Wednesday, February 28

Mana 101 真名の基礎

Matt at No-Sword introduced me to a text called the Shinji (or Mana) Ise Monogatari, an edition of the Tales of Ise written entirely in kanji. I at first assumed it was the creation of some mad Edo-era Confucian, but it’s actually credited in the text to Prince Tomohira, a famous poet of the turn of the tenth century. This attribution is almost certainly false, as the introduction to Nara Women’s University’s scan of the text states, but it is still believed to date back to before the fourteenth century (note however that the scanned copy is a much later woodblock print, published in 1643).

The text is written in “mana,” sometimes called “man’yôgana” in modern scholarship, but the meaning of these terms can seem very fuzzy at times, so I thought it would be useful to go through a section of it to introduce some of the orthographic techniques it uses.
Here we have the main text of the first few lines of the tale:
Here is the kana gloss, which runs parallel to the kanji text in this edition:
Here is the same passage as it appears in a modern edition of the text (the Iwanami Bunko edition edited by Ôtsu Yûichi):
A translation into English:
Long ago, a man, having reached the age of maturity, went hunting at Kasuga Village in Nara where he had some land. In that village a nubile pair of sisters lived. This man caught a glimpse of them. So unexpectedly incongruous were they in this ancient village that his heart was thrown into confusion.

If we punctuate the kanji following the modern edition we get something like this:
A few things are immediately obvious. First, there is extensive use of kanji here purely for their phonetic value. For example, every sentence ends with the characters 遣利 (Early Middle Chinese kʰjian-liʰ), used to phonetically represent the classical Japanese verbal suffix keri (indicating retrospection), and the character 尓 (simplified variant of 爾, EMC ɲi) is used for the case marker ni.* On the other hand, many characters are used for their meaning to represent Japanese words, as in the first few words of the passage: 昔 mukashi (long ago), 男 otoko (a man), and the compound 裹頭 (Mandarin guotou), a term for the crowning at a coming-of-age ceremony, here representing the Classical Japanese uhikauburi [初冠]. For the most part, this corresponds very closely to the mixed orthography of modern Japanese, which uses kanji for substantives and verbal stems, and phonetic graphs for particles and suffixes. But there are several interesting peculiarities to this “mana” writing:
  1. Not all particles are represented phonetically: the character 而 is repeatedly used to write the Classical Japanese particle te. This has no phonetic basis, but is rather because the connective use of 而 in Chinese roughly corresponds to the use of the gerund suffix te in Japanese.
  2. In the first sentence, 雁徃遣利 is read as “kari ni inikeri” [he went hunting]. “Kari” means “hunt” in Classical Japanese, but it is homophonous with the word for goose, so the Chinese character for goose 雁 is used here to phonetically represent the homonym. (David Lurie has referred to these as vernacular phonographs, as opposed to the more common sinitic phonographs like 尓 as に).
  3. The text does not always maintain a one-to-one correspondence between kanji and vernacular words. The word otoko [man] is represented both by 男 (as in modern orthography) and by the compound 壯士 (which means something like “a man in his prime”).
  4. Occasionally, as in the beginning of the fourth sentence, the text adopts Chinese grammatical order to represent a phrase. Here the negative marker 不 comes at the beginning of the phrase omohoezu, though it corresponds to the suffix zu at the end of the Japanese phrase.

This text is a great example of the richness of premodern Japanese writing practices, and of the problems with trying to draw a neat line between kana and kanbun writing.

* Early Middle Chinese reconstructions taken from Edwin Pulleyblank’s Lexicon (UBC Press 1991).


Blogger Language said...

Hey, I posted about this and a commenter asked how to write mana in Japanese. I can't tell him, but I'll bet you can!

4/21/2007 4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Language Hat.

It's the two characters that start the title of the entry: 真名.

4/21/2007 6:02 PM  
Blogger Language said...

Duh! Sorry, my brain's a little soggy today. Thanks.

4/21/2007 8:18 PM  

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