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Panel 9 | 8:30-10:30 | ROOM A

Saturday, October 29, 2016
8:30-10:30  ~  Panel 9 ~ Room A

9 - Imaging the Word in Medieval and Early-Modern Japan: Sinographism and Other Interlingual Relations

Panel abstract

  • A word, whether written or spoken, is characterized by the arbitrary relation in which it stands to its referent, whereas by “image” we often mean a sign whose nature is not conventional but determined by an iconic or indexical relation to an original: in the manner of a painting or a fingerprint. Nowhere is the core conventionality of the word clearer than in Japanese and other Sinograph cultures of writing, in which, even within China, rebus play is never far from view: individual Han graphs are borrowed for their sound, and whole texts are read translingually ‘in’ any language for which conventional glosses and ordinal transformations exist. Nevertheless, the tendency of provisional words to mis-recognize themselves as inevitable images, and of the transmission of culture and identity in language to imagine itself in terms of genetic inheritance or industrial production, has been as robust in Japan as in any community in world history. This panel examines this imaging of the word as seen in the interlingual relations of medieval and early-modern Japan, where the radically borrowed translingual reading culture (J. kundoku) coexists with various kinds of “translation” much like those practiced in Latin diglossia, Sanskrit hyperglossia, or between modern national languages. Kōno Kimiko examines the process of reception of Han-style words and phrases from Kumārajīva’s Chinese Lotus Sūtra, as seen in Japanese Buddhist legendary and commentarial traditions. Patrick Schwemmer reads a 1591 collection of Japanese-language gospel readings for their combination of European-style translation and a set of translingual reading conventions which Japanese Jesuits had developed for Latin. William C. Hedberg reappraises a set of eighteenth-century translations of Japanese drama into vernacular Chinese, in terms of larger literary and linguistic discourses. Brian Steininger leads our discussion of the light shed and shadows cast by these overlapping regimes of speech and writing.

“Legend, Lexicon, Commentary: The Lotus Sūtra in Japanese Letters,” KŌNO Kimiko, Waseda University

  • This presentation examines the ways in which practices for reading Chinese translations of Buddhist scriptures shaped the distinction between Yamato and Han discourse in Japanese letters. We focus on the reception of Kumārajīva’s translation of the Lotus Sūtra (406) in legendary, lexicographical, and commentarial traditions. In Japan, homiletic collections of Buddhist legends like the Nihon ryōi ki (9th c.), Sanbō ekotoba (984), and Konjaku monogatari shū (ca. 12th c.) on the one hand, and scholarly Lotus commentaries like the Myōhō rengekyō shakumon (preface dated 976) and Hokekyō jurin shūyōshō 法華経鷲林拾葉鈔 (1512) on the other, together with the lexicographical tradition, display complex re-castings of Sinograph words and phrases from the Lotus Sūtra. In these traditions of Lotus readership—legendary, lexicographical, and commentarial—we observe a multidirectional process of reception of Han-style Buddhist discourse which reached a kind of synthesis in medieval Japan.

“Latin Kundoku and the Birth of “Translation” in Japanese Gospels from 1591,” Patrick SCHWEMMER (Organizer), Sophia University

  • A 1591 manuscript in the Vatican Library contains excerpts from the New Testament (ca. 100) in Roman-script Japanese, including the story of Jesus’ disciples miraculously speaking in tongues. However, an even more miraculous encounter between two regimes of language—one spoken, one written—can be seen in the textual surface of this collection. In sixteenth-century Europe, scholars gathered for disputations at universities and exchanged written missives in a single Latin language which was recorded phonetically. Meanwhile, in East Asia, a vast web of codings, in languages as diverse as Japanese and Vietnamese, for one set of graphs of Chinese origin, generated a cultural sphere bound by texts which could be read in any grammar and lexicon for which conventions of translingual reading (訓読 kundoku) existed. Recent scholarship has begun to appreciate the importance, persistence, and possibilities of this system in Japan, where as late as the nineteenth century, European languages were studied by means of a system of ordinal markers and word-by-word glosses (Morioka Kenji 1999). Moreover, for all the Jesuits’ efforts to publish vernacular literature in Japanese phonetic script, it was only with the clandestine circulation of Mateo Ricci’s Chinese writings in the 1640s that Christianity entered the mainstream conversation in Japan (Paramore 2009): Japanese thinkers were primed to absorb religious and philosophical ideas by reading Han-style discourse as Japanese. These Japanese gospels likewise use particles like -yori for the Latin ablative case in a formulaic way reminiscent of such translingual readings. At the same time, Jesuit dictionaries revive the word 翻訳 hon’yaku “translation” in the modern sense of conversion between two spoken languages conceived of as separate but equal entities. In this presentation, we identify the precise Latin Bible from which our gospels were translated and explore this beginning of the globalization of interlingual relations.

“Protecting the Vulgar from Elegant Hands: Four Cries of the Cicada and the Sinification of Japanese Drama,” William C. HEDBERG, Arizona State University

  • This presentation focuses on Tsuga Teishō's (1718-1794) Four Cries of the Cicada (Shimeizen): a collection of four works of Japanese drama translated into the language and style of late imperial Chinese theatre.  Although this anomalous “reverse translation” has often been dismissed as a minor curiosity next to Teishō’s better-known works of original fiction, I situate the text in two larger linguistic and literary discourses: first, burgeoning Japanese interest in popular Chinese literature and its adaptation at the hands of Japanese redactors; second, the cross-genre interrogation of the boundaries separating the refined (ga) and vulgar (zoku) in Japanese cultural production. Throughout Teishō’s translations of noh plays in particular, Teishō creatively reimagines the symbolic language of the text in a way that creates a wide spectrum of social roles and linguistic ranges—using the Chinese vernacular as a tool both to de-familiarize the original, as well as to bring elite cultural practices into contact with the mimetic and the carnivalesque.

Discussant: Brian STEININGER, Princeton University