rather important (or, at the very least, interesting).

Why does this matter? Well, if you’ll permit me to ramble on about the historical usage of such terms for a moment….

Model, lost in the Oct 2019 fire at Shuri castle, of the investiture ceremony in which envoys of the Qing Emperor officially ‘invested’ the king of Ryukyu with the title and position of “king.” Photo my own.

In my own work on the Ryukyu Kingdom 琉球王国, and its relationships with the Ming and Qing “emperors” 皇帝, and with the shoguns of Japan, issues of terminology can sometimes come rather to the forefront, and can be rather interesting and important. In the traditional East Asian system of court-to-court (or “international”) relations, the “emperors” 皇帝 of China* granted recognition and sovereignty (investiture 冊封) to foreign rulers who were thus dubbed “kings” 国王. These “kings” included the kings of Ryukyu, Korea (Joseon), and Vietnam, among others. It was within this context that the Tokugawa shoguns sometimes requested that foreign rulers address them as “King of Japan” 日本国王, in order to emphasize the shogun’s legitimacy, significance, and roughly equal status to the Korean or Ryukyuan King with whom they were exchanging communications; and in this same context that those same shoguns at other times insisted on being called “Taikun” 大君 (sometimes translated as “Great Prince”) in order to extricate themselves from any implication that their power or legitimacy derived from recognition by China. At the same time, for over 75 years, from 1636 until 1712, the successive heads of the Shimazu family, samurai lords of Satsuma (Kagoshima) domain, called the Ryukyuan ruler not “king” 国王, but kokushi 国司 (sometimes translated as “provincial governor”), a title which thus denied the ruler’s independent sovereignty and his ties to China, and instead emphasized his subordination to the Shimazu and the idea that his legitimacy derived from an appointment by the Shimazu.

Throughout this entire period, of course, in addition to the shogun and regional lords such as the Shimazu, Japan also had its own “emperor” 天皇, a term with a lengthy and complex history of its own. This is important, because by calling the emperor “king,” the Korean media is in fact promoting a historical confusion – the idea that either the emperor was historically the same person as the shogun, i.e. the “king of Japan,” or was somehow equivalent in status to the shogun, or that either the shogun or the emperor don’t matter at all – that only one or the other were ever “king,” or that both were the same person. All blatant falsehoods, misrepresentations. We understand, of course, that the Korean media today isn’t trying to infringe upon those sorts of “domestic” matters of relative statuses within Japan, but rather to suggest that the Japanese “emperor” isn’t any more special, or superior, to the Korean kings – or, indeed, the kings of any other country. That’s the key comparison they’re pointing towards. And, in a certain sense, that’s fair enough. After all, did any emperor prior to the Meiji Emperor (that is, prior to the advent in Japan of modern imperialism/colonialism, the Japanese takeover of Hokkaido, Okinawa, Taiwan, Korea, and later on additional territories) truly control an “empire”? Was he truly in any meaningful sense more powerful or more important within his own country, by comparison, than the kings of England, France, Siam, or Hawaiʻi? Admittedly not. But, even so, let us return to the history:

The 1873 declaration of Ryûkyû’s demotion from an independent kingdom to a Japanese “domain” (藩), as represented in Ishikawa Mao’s 石川真生 “Great Ryukyu Photo Scroll” 大琉球写真絵巻, 2014. Photo of the artwork my own.

When an embassy from the “king” 国王 of Ryukyu visited Tokyo in 1873 to pay respects to the Meiji Emperor 明治天皇 following the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate + of the associated system of lords, the envoys were instructed that their ruler was now to be no longer regarded as a 国王 (king of a country, of a kingdom), but rather as a 藩王 (domain king?), a title no one else ever held before, or since. Just a few years later, that “domain king” was deposed entirely – he was stripped of his domain 藩 / former kingdom which was now designated a prefecture 県 of Japan, and was forced to relocate to Tokyo, taking the title Marquis 侯爵. “Meanwhile,” so to speak, roughly 20 years later, over in Korea, desperate to assert power, legitimacy, and sovereignty, to earn the respect of his neighbors, and to attempt to maintain his country’s independence, the King of Joseon (i.e. Korea) 朝鮮国王 declared himself no longer a “king” but now an “emperor” 帝. He was ultimately not successful: Korea was absorbed by the Empire of Japan only about 13 years later; but for that brief time, an “empire” – the Great Korean Empire 大韓帝国 (K: Daehan Jeguk) – ruled by an “emperor” 帝 was the dominant polity in Korea.

Korean Empire officials in Western-style military dress, in front of a traditional-style building with modern fixtures, 1909. Photo from gallery labels, National Palace Museum of Korea. Photo of the gallery label my own.

In recent years, some scholars of Okinawan history have begun to suggest that we call Ryukyu not a “kingdom,” but an “empire,” pointing out the ways in which the royal court at Shuri, that is to say the kingdom or polity centered on Okinawa Island, expanded its influence into the other islands of the Ryukyu archipelago, imposing its rule over the Amamis, Miyakos, and Yaeyamas by force, creating an “empire.” Of course, there is some merit to such suggestions, as they help throw into relief the fact that there was not a singular Ryukyuan identity, that residents of these various other islands considered themselves invaded, conquered, or otherwise subordinated or subjugated by Shuri; and, indeed, there was an unequal hierarchical relationship imposed upon them by forcible invasion, and they were obligated to pay heavy taxes or tribute, in a “tributary” relationship not entirely unlike other center-periphery / superior-inferior / lord-vassal relationships elsewhere in the region and elsewhere in the world. Including Ryukyu within our more global conversations about how empires function, how to characterize them, etc., has some merit. But, can we have an empire without an emperor? And if the ruler at Shuri is to be called an “emperor,” then what does that make his relationship with the rulers of China, Korea, and Japan? The problem is even more stark when we talk about it in Japanese; some scholars have discussed this revisionist interpretation by introducing a newly-invented term, “Ryukyu Empire” 琉球帝国. But can we have a 帝国 with no 帝? When not only scholarly conventions but also the whole of the corpus of historical documents refer to the Ryukyuan rulers as 王 or 国王 and not 帝, and their country as 国 or 王国 and never ever as 帝国?

Terms such as 王, 帝, and 天皇 have extremely long histories and complex meanings in the history of East Asian political culture, and it is important to remember that translating them to “king” and “emperor” in English is an arbitrary convention and not directly indicative of their actual meanings in context. Indeed, some scholars have argued fairly extensively that the term “emperor” is problematic, for reasons beginning with

(1) its gendered character when Japan had several female 天皇 (emperors) who are called 天皇 just the same as their male counterparts, as distinct from 后妃・皇妃・皇后 or other terms for “empresses” who are not the reigning sovereign but are instead the wife/consort to the 天皇, and

(2) because of the problematic or complex associations of the word “emperor” with its Latin origins in “imperator,” and its modern associations with “empire” and “imperialism.” Such scholars have made rather compelling arguments for calling the 天皇 the “sovereign,” “Heavenly Sovereign,” or simply tennô instead, but no matter how compelling the argument may be, the term “emperor” is extremely well-established and widely used, not only in scholarship and journalism, but by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan, the Government of Japan, etc. as well.

Hundreds or thousands of officials kowtowing to the Son of Heaven, the Qing Emperor, in a scene from the film The Last Emperor, displayed at the Metropolitan Museum’s “China through the Looking Glass” exhibition, 2015. Photo my own.

So, given all this background, I hope you can see why I really appreciated this information, and explanation. Which, now that we’re on paragraph 10 (?), is really actually the key point of this post: simply to bring this rather interesting fact to your attention, and to link to this other fellow’s blog post about it.

I hope that, in a roundabout way, though I perhaps haven’t really addressed it directly, you might have some slightly deeper appreciation now for why it’s such an important matter that we use these terms carefully, and consider how they are being used in various contexts (such as Korean news media) and why.

While the idea of “empire” may be useful as a lens or characterization for how we understand Ryukyu’s (that is, Shuri’s) relationship with the various islands under its control, this becomes a problem when we consider the status of the “king” of Ryukyu relative to the “kings” of Korea and Japan, and the “emperors” of Ming and Qing.

And while the term “emperor” may be complicated and problematic in problematically associating the historical, premodern, Japanese “emperors” with “empire” – i.e. with expansionism, militarism, or control over a large ’empire’ incorporating multiple lands or peoples – and I certainly do chafe at associations of premodern modes of rule with modern ideologies of “imperialism” and “colonialism” and their associated (exceptionally distinctively modern, albeit with some very interesting counter-examples) modes of rule, at the same time, there is so much complexity and significance to the ways that the terms 国王 (“king”), 皇帝 (“emperor”), and 天皇 (“emperor”) were used in premodern and early modern East Asia, and their relationships with one another, including the very intentional use at times in Japan of the term 天皇 (and not any alternative) to assert the Japanese sovereign’s equal (non-inferior, non-subordinate) status with the Ming or Qing sovereign, and the very marked and intentional change of status by the Korean King Gojong to styling himself Emperor Gojong. Of course, a lot of this could be solved by calling the 天皇 “sovereign” or by some other term, and similarly calling the Ming/Qing ruler 皇帝 “sovereign” as well (or, as I’m quite fond, Son of Heaven 天子). But, since “emperor” is just so widely-used and well-established, I kind of think we’re stuck with it.

Reenactment of a Joseon royal procession, inside Seoul Incheon Airport. Photo my own.

Now, I’d like to return to the original blog post, and just point out a few thoughts and (constructive, positive) critiques.

A few points I wanted to question, though:

1) Let’s take a moment to note that whenever Chinese, Korean, and other sources referred to a “king of Japan,” they always used the term 日本国王 – 日本 meaning “Japan”, 国 being a “land” or “country,” and 王 being a ruler or “king,” and thus the entire phrase in full meaning something like “king of the land of Japan.” By contrast, this term “Japan king” (日王, 일왕, K: il wang) which we are told is often used in Korean media today, uses only two characters, and does not to my knowledge ever show up in historical documents. I know next to nothing about Korean language, Korean conventions, but from the perspective of someone who reads Japanese, this term 日王 strikes me as a term with a decidedly modern “color” or character to it, a newspaper’s abbreviation of convenience and/or modern political jargon.

2) Some have argued that the Ming or Qing investiture of someone as a guówáng 国王 is really more about designating them as an officially recognized diplomatic + trading partner, and that it doesn’t necessarily actually indicate anything about them being a “king” in the sense of having actual political control over any meaningful amount of land, i.e. a “kingdom.” They might, or they might not; some of the earliest “kings” of Okinawa might not have actually controlled very much territory at all, but only a good port, a fleet, some trade routes, and so forth. (for more on this, see Gregory Smits’ book Maritime Ryukyu, University of Hawaii Press, 2019.)

3) I’m no expert on Korean history, but I am pretty well-read on scholarship about the so-called “Sinocentric world order,” “tribute system,” or 中華思想 (roughly, “Chinese civilization ideology”), and there were a few things in this blog post which puzzled me.

The blog post identifies Sojunghwa 小中華 as having to do with the traditional (“tributary”) superior-inferior hierarchical relationship between China and Korea, but I’m not sure that’s quite right. Based on Jeong-mi Lee’s article “Chosŏn Korea as Sojunghwa, the Small Central Civilization” (International Christian University Publications 3-A, Asian Cultural Studies 国際基督教大学学報 3-A,アジア文化研究 36 (2010)), I was under the impression that Sojunghwa 小中華 refers to the idea that once China “fell” to the “barbarian” Qing (Manchus) in the 1640s [and all the more so after the 1680s], Korea was left as the chief remnant of Great Ming Confucian civilization, the last shining star of proper, upright, civilization, i.e. a small 小 version of central civilization 中華 (“central flowering,” or “the center of flowery [civilization/culture]”). Even while continuing to pay ritual lip service (and actual material tribute) to the Qing, the Joseon court increasingly cultivated itself as a Confucian royal court, and one which revered and honored the Ming emperors, decrying the “barbarism” of the Qing and the supposed decline of civilization within Chinese lands, and taking on the responsibility of performing ritual sacrifices and ancestral ceremonies for the Ming emperors no longer being performed in China. Vis-a-vis Japan, as well, Korea certainly saw itself throughout this period as the more upright, more civilized, more cultured, kingdom.

「泥絵 琉球使節江戸城西の丸登城図」, ”doro-e” painting of the 1850 Ryukyuan embassy entering Edo castle, to pay respects and bring gifts to members of the Tokugawa family. Edo-Tokyo Museum.

3) This blog post plays fast and loose with ideas of being a “vassal state” or “puppet state,” even saying at the very end that Korea was historically, and that North Korea is today, “part of China.” But of course this isn’t actually true in any meaningful sense. Ironic that someone calling attention to the importance of terminology – that is, specifically, the usage of the term “king” instead of “emperor”, and the significance of this difference in usage – should be so careless in how he describes the character of the historical relationships between these countries.

There is much evidence to support the idea that the kings of Ryukyu were “vassals” of the Shimazu and Tokugawa houses, and that Ryukyu can therefore be described as a “vassal state.” The fine points are perhaps a bit too numerous and complex to list out here, but though documents of the time often only use vague terms such as 付属 or 属する (i.e. that Ryukyu “belongs to” the Shimazu house or to Satsuma domain), I hope you will trust me and allow it to suffice to say that in some very meaningful ways, the kings of Ryukyu operated similarly to samurai houses which were vassals of the Shimazu and Tokugawa, giving gifts of swords and horses (which Korea and other foreign entities did not), and engaging in formal ceremonial interactions (audience rituals) with the Shimazu lords and Tokugawa shoguns which were quite similar to those in which samurai vassals interacted with their lords, ceremonies which bear little resemblance to those of China-Korea interactions.

If we are careful in how we apply terms such as “vassal,” understanding with some care how exactly lord-vassal relationships worked in “feudal” Japan (and in many parts of Europe), it immediately becomes clear that the Ming and Qing emperors didn’t have “vassals,” because they didn’t operate on a warrior hierarchy or a “feudal” system of loyalties/fealty between warrior houses the way Tokugawa Japan did.** The Ming and Qing emperors had tributaries, countries which paid them tribute, and they maintained a regional order in which, yes, the kings of Korea and Ryukyu were invested by the Chinese emperor, deriving their legitimacy and sovereignty from him, but, neither these kings themselves nor their lands were in any way directly under the political control of Beijing. Neither Ryukyu nor Korea were ever “part of” China, nor were they directly politically controlled by China in any meaningful way, nor were they false governments merely put into place by China for pretend, as the term “puppet state” suggests.

So, to be clear, Korea and Ryukyu were tributary states, fully independent and sovereign kingdoms (vis-a-vis China, at least), which paid respects to the Ming/Qing emperor as the supposed center and source of all civilization, the axis between Heaven and Earth, but not as their direct de facto lord or ruler.

In connection with this, we must acknowledge that Korea was always independent of China, and so it didn’t “gain independence” in the 1880s-1890s nor was it “given” independence by Japanese involvement. Korea was always independent from China, it just became independent of the so-called Sinocentric “world order,” the Sinocentric or Confucian ideological system of relations between courts.

—–
*Some recent scholarship has suggested that rather than thinking of “China” as a single entity throughout history, we might instead think of the Han, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing Empires as distinct polities, polities which truly fell, ceased to exist, and were replaced by new and different entities. This seems particularly compelling in the case of the Qing Empire, which some argue we should understand as a larger entity of which China was only a part – and i.e. that while Taiwan, Tibet, and East Turkestan were part of the larger Qing Empire, they were never part of “China.” … For this reason, I’ve taken to trying to talk about “the Ming and Qing Empires” rather than “China” where possible, but when we’re talking about the entire span of the last 2000 or so years, it’s easier sometimes to just say “China.”

**Or, if the Qing Emperors did have vassals, it was strictly within the Manchu family lineages, and/or the system of military “banners“, i.e. houses or families with particular hereditary or military relationships of honor or obligation to the Qing Emperor not as “emperor” 皇帝 but as Khan or Khagan. Or something like that. Manchu society, politics, and the banner system are not my specialty.

Read Full Post »

Keen-eyed readers will have noticed a new category of links on the right side over there —>

I’ve been doing a ton of reading about Hawaii and the Pacific the last few months, though I’ve been too busy to write anything too much about it here on Nubui Kuduchi. But, as Hawaii and its history have come to be more prominent in my mind, I figured it is long past time that I add a section of links for Hawaii-related websites, or blogs.

Right now, there’s only two.

Nā Puke Wehewehe ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (http://wehewehe.org/) is an online Hawaiian-English dictionary. I’m tempted to say it’s the best I’ve come across, but it’s actually the only one I know of that’s not just a word list or the like, but a real searchable dictionary interface.

Buttons above the search box allow you to input macronned letters (e.g. the ‘ō’ in kahakō, meaning “macron“), or the ʻokina, the mark in Hawaiʻi that is, most correctly, not an apostrophe. You can also search without them, and the site will offer you options with and without. For example, if you search for “aina”, without any special characters, the site will still recognize it and offer you the dictionary entry for ʻāina (“the land”).

The site itself (menus, options, the fine print at the bottom) can be set to either Hawaiian or English, and the menus allow for a few different options, including the ability to search six different dictionaries (two of which are chiefly databases of placenames). On the default settings, it searches two different dictionaries: the “Hawaiian Dictionary,” which in my limited experience tends to give the more general meanings, including alternate meanings and connotations, and the “Māmaka Kaiao,” which often gives only more specifically modern meanings. For example, I searched for the word “mālama,” a word which I have often heard in Hawaiʻi used in the phrase “mālama ʻāina,” meaning “to care for the land.” The Hawaiian Dictionary gives us a fairly lengthy definition, beginning with:

1. nvt. To take care of, tend, attend, care for, preserve, protect, beware, save, maintain; to keep or observe, as a taboo; to conduct, as a service; to serve, honor, as God; care, preservation, support, fidelity, loyalty; custodian, caretaker, keeper. Cf. makemake, mālama hale, mālama hele, mālama moku, mālama pūʻolo, pālama 1. Mālama ʻana, custody. Mālama pono ʻia, well cared for. Mālama pono! Be careful! Watch out! Mālama makua, one who cares for parents. Mālama wahine, caring for one’s wife. Mālama i kou makua kāne, honor your father. Mālama kauoha, obey orders. Mālama Lā Kāpaki, keeping the Sabbath. Ē kuʻu Akua, e mālama au iāʻoe ma ka noʻonoʻo, O my God, let me serve you in thought. O ka hoʻolohe a me ka mālama pono i ke aupuni, obedience and fidelity due the government. Ka mālama ʻole i kō haʻi ola, negligence of the lives of others. hoʻo.mā.lama

The Māmaka Kaiao, meanwhile, gives us “To save, as in a computer program. … Mālama ma ka inoa ʻo. To save as. Hoʻi i ka mālama. To revert to previous save.” So, you get an interesting look into how traditional words have come to be employed to refer to modern concepts.

I know the vast majority of us don’t come across Hawaiian terms very often. But, even if you’re not reading deeply in Hawaiian history or the like, even if you’re just visiting Hawaiʻi and hear some words you want to find out more about, this can be a great tool. If you read blogs, news articles, or the like about Hawaiʻi, or for that matter Facebook or Tumblr posts by Hawaiian locals, you may come across some terms – and you’ll learn something new!

Speaking of blogs, the other link I have put there on the right side is The Hawaii Independent (http://hawaiiindependent.net/), which describes itself as “a digital newsmagazine publishing bold reporting and commentary on politics, economics, arts, and culture since 2008. We strive to tell stories that improve, empower, and educate our community.”

I have only read a few of the articles so far, but everything I have read I have quite enjoyed. They generally do focus on news, that is to say current events and current affairs and issues affecting Hawaii today. There are certain types of topics I tend to find myself a bit more informed of anyway, such as the voyages of the Hokuleʻa and the dangers of climate change for low-lying Pacific Island states, but the Independent also covers current political topics, such as gubernatorial candidates’ plans to address homelessness, and the question of how much federal money goes towards Native Hawaiian programs. There was even an article recently on a rare address given by the Robinson family, “stewards” (owners) of the island of Niʻihau, something quite interesting and unexpected.

Like I said, I haven’t read that much, but even just skimming the headlines, I feel that much more connected to these issues and goings-on.

Do you know of any good Hawaii-related websites? Things I’d like to read, or things I should link to? Let me know! Mahalo!

Read Full Post »

It’s that time again. I’m in Japan for the summer, which really does need to happen more often. Of course, traveling and settling in and all of this means the open tabs have piled up. So, it’s time to write some quick links, some quick summaries and responses and post them, get them out there, and done with.

*I don’t follow Japanese politics very closely, and I don’t know the details, but, apparently, the Japanese election system is terribly skewed towards empowering rural areas. This would seem to help to explain why conservative policies (and conservative politicians) continue to hold so much sway… not that I necessarily know just how liberal the majority attitudes might be in the urban areas. But Masunaga Hidetoshi is among a number of people trying to change this. As a recent NY Times article explains,

Disparities in Japan’s election system … have long favored conservative rural districts over urban ones by giving them a disproportionately large number of representatives in the Diet, Japan’s Parliament. Those inequalities — which date to American occupation policies aimed at turning farmers into a powerful anti-Communist voting bloc — are now cited as a critical reason that Japan has clung so tenaciously to its postwar status quo despite its long stagnation.

Mr. Masunaga says he is making what in Japan is a novel constitutional argument: that every citizen’s vote should carry the same weight, a principle enshrined in the United States as one person, one vote. He says the current Japanese system is unconstitutional because it gives districts in some rural areas the same number of representatives as districts near Tokyo despite having less than half the number of voters — in effect, giving those rural areas the equivalent of one person, two-plus votes.

*A post on Why Chinese is So Damn Hard, by David Moser, of the University of Michigan. I have seen numerous similar posts on why Japanese is (supposedly) hard, but as I haven’t yet begun studying Chinese, and simply as a Japan specialist in general, I haven’t read too many of these.

Frankly, I’m not quite sure what my thoughts or reactions are on this. Sounds legit; but, then, what do I know? I will say this: the main things that worry me about Chinese, for if/when I ever do ever start studying the language, are (1) tones – pronouncing them correctly is likely to be a bitch. And the vowels and other sounds aren’t going to be that easy, either. Like that err / arr sound that’s usually rendered in pinyin as -ih, for example. Moser gives French as his standard example of an easy language, but, compared to Spanish or Japanese, or even Hebrew, I have to say, I think French is pretty intimidating to pronounce, too. (2) Romanization. Pinyin is okay, once you learn that ‘q’ is pronounced as “ch” (as in Qianlong), that ‘x’ is pronounced as ‘sh’ (as in Xie He), etc. But Wade-Giles, while more accurate and direct in a sense (e.g. ‘ch’ is rendered as ‘ch’), is hideous and obnoxiously different when you’re used to seeing the pinyin everywhere (e.g. is Ch’ien-lung the same as the pinyin Qianlong, or is it someone else? Is Soochow the city of Suzhou, or somewhere else entirely?). (3) Simplified characters. Most Traditional characters, and Japanese versions of the simplified characters, contain strong similarities to other characters in the same ‘family’, and contain indications of their meaning and/or pronunciation. The traditional Chinese & Japanese character 愛 (ai), for example, meaning “love,” contains the character 心 (J: kokoro), meaning “heart”; the simplified version, 爱, however, does not. I could go on and on about this point, but I’ll leave it alone. Suffice it to say that I have a lot of problems with the simplifications, and expect them to be a bitch to learn.

But, I plan to start taking classes soon. So, I guess we’ll see.

*Shifting gears entirely, the NY Times also reports that archivists and historians are running up against a proposal in the European Union for the “right to be forgotten.” On the surface, it makes sense that individuals might want to have some control over what remains out there, especially on the Internet, in perpetuity; one could even think it a fundamental right, and I can appreciate that point of view. Twitter remarks, things on Facebook, all sorts of things – including things originally posted as private, or things that one posts by accident, in a moment of passion, while drunk, or things otherwise posted which misrepresent one’s actual personality, opinions, attitudes, or activities. But then we have to think, what about companies and governments? What about people of particular historical significance? As historians, one of our chief obstacles, one of our chief struggles, is that all documents have biases, and even journals/diaries and autobiographies are heavily self-censored or edited, to represent the author in the way s/he wishes to be remembered.

This is not only a concern for historians – when governments, corporations, and individuals of particular historical significance are able to censor and “curate” (prune, control) what records of their activities and opinions do and do not remain for posterity, when we allow them to craft the way they wish to be remembered, are we not doing ourselves – and our successors – a terrible disservice?

It’s a complicated issue, to be sure, and I can absolutely appreciate why one should think that you or I, the random person on the street, the Average Joe Citizen, should be able to enjoy such privileges (or “rights”). But the line has to be drawn somewhere, and since politicians, celebrities, and CEOs are private citizens too, and since we as a society absolutely should, in my opinion, demand posterity to retain a more extensive and less self-pruned set of records of those individuals and their activities, perhaps there is no answer but for such “rights” to not be granted to anyone.

*Speaking of (re)writing history to suit one’s political inclinations, certain sources in China are voicing calls to ‘reconsider’ whether Okinawa rightfully belongs to Japan. This NY Times article on the subject is but the latest of quite a few describing this same turn of events. Now, first, I think we should be clear that, as yet, the Chinese government itself is making no official statements to this effect – it’s only individual officials, military officers, and private citizens who are making such statements.

Now, of course, the question of whether a given country has a “right” or a “rightful claim” to any piece of land is complicated and questionable – most especially when it’s a place such as Okinawa (i.e. as compared to Shikoku, for example) that has a long history of political independence and cultural difference, and which was rather clearly conquered, and later “colonized,” if we want to use that word. The legalities and “rightfulness” of Japan’s claims to Okinawa are a matter for another time, and I won’t get into it here, though I think one quick and simple thing we can say is that, I don’t know about today, but it would certainly seem that in the 1960s-1970s, and in 2006, the vast majority of Okinawans wanted to be part of Japan, rather than being under US control, or rather than independence.

What’s important here, though, and I feel like I may have spoken on this point before, is that regardless of the intricacies of the Ryukyu-Japan-US relationship, and any questions as to the “rightfulness” of anything going on there, China simply put has no reasonable rightful claims whatsoever. The history of tributary relationships, as a basis for a claim, is a load of bull, to put it bluntly, because (a) if that were valid, then Chinese claims to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, not to mention Kenya, Iran, and England, would have to be considered, and (b) no Chinese administrators or officials ever actually administered or governed the islands. Ever. Plus, when Japan did finally abolish the kingdom and annex its territory, even as certain prominent Ryukyuan scholars & officials petitioned the Qing Court to do something about it, Qing Dynasty China scarcely lifted a finger, a clear indication that China never really considered Ryukyu part of its territory (worth defending) to begin with.

And I guess I’ll leave it at that. Here’s hoping these stupid provocations come to nothing.

Read Full Post »


It’s time for another Quick Links. Well, sort of. Even in my efforts to keep the description/commentary on each link short, the total blog post still comes up quite long. So, I’ll focus on just two links today, and save the rest for another day.

Classes have started here at my new school, and boy have we hit the ground running. I’m quite accustomed, by now, to having to read upwards of 100 pages (i.e. for example, three journal articles of roughly 30-something pages each) each week, but never before have I been asked to read entire books in such a short period of time. Still, despite my incredible stress over it initially, I’ve found myself having finished all my assigned reading (and then some) for this coming week, just in time to get started on the next set of books.

One book we have been assigned this term is Mary Louise Pratt’s 1992 volume ”Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation”. I won’t get into discussing that book too much here, but, it either cites or coins a good number of terms which have (apparently?) rather entered the jargon of post-colonial discourse, and yet which I have myself never heard of. Transculturation, as seen in the title, is one. Anti-conquest is another. Seeking to figure out what “anti-conquest” is supposed to mean, and finding Pratt’s own explanations woefully unclear, I did what any kid of the Internet age would do – I googled it. And found, quite high up on the list, the first Link I’d like to share with you today.

*I do not know if RDK Herman’s 2009 article “The Aloha State: place names and the anti-conquest of Hawaiʻi” uses the term “anti-conquest” in the same way Pratt intends it, but the meaning of the term in Herman’s usage is much clearer. In this essay, Herman describes efforts in Hawaiʻi to change placenames (especially street names) from names with Anglo origins to names deriving from the Hawaiian language (if not necessarily from the actual Hawaiian name for that place). The article touches upon fascinating concepts about the colonized or decolonized nature of a space, and the powerful role of naming within those processes or discourses. In his usage, the concept of “anti-conquest” comes into play where actions are taken that seem on the surface to be recognizing, acknowledging, honoring the native people and restoring the usage of their language, their culture, into the space, while not truly granting those native people any true power or agency. The Hawaiian street names are assigned by the State or city government, i.e. the colonizing power, which in doing so speaks for the Hawaiians, or makes them seem to be speaking, without actually granting them voice. And, of course, the Hawaiians are not actually given back control of their land, or increased actual political power, but merely this show of Hawaiʻi being made to look and feel a little more Hawaiian.

Herman points out, though, that “anti-conquest is never a conscious process. Colonizers usually perceive it as paying genuine respect to the local culture” (p78), the implication being that they do not realize or recognize the power politics at play, in which the very fact that they are the ones doing these things, rather than the colonized doing it for themselves, marks them as still very much being the ones in power, i.e. still the colonial power, and as not actually giving up any power or agency to the colonized. Theory is not my strong point, and you can take this or leave it as you will – or, feel free to correct me, explaining out either the actual meaning of the term “anti-conquest,” and/or the discursive implications of this case of the Hawaiian placenames. In any case, I do think it a very interesting article, and I plan to hold onto it for if I ever teach a historiography seminar.

I’ve tried to touch upon the key points here, but if you’re interested, please do go and take a look at the whole article. This summary here is only sort of a rough stab at just some of Herman’s points.

—-

Looking into who Mary Louise Pratt (author of Imperial Eyes) is, I came upon a paper she wrote as her “Silver Dialogue” (apparently the great honor of “Silver Professor,” given out by NYU, comes with the obligation to write a single paper to be identified as your “Silver Dialogue“). Largely separate from the subject of post-colonial discourse, and addressing more pressing practical concerns, in this essay, Pratt calls for “a new public idea about language.” In summary, she suggests that US attitudes about multilingualism are terribly misguided, and present serious problems for our country. She calls the US el cementerio de lenguas, “the cemetery of languages,” the place where languages go to die, and goes through a short list of key, prime American “myths” about multilingualism that have helped make America the place it is today – where, even though the vast majority of us have grandparents whose first language was not English, the vast majority of us today do not speak that other language with any degree of fluency. A place where it took something like 9/11 to shock us into realizing (and even then, only some of us) how woefully disconnected we are from understanding our geopolitical place in the world, and lacking the linguistic skills to (paraphrasing slightly) “prevent or anticipate crises and respond adequately when they came” (p2). She then goes on to attack the notion that security concerns are the chief application of, or need for, multilingualism, pointing to broader cultural and societal benefits.

As I made my way through this document, I came to feel that the problem of our language attitudes, and hence language abilities, is far more serious than I might have thought, and more to the point, that the necessary changes are really quite radical and extensive. We need to make a pretty profound change, and it’ll take a lot to make that happen, but if it can somehow be made to come about, wow, what an incredible change for the better it will be.

To summarize, let me quote Pratt’s own summary of her statements:

1. All things being equal, bilingual families usually prefer to stay bilingual. Immigrant families do not simply want to lose their home languages, and they *do* (emphasis added) want to learn English.
2. Americans are not hostile to multilingualism; they are ambivalent, both proud of their multilingual history and committed to English as the lingua franca. …
3. It’s never too early and never too late to learn a language. Second-language learning does not have to begin in early childhood.
4. National security concerns define our language needs too narrowly. We need knowledge and interaction of all kinds. …
5. Monolingualism is a handicap. [We need to make this a widespread attitude.]
6. Local heritage communities must be engaged by our language programs. [Why do we not draw more extensively on native/heritage speakers for our multifarious language needs?]
7. Advanced competence [must become] a key educational goal.
8. We need linguistic pipelines at every level [i.e. a greater focus on the importance of language ability, and guiding students into, and through, effective language programs, beginning in high school or earlier]

This article is a quick and interesting read, though, so I do recommend reading the whole thing and not just taking my summary as the SparkNotes version.

Read Full Post »

Every now and then, one comes across an academic journal article that is of little relevance to one’s field, but which is quite intriguing and interesting nevertheless. I’ll be honest, I have not read all fifty pages of “With the Future Behind Them: Convergent Evidence From Aymara Language and Gesture in the Crosslinguistic Comparison of Spatial Construals of Time” by Rafael Nuñez and Eve Sweetser (Cognitive Science, vol. 30, 2006). But the basic concept is quite thought-provoking. Nuñez and Sweetser discuss Aymara, a native Amerindian language of the Andean highlands in which the past is described as being “in front” or “ahead”, and the future as “behind.” Given the way we in the Anglophone world (and, I’d imagine in most of the other dominant languages in the world today) envision time, this is an interesting concept, and perhaps somewhat difficult for us to wrap our heads around.

We normally think of ourselves as facing the future, with the future ahead of us, and the past behind us. We speak of looking forward to a vacation (in the future), or of certain troubles being behind us (in the past). However, in Aymara, a word for “front” is also used to mean “the past”, and a word for “back” or “behind” is also used to refer to the future. At first glance, this seems pretty surprising. And, I trust that if a pair of researchers felt it worthwhile to devote enough time to do all this research, and if a journal thought it worthwhile enough to publish, then surely there is something here. Something of real significance.

You may already be thinking, but, wait, we have plenty of phrases in English that imply an idea of the past being in front of us (after all, the words “before” and “forward” come from the same root), and the future behind. In Japanese, too, the word for “in front,” mae 前, also means “before”, i.e. “in the past.” This article certainly does not ignore those counter-arguments – rather, it addresses them head-on. There is the example of the phrase “ahead of time,” implying that a time in the past (when you arrived) was “ahead of”, that is, “in front of”, a point in the future, the later time when the deadline or appointment was set for. Yet, as the article explains, this phrasing places the past time “ahead of” the future time, and so is a separate matter from the issue of how we use language when discussing time relative to the current Now. We may say that one time comes ahead of another, as in earlier, but when talking about a time or event being still “ahead of us,” we mean the future, not the past. The article also notes the multiple relationships that “to follow” has with time. When New Year’s follows Christmas, it comes afterwards, but when Alice follows Bob, she walks behind him. But, this again relates to instances of two times being compared against one another, rather than the matter at hand of discussing times relative to the present.

We often talk about languages being indicative of fundamental cultural differences. There are numerous misleading or altogether apocryphal assertions out there that a given language has no word for a given concept, as well as oft-repeated misinterpretations of the way that Chinese characters interact (ever heard that nonsense “crisis is written using the characters for opportunity” canard?). But, this matter of how we view time as related to imagined spatial direction is very interesting, is it not?

Read Full Post »

The New York Times reports today on a study which identifies the origin of the Japonic language family with the Yayoi people who came to Japan from Korea around 2200-3000 years ago.

This is one field I have never really kept up with – and it’s quite complicated and controversial – so I don’t know how up to date or widely accepted the essential assumptions here are. The assumption that the Yayoi people came from Korea, bringing with them rice growing culture, and taking over the islands, displacing the Jomon people who then assimilated into the new Yayoi-dominant society and ethnicity. The assumption that this all began around 2200-3000 years ago.

Furthermore, maybe it’s just because I don’t understand linguistics, but I have a hard time understanding how the methods of this study work. Basically, it seems they used some kind of algorithm or program to estimate the dating of the origins of the language family based on knowing the dating of later changes (e.g. the shifts from Old Japanese to Middle Japanese, the split between Tokyo and Kyoto dialects beginning around 1603, and the split between Japanese and Ryukyuan occurring apparently sometime around 600-700 CE), and on the pace at which languages gradually change over time.

If that’s all they’re going on, I find it difficult to understand how this all works, or how the findings could possibly be considered valid. Languages change at different rates, after all, and the rate of change itself also changes over time, presumably, depending on any number of factors, including isolation and interaction. The imposition in the Meiji period of a nation-wide standard version of Japanese aside, there is a reason that Japanese is largely mutually intelligible (largely the same language) throughout Tohoku down to Kyushu, and yet the native languages of many of the individual Ryukyuan islands are not mutually intelligible from island to island – because the language shifted at different rates in different places under different circumstances.

Well, in any case, if the professional linguists and archaeologists, i.e. the scholarly community, wants to accept this, then I certainly will take them on their word. An interesting find, to be sure. Though, seeing as how this is coming from the New York Times, and not from any scholarly journal or anything, I wonder if it’s old news, or if there’s more out there on this study? Anyone?

Read Full Post »