Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Wish I had waited a day for the kanji post

I'm sorry if I am a bit obsessed with kanji at the moment but that is the way it has to be. If only I had postponed yesterday's post a day. This morning I stumbled across a classic piece of "visual poetry" (read the post below to find out what I am on about).

The word "boku" in Japanese is one of the many ways of saying "I". It has a very laddish tone and I have never had the guts to use it. Anyway, I was studying its character today:



Now, this wasn't very helpful to my memorisation, but apparently this character used to be written like this (totally unrecognisable if you ask me!):



The textbook's explanation goes like this: "Once written clearly showing a slave (person with tail/testicles , to indicate a male, and a tattooist's needle , to indicate slave status) carrying a container with bits in it . This container is taken by some authoritative Japanese scholars to be specifically a chamber-pot and turds. In any event, the pictograph clearly depicts a slave performing a menial task. Slave/manservant then came to mean servant in general and was also used as a humble reference to oneself ...."

The textbook then explains how these elements have been stylised and transformed into the modern form. Not very useful for memorisation but I'll never look at someone referring to themselves as "Boku" in the same way again. Anyway, I promise no more kanji posts for a while.

2 comments:

doltrane said...

Oargh! I was really getting into this stuff! The pictorial element is a lovely added dimension to the already fascinating exercise of language derivation. I wonder what Dr J would have made of it!

kuri said...

A discussion between Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, related in The Life of Samuel Johnson, (chapter 47) published in 1798.

Johnson called the East Indians barbarians.

BOSWELL: "You will except the Chinese, sir?"

JOHNSON: "No sir."

BOSWELL: "Have they not arts?"

JOHNSON: "They have pottery."

BOSWELL: "What do you say to the written characters of their language?"

JOHNSON: "Sir, they have not an alphabet. They have not been able to form what all other nations have formed."

BOSWELL: "There is more learning in their language than in any other, from the immense number of their characters."

JOHNSON: "It is only more difficult from its rudeness, as there is more labour in hewing down a tree with a stone than with an axe."