Daily Archives: 31 March 2006

Wordcatcher Tales: Hata, Hi, Tateito, Yokoito

Ashikaga was once an important center for Japanese textile manufacturing, dating back to the days of silkworm-raising. In the early days of Japan’s industrial revolution, there were waterwheels (水車 mizuguruma) all over this piedmont town. Nowadays, the textile industry has left town, leaving behind a legacy of handicraft artisans, fine textile shops, and a few working pieces of machinery in a “play-learn” emporium (遊学館 yuugakkan), where you can learn how to weave a coaster on a small floor loom. (It costs ¥400 and usually takes 30-45 minutes.) Last week, while my visiting in-laws were trying their hands at weaving, I stood around translating, looking up words in my electronic dictionary, and listening to the two old timers who were demonstrating a braiding machine and a spinning machine that was plying thread from bobbins onto reels (clockwise on one side, counterclockwise on the other). They were excited to have an interested audience for a change.

One of the best things about doing fieldwork in a second language is that you often learn new things in the process, and also get a better command of vocabulary in your primary language. I learned a lot of English fish names a couple of decades ago when I elicited the local names for several hundred fish in a coastal language of New Guinea. Here are a few items of useful vocabulary from my 遊学館 experience.

hata, loom – The Chinese character with which Japanese hata is written also indicates all manner of new-fangled machinery, such as 洗濯機 sentakki ‘washing machine’, 飛行機 hikouki ‘flying machine (= airplane)’, and the Japanese ‘machine man’ superhero Kikaida. So now ‘loom’ can also be rendered as 織機 shokki ‘weaving machine’, and ‘power loom’ as 機械機 kikaibata (lit. ‘machine loom’). Worse yet, the same character also occurs in the famous Sinitic compound meaning ‘crisis’: 危機 kiki, danger + something not quite equal to opportunity—more like ‘wit, resource, device’.

hi, shuttle – In sharp contrast to 機 ‘loom’, the character for ‘shuttle’ is rare enough that my electronic dictionary ranks it last among the ten kanji pronounced hi and Microsoft’s Japanese-language input system doesn’t even offer it among its 42 ways to write the syllable hi. I had to go copy the character from unicode.org. In any case, most Japanese are quite familiar with the word adapted from English: シャトル shatoru, as in shatoru basu and supeesu shatoru.

縦糸 tateito, warp thread; 横糸 yokoito, weft thread – The terms that translate ‘warp’ and ‘weft’ render a whole range of similar oppositions: 縦引き鋸 tatebiki nokogiriripsaw‘ vs. 横切り yokogiricross-cut saw‘; 縦波 tatenami ‘longitudinal wave’ vs. 横波 yokonami ‘broadside wave, cross sea’; 縦揺れ tateyure ‘pitch (of a ship)’ vs. 横揺れ yokoyure ‘roll (or a ship)’; 縦書き tategaki ‘vertical writing’ vs. 横書き yokogaki ‘horizontal writing’. Finally, the highest rank in sumo is the 横綱 yokozuna (lit. ‘horizontal rope’), who is entitled to wear the ceremonial rope (綱 tsuna) across his waist.

Postscript: Weave : Weft :: Heave : Heft :: Leave : Left :: Bereave : Bereft. Can you think of any more English words that follow this pattern? Aha! Language Hat adds Cleave : Cleft.

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Filed under Japan, language

The Second Most Jewish Cabinet

Ynetnews reports on the Jewish scene–in Chile:

The newly elected Chilean government is the most Jewish government in the world, with three Jewish ministers and one deputy minister serving in the cabinet, Israel’s leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Tuesday.

Another report tabulates elected officials.

The country which has the largest number of Jewish elected officials is Britain, where 61 legislative posts are occupied by Jews: 7 Barons, 37 Lords and 17 MPs.

The United States ranks second with 37 Jewish lawmakers, 11 Senators and 26 Congressmen.

France and Ukraine are third with 15 Jewish members of parliament each.

via The Head Heeb

UPDATE: I excerpted the first paragraph of the story, but should have quoted the headline and subhead, which follow.

Most Jewish gov’t outside Israel – in Chile
Following the Israeli government, the newly elected Chilean cabinet is the most Jewish government in the world, with three Jewish ministers, one deputy minister serving in government
Itamar Eichner

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Russian Myths about Ukraine and Belarus

David MacDuff of A Step at a Time has translated an interesting article on Russian myths about recent developments in Ukraine and Belarus. Here’s the lead-in.

“The Russian ruling class and its entourage of experts, attempting to react to the events in Ukraine and in Belarus, have created a number of absorbing cliches which may possibly have a reassuring effect on them, and perhaps bolster up their self-confidence, but which in reality cause doubts about the adequacy of their ideas about the world. I will list the most popular arguments to which our ruling elite resorts, interpreting the development of the two states mentioned above,” writes political analyst Lilia Shevtsova in Vedomosti, RF.

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Filed under Russia, Ukraine, USSR