Monthly Archives: July 2007

Writing Niihau Dialect of Hawaiian

Atooi VocabularyWhen I was searching the web for information on the Hawaiian term hakalama for my post on the Hawaiian Kanji Syllabary Design, I came across an interesting sample of writing in the Ni‘ihau dialect of Hawaiian, which is both (at least in one respect) more conservative and (by definition) less standardized than Standard Hawaiian, having been continually spoken by the isolated community of native speakers on that privately owned island. Standard Hawaiian grew out of the Hawai‘i (Big Island) dialect at the other end of the archipelago, the dialect of King Kamehameha the Great, who conquered the other islands and established the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau were the last islands to join the Kingdom.

The writing sample comes from an online newsletter by Kumu Leimokihana Kanahele, who was teaching Hawaiian at Kekaha Elementary in the Waimea district of Kaua‘i in the spring of 2001. The page title is Nu hou no ta matou papa, which in Standard Hawaiian would (I think) be spelled Nūhou no kā mākou papa ‘News of/for our class’.

I don’t know enough Hawaiian to translate it fully or accurately. It describes two students practicing their writing lessons (na haawina hakalama). But I would like to note a few ways in which the local dialect and standard language diverge and intermix.

Na haawina hakalama

Aloha teia tau mau haumana o Kuulei ame Kamakauliuli te hana nei laua i ta laua hakalama. No ta hoomaamaa ana i ta katau ana i na hua palapala ma ta uhai ana i na hua palapala maluna o ta laua pute. Hana laua elua pelu o ta la. Hoomaamaa mau laua i teia haawina i mea e maitai ai ta laua katau ana. Mahalo Nui!

Missing symbols – This sample contains no marks for either the glottal stop (‘okina) or vowel length (kahakō). All of the double vowels in the sample above are pronounced with intervening glottal stops. They do not represent long vowels. I suspect the absence of the ‘okina and kahakō is as much due to technical limitations on the part of the school staff trying to publish on the web in early 2001 as it might be due to any linguistic limitations of the writer, who almost certainly learned Ni‘ihau dialect first at home, and not in a classroom, before becoming familiar with Standard Hawaiian.

UPDATE: On the other hand, the traditional Hawaiian Bible uses the same sort of underspecified orthography, which is quite sufficient for people who already know the language well. Standard Hawaiian writing with full diacritics is much more important for those who are learning how to speak the language, not just how to write it. And, at this point in time, second-language learners of Hawaiian far outnumber native speakers. For their benefit, a project is now underway to respell the old Baibala Hemolele, as well as to produce an audio version.

Preserving *t – Perhaps the main reason for branding Ni‘ihau dialect as conservative is that it preserves Proto-Polynesian *t as /t/. Throughout the eastern end of the archipelago, *t had changed to /k/ by the time Hawaiian was first reduced to writing. If perchance Captain Cook had landed first on Kaua‘i (spelled Atooi on some early charts), and then some great chief from that island had managed to unite the archipelago under his rule, perhaps we would now call the 50th state Taua‘i and the Tauaian spelling system the halamana. The consonants of the hakalama occur in English alphabetical order (ha ka la ma na pa wa [‘a]), so a spelling system based on the western dialects would omit ka and add ta (ha la ma na pa ta wa [‘a]). And the indigenous peoples of New Caledonia might call themselves Tanat instead of Kanak. (At least a maitai would still be a maitai!) Anyway, that’s not how things turned out, but I think it’s kind of refreshing to see Hawaiian spelt with t in place of k.

Mixing t and k – Of course, the writing sample contains both t and k. In general, k is an unequivocal marker of Standard Hawaiian, as in the names of the two students and in the focus of their exercise, hakalama. At the same time, t is a marker of Ni‘ihau Hawaiian. But pute here seems to be a localized back-formation from Standard Hawaiian puke ‘book’, and I’m not sure what to make of the word katau, which seems to straddle the fence. It looks like the earlier Polynesian source for Standard Hawaiian ‘ākau ‘right (vs. left)’, but I don’t see a corresponding hema ‘left (vs. right)’. The Standard Hawaiian equivalent is kākau ‘to write’ (mahalo to ‘Iona Ua‘iwa in the comments), from Proto-Polynesian *tātau, the same root from which English tattoo derives.

According to ‘Aha Pūnana Leo (the Hawaiian Language Nest Movement, whose bureaucratic acronym is ‘APL, not ‘PL, because there is no capital ‘okina), Kekaha is now the site of one of three special state charter schools that encourage use of Hawaiian throughout the school, not just in the classroom.

Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha [whose name is in Standard Hawaiian], in Kekaha on the island of Kaua‘i is open to all native speakers of the Ni‘ihau dialect of Hawaiian. It strives to develop a total Ni‘ihau dialect speaking teaching and support staff.

I hope they can keep the dialect alive, even while reviving the standard language.

UPDATE: When the Far Outliers took our road trip in May (about which I promise a few more blogposts), one of the books I took along to read was set in Ni‘ihau shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor: East Wind, Rain: A Novel, by Caroline Paul (HarperCollins, 2006). (“Based on a little-known true event, East Wind, Rain is a provocative and compelling debut novel of people thrust unwittingly into a war — not only of nations, but of American identity — with devastating and irrevocable consequences for them all.”) I don’t have much to say about the book, other than that it does a good job of trying to imagine the context and motivations of people on Ni‘ihau and Kaua‘i at the time. Nor did I find any appropriate passages to excerpt—not for lack of good writing. But I did want to comment on one use of language in the book. The author throws in quite a few words of Japanese and Hawaiian. She clearly did her homework, but she seems not to be aware of how divergent the Ni‘ihau dialect is. One of the key phrases she cites is a bit of Standard Hawaiian that fits the description of the phrase itself: mea mai ka ‘aina ‘e ‘something from the land beyond/other/strange’.


Filed under Hawai'i, language

Hawaiian Kanji Syllabary Design

Language Hat recently noted a kanji syllabary devised at a very unusual state charter school in Hilo, Hawa‘i, where Hawaiian is not just the medium of instruction, but also

the language of administration, support staff, grounds keepers, and school events for parents. This creates an environment where Hawaiian is growing much stronger than in standard immersion programs and also leading to a major increase in the number of families using Hawaiian as a first language of the home.

That’s exactly what the language needs to survive.

The kanji syllabary was not designed to replace the existing, steadily evolving orthography of Hawaiian. Instead, it was designed to give the students a better understanding of East Asia, where many of their ancestors came from. It also strikes me as a brilliantly concrete and practical way to instill some key linguistic concepts into young minds: the arbitrariness of signs, the phonetic basis of all full writing systems, evolution of writing systems, orthography design, syllable structure, and so on.

Unfortunately, the PDF version of the article posted online contains only graphic images of the entire kanji syllabary, the Hawaiian word chart on which the syllables are based, and actual samples of writing. So this blogpost unpacks the images and presents the characters as text in order to examine the design of this syllabary and compare it with similar systems. See the chart below.

Citation Order

The list-ordering sequence commonly referred to as “alphabetical” order differs according to the writing system of each language. In Korean, all the consonants of the alphabet precede all the vowels: ga na da la ma ba sa … a ya eo yeo o yo u yu …. Japanese kana are commonly cited starting with the five vowels, then adding a consonant before the same vowels: a i u e o, ka ki ku ke ko, sa si su se so, etc. Bilingual dictionaries in both languages arrange the native-language entries in those orders.

The citation order for the Hawaiian syllabary, known as hakalama, goes back to the earliest days of teaching Hawaiians to read and write. It owes little to foreign antecedents. Like Korean, however, consonant-initial syllables are cited before vowel-initial syllables. Unlike Japanese, all the consonants are pronounced with each vowel, then all the consonants with the next vowel, and so on: ha ka la ma na pa wa ‘a, he ke le me ne pe we ‘e, etc. If applied to Japanese kana the same principle would yield the order a ka sa ta na ha ma ya ra wa, e ke se te ne he me [y]e re [w]e, etc.

Choice of Symbols

The hakalama syllables of Hawaiian could easily have been written in Japanese kana, but Chinese characters (kanji) were chosen because they were common to all the East Asian ancestral homelands of the students: China, Japan, Korea, Okinawa. The first step in choosing logographic symbols was to turn the hakalama syllable chart into a chart of basic words starting with the same syllables—on the same principle as A is for Apple, B is for Boy, C is for Cat, and not Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta (or Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog), which are designed to enhance auditory discrimination. Thus, Ha is for Hana ‘work’, Ka is for Kanaka ‘person’, La is for Lani ‘sky’, and so on.

Basic kanji were then chosen to match the meanings of each of those words. Thus, Ha and Hana are written with the kanji for ‘work’ (作), Ka and Kanaka with the kanji for ‘person’ (人), La and Lani with the kanji for ‘sky’ (天). (Although I knew most of the Hawaiian words, I learned a few of them from the kanji.)

UPDATE: It should be stressed that these kanji were borrowed only for their semantics, not for their sound values in any other language. Thus, 人 is free of any possible Sino-Hawaiian readings (kini?) or Japano-Hawaiian readings (hiko?). Despite the origins in other languages, these symbols are used in strictly monolingual fashion.

Diacritics and Variant Readings

The kanji syllabary was not really designed to become a comprehensive orthography. It was primarily designed to expose students to East Asian Sinographic traditions, especially the concept of logography, where a symbol can stand for a whole word. The primacy of logography in its design is apparent from the clumsy way that diacritics are used.

When the symbols are used as logographs, no diacritics are required; but every time they’re used as syllables, diacritics are required to show whether the vowel is long or short. Thus, 石 without diacritics is to be read pōhaku, while the syllable must be written 石¯ to mark the long vowel and the syllable po must be written 石° to mark the short vowel. This seems completely backwards. In a true syllabary, symbols that represent syllables should be the unmarked case, while logographic usages should be the marked case. Matt at No-sword discusses the diacritic issues in more detail, with plenty of examples.

Hawaiian Kanji Syllabary Chart
































































































wō (= hola)






















wū (= makuahine)







‘chief, king’



‘life, breath’






‘life, live’




UPDATE: Lameen of Jabal al-Lughat offers a very interesting analysis of writing systems that are not syllabaries, but do mark in an interesting variety of ways the vowel codas or lack thereof after each consonant.

In Canadian Syllabics, for example Cree, the shape of a symbol represents the consonant, while its orientation represents the vowel that follows it, and length or labialisation may be represented by dots.


Filed under China, Hawai'i, Japan, Korea, language

North Korean Ideology: Juche as Kokutai

The North’s successful quasi-Stalinist economic development did not mean that North Korea adopted the particular blend of Marxism-Leninism developed under Stalin in the 1930s. On the contrary, if the North’s ideology resembled any socialist experiment, it was closer to the Chinese model [under Mao]. In retrospect, it is now clear that North Korea actually developed an independent ideological line from the beginning. Perhaps because of its early close association with the USSR and the PRC, the North continued to parrot a line of Marxism-Leninism, but from Kim Il Sung’s first formal elaboration of Chuch’e [= Juche] thought in a 1955 speech, Marxism-Leninism progressively declined as a formal category of thought in the North. In hindsight, it is difficult to see how the North’s economic and social revolution had anything at all to do with Marxist antecedents. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites after 1989, North Korea quickly disassociated itself from Marxism altogether. Moreover, the development of Chuch’e thought in tandem with the rise of the cult of the leader has provided the North with a ready explanation for the survival of its revolution even after the collapse of the Socialist world order.

Not only do North Korean ideologues assert they have leaders such as the world has never seen before, they also have an ideology that completes their self-image as the center of a world revolution. This ideology revolves around the seminal idea of Chuch’e. Chuch’e is a Sino-Korean compound formed from Chinese characters for the words “subject” [or ‘lord, master’] and “body” [主体]. Together they adumbrate the concept of “autonomy” or “self-reliance.” In its most straightforward use, Chuch’e can denote one’s independence and autonomy from any external control or manipulation. Therefore, one core meaning of Chuch’e resonates in society-wide contexts to describe an autonomous, independent, and self-reliant nation. The ch’e in Chuch’e is the same character used in kukch’e, often translated as “national body” or “polity” (see below). Here it can also carry the connotation of the “national face,” as in self-respect. Thus an independent and autonomous nation’s face (honor) must not be besmirched or denigrated. This core definition goes a long way to understanding the intense emphasis in North Korean ideology on their independence, whether in terms of their national integrity, their position earlier in the global socialist revolution, or their autarkic economic policies. The nationalist connotations of Chuch’e developed in the late nineteenth century, when it was used as an antonym of the concept of “serving the great” (sadae), a term used originally to describe the interstate relationship between Korea and China during the Chosŏn period. In the twentieth century, sadaejuŭi (the “ism” of sadae) became synonymous with being subordinate to another, with being a toady. To have sadae consciousness means to worship the outside world while denigrating one’s own culture. Chuch’e thus had come to mean an independent stance, in mind and in body, and in nationalist context it means to uphold the independence and integrity of the nation.

Chuch’e was a useful concept in creating distance with the early Soviet presence in North Korea, and later, during the time of extensive Soviet assistance in the rebuilding and first Five-year Plans, it was deployed to signal North Korean independence. The term, first elaborated by Kim Il Sung in 1955, moved to its central position during the 1960s as Kim maneuvered between his giant socialist neighbors during the Sino-Soviet split. By the 1970s Chuch’ e thought had become so linked to the genius of the Great Leader that it literally became the “ism” of Kim Il Sung, as in “Kim Il Sung-ism.”

In the polemical warfare between the two Koreas, the North’s Chuch’e stance gave it an advantage over the South, especially in the first decades of division. The South was an economic dependent in the 1950s, and until the mid-1960s it relied heavily on American military protection. Although the North was also relatively dependent on the PRC and USSR in the early years, foreign troops withdrew after the Korean War, leaving the North to defend itself. To the North Koreans, the continuing presence of the US Eighth Army in the South has been proof of the ROK government’s “slavish” dependence on outside power. The Chuch’e argument continued to resonate with opposition forces in South Korea into the 1980s, since they had from the start questioned the legitimacy of the ROK government and they railed against the continuing US military presence in the South. They pointed to the contrasting stance of the North and its resolute emphasis on autonomy. Whatever the facts may have been with regard to the North’s actual independence, its consistent propaganda and its emphasis on national independence reminded all South Koreans of Korea’s historical humiliations at the hands of imperialist and colonial powers.

Chuch’e has become the principle behind all government policy in the North, which, of course, has significant implications for economic policy. Indeed, in keeping with astrict adherence to independence in all matters, North Korea has developed perhaps the most autarkic economy in the world. Economic achievements are touted as successes based on self-reliance, and great pains were taken to seek internal solutions to economic problems. The story of the creation of the synthetic fiber “vynalon” by North Korean scientists using indigenous raw materials (in this case limestone) became an often-repeated morality tale of technological self-reliance in state propaganda. Where indigenous capital was scarce or other inputs unobtainable inside the country, the state resorted to exhortation and mobilization of the innate creativity of the masses. Thus all problems, technical or otherwise, are solvable if the people retain a staunch consciousness of Chuch’e. Such a stance inhibits overtures to the outside world for the economic or technical assistance the North now desperately needs to solve its economic woes. With the principle of Chuch’e inviolate, the state finds itself in its own straitjacket. And as we will see below, the new policies that have created zones for foreign investment, initiatives to find foreign capital, and, most obviously, accepting foreign food aid during the 1995 famine are issues that must be justified in terms of the unitary logic of self-reliance.

At its most abstract, Chuch’e operates as a code word for North Korean identity itself. Thus holding a consciousness of Chuch’e is to have a North Korean subjectivity. Some speculate that Kim Il Sung developed the idea in reaction to the vague and virtually indefinable concept of kokutai (kukch’e in Korean) used to evoke “national essence” in Japanese ideology before 1945. All North Koreans are enjoined to hold Chuch’e in their minds and hearts, as only in so doing will their actions be appropriate. Since Chuch’e is the leader’s core inspiration, all his subjects carry the leader in their hearts when they hold fast a consciousness of Chuch’e. Just as the emperor embodied the essence (kokutai) of the nation in pre-World War II Japan, so does the leader, now Kim Jong Il, embody the very essential principle that guides all thought and action in North Korea today.

SOURCE: Korea’s Twentieth-Century Odyssey: A Short History, by Michael E. Robinson (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2007), pp. 158-161


Filed under Japan, Korea, philosophy

Effects of the New Madrid Relief Act of 1815

On February 17, 1815 [three years after the strongest earthquakes in U.S. history], Congress passed the New Madrid Relief Act, the first federal disaster relief act in U.S. history. Unfortunately, the act itself turned out to be a disaster.

The legislation provided for residents whose land had been damaged in the earthquakes to trade their land titles for a certificate that would be good for any unclaimed government land for sale elsewhere in the Missouri Territory. The only restriction was that the new grants had to be between 160 and 640 acres, regardless of how much or little land a person had previously owned. Well-intentioned though the legislation was, it did little to help the residents of the New Madrid area.

Communications being what they were, word of the New Madrid Relief Act did not reach the New Madrid area for months. News did reach St. Louis and other places, however, and speculators were soon beating a hasty path to New Madrid and buying up land for a pittance from unsuspecting locals. Of the 516 certificates issued for redemption, only twenty were held by the original landowners. Three hundred and eighty-four certificates were held by residents of St. Louis, some of whom had as many as forty claims. Adding insult to injury, many banks in Missouri failed, making the Missouri banknotes used to pay for these claims worthless. Governor Clark himself was not above profiting from the situation, as he authorized two of his agents, Theodore Hunt and Charles Lucas, to purchase land in the New Madrid area. Meanwhile, opportunists in New Madrid caught on to what was happening and began selling their land titles many times over. Before too long, the term “New Madrid claim” came to be synonymous with fraud.

Litigation over the resulting land claims tied up the courts for over twenty years, with hundreds of fraudulent claims being pressed. Over the next three decades, Congress passed three more pieces of legislation to try and straighten out the mess. The last case stemming from the New Madrid Relief Act was finally settled in 1862, fifty years after the earthquakes of 1811–12—by which time the frontier had moved a thousand miles west.

SOURCE: When the Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquake, by Jay Feldman (Free Press, 2005), p. 236

Plus ça change …

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Media Disastermongering in 1990

OVER THE COURSE of the next century and more [after 1811–1812], the New Madrid earthquakes gradually receded from public awareness, as the New Madrid fault system produced just two shocks greater than magnitude 6.0 in the 180 years following the 1811–12 sequence—a 6.5 in 1843 and a 6.8 in 1895. An occasional magazine article would appear and several epic poems and novels using the quakes as a setting were written, but in general, the largest series of earthquakes ever to hit the North American continent faded from memory—until 1990, when a prediction by Dr. Iben Browning suddenly brought the New Madrid fault system to the forefront once again.

Browning was a climatological and business consultant who claimed to have predicted the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta quake that struck northern California during the 1989 World Series, causing extensive damage in the San Francisco Bay area. Browning also claimed to have predicted other large earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, including the 1980 explosion of Mount St. Helens in Washington.

Addressing a business seminar in Atlanta in February 1988, Browning told his audience that an earthquake could strike the Memphis area in early December 1990. More than a year and a half later, on November 27, 1989, a short Associated Press story made the prediction public, and the following day, a longer story appeared in the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Two weeks later, speaking to the Missouri Governor’s Conference on Agriculture, Browning repeated his prediction that there was a 50 percent probability that a magnitude 6.5–7.5 earthquake would hit the New Madrid area on December 3, 1990. Browning’s prognostication was based on tidal forces, which were going to be extraordinarily high on December 2 and 3.

Suddenly, people were interested in the New Madrid fault system again. The Lorna Prieta quake in October 1989 had received widespread television coverage, and the repeated viewings of the worst of the damage had created a climate in which Browning’s prediction was taken seriously by the media and the public. Despite the fact that the connection between tidal forces and earthquakes has never been proven, and despite the refutation of Browning’s prediction by several seismologists, including the Center for Earthquake Research and Information director Arch Johnston, media outlets all over the country began picking up the story and running with it.

The issue was given further apparent credence in June 1990 when David Stewart threw his support behind the Browning forecast. Stewart, a geophysicist, was then the director of the Center for Earthquake Studies at Southeast Missouri State University and one of Missouri’s leading earthquake preparedness experts. On July 21, in an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch entitled, “Quake Prediction Taken Seriously,” Stewart was quoted as saying that Browning’s “methodology does seem to be promising and worthy of serious and thorough consideration.”

In fact, Browning’s methodology was highly questionable—he had no physical model for his prediction and showed no verifiable evidence to back up his prediction. Moreover, it turned out that his “predictions” of the Lorna Prieta quake and the Mount St. Helens eruption were also suspect. Browning’s doctorate was in zoology; he was a self-taught climatologist with no scientific expertise in seismology or earthquake prediction. After Stewart joined Browning, a number of seismologists made efforts to debunk the prediction, but the cow was already out of the barn.

The Associated Press picked up the Post-Dispatch piece, and it was reprinted in newspapers throughout the New Madrid Seismic Zone region. Stories then ran in major newspapers all across the country, including the New York Times, Wall StreetJournal, Chicago Tribune, and Miami Herald. Soon the national media jumped in. Time and Newsweek published articles and USA Today ran close to a dozen stories. Browning appeared on Good Morning America. Johnston was interviewed for the Today show. World News Tonight and NOVA planned segments on the New Madrid fault system.

Earthquake and natural disaster agencies, together with organizations like the Red Cross, unwittingly exacerbated the crisis by sending out literature on earthquake preparedness without also providing a disclaimer regarding Browning’s prediction. Throughout the New Madrid Seismic Zone, agencies were inundated with requests for information. National Guard units in Missouri and Arkansas conducted earthquake drills. Department stores passed out survival-tip literature and stocked up on blankets, bottled water, and first-aid kits. Many school districts announced that schools would close on December 3. A minor 4.6 tremor near Cape Girardeau, Missouri, on September 26, made the situation that much worse, as many people interpreted the event to be a foreshock of the anticipated December quake.

Except for Stewart, the entire scientific community was aligned against the Browning prediction. “Earthquake experts across the country consider this ‘prediction’ ridiculous and unscientific,” wrote Douglas A. Wiens, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University of St. Louis, in an op-ed piece for the Post-Dispatch on September 30. “The public should disregard all predictions about the specific date that an earthquake will occur. No one can make such predictions. Though scientists have investigated many different factors that could signal an impending quake, none has proved reliable.” Nevertheless, the media continued to treat the Browning prediction as genuine news.

In mid-October, the National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council (NEPEC) released a study that thoroughly refuted Browning’s prediction, but still the media hype went on. By the beginning of December, the New Madrid Seismic Zone region was in a state of near-hysteria.

On the weekend of December 1–2, a carnival-like atmosphere prevailed in New Madrid. More than thirty satellite trucks from television and radio networks worldwide were parked in downtown New Madrid, with its population of just over 3,300. Church marquees advertised sermons with earthquake-inspired themes like, “Preparing for the Big One? Are You Prepared for the Last One?” Cars prowled the town displaying homemade signs along the same lines: “New Madrid save your city fast and repent.” Rev. Frank McRae of the St. John’s United Methodist Church cheerfully admitted, “You don’t get breaks like this often.” Tourists roamed the streets, and the Chamber of Commerce sold “official” earthquake T-shirts and sweatshirts. Tom’s Grill offered quake burgers that were served divided down the middle by a jagged line, while McDonald’s advertised free coffee, “a price you can shake & rattle about.” Near the Mississippi River, the Faultline Express Band played earthquake songs. A California psychologist featured an Iben Browning doll that children were encouraged to pummel as a way of dealing with their fears about the earthquake prediction.

December 3 came and went with no earthquake, of course. The tourists and media crews quickly left, and after several months in the limelight, New Madrid went back to being an ordinary Mississippi River town.

The Browning prediction underscored the fact that there is only one thing certain about the New Madrid fault system, and that is that it will go off again. It could be in two hundred years. Or it could be tomorrow.

SOURCE: When the Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquake, by Jay Feldman (Free Press, 2005), pp. 238-241

Plus ça change …

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Fingerspelling: From Alphabet to Syllabary

National standards for sign languages of the Deaf have evolved in different ways, but almost always with foreign influence. Much of the vocabulary of American Sign Language (ASL) was adapted from earlier standardized French Sign Language (FSL), and both remain very different from British Sign Language (BSL).

The standardizers of ASL also adapted the one-handed manual alphabet (fingerspelling) of FSL. Most letters in the BSL alphabet, by contrast, require the use of both hands. As relative latecomers, the standardizers of Japanese Sign Language (JSL) also adapted its fingerspelling standards from the FSL/ASL tradition, but with a twist: they turned the manual alphabet into a kana-based syllabary. According to Karen Nakamura’s Deaf Resource Library:

JSL appears to be a much “younger” language form than many other national sign languages. The first school for the deaf was established in Kyoto in 1878 and we have very little evidence for sign language communities before that time (although they no doubt existed in small pockets). The current form of fingerspelling was introduced in the early 20th century and is based on the fingerspellling used in Spain, France, and the United States. However, many older Deaf do not know the fingerspelling forms or numerals and most Deaf born before the end of World War II (1948) did not attend school since it was only after the war that compulsory education for the Deaf was instituted.

Fingerspelling is much less common in JSL than it is in ASL. Japanese signers appear to rely much more on “airwriting” kanji rather than spelling out pronunciations by means of signed kana. Nevertheless, let’s examine a few of the ways a 26-sign alphabet was adapted and expanded into a syllabary of almost twice that many signs. For more discussion, see Wikipedia; images of JSL finger spellings can be found on the Tokyo Green Systems website.

  • Borrowing directly – The five vowels of ASL serve as the five vowels of JSL: A, I, U, E, O. Eight ASL consonants (K, S, N, H, M, Y, R, W) serve as the top row of the syllabary: KA, SA, (TA), NA, HA, MA, YA, RA, WA. ASL T is an obscene gesture in Japan, so a thumb raised above a fist (rather than inserted between the first two fingers) was substituted for it. The same sign means otoko ‘man’ in JSL.
  • Using numbers for sounds – The signs for numbers are used to represent syllables that occur in those same numbers: 1 = HI(totu), 2 = NI, 3 = MI(tu), 4 = YO(tu), 6 = MU(tu), 7 = SI(ti), 9 = KU. (The number ‘1000’ can be signed either by katakana TI [チ] or by airwriting the kanji [千] from which the former derives.)
  • Signing katakana shapes – The following signs evoke the shapes of the katakana representation of the same syllables: KO, SU, TI, TU, NO, HU, HE, RI, RU, RE, RO, N.
  • Signing pictographs – Several signs are pictorial: KI ~ kitune ‘fox’ (with outside fingers raised like ears and middle two touching the thumb like a snout); SE ~ se ‘spine’ (a raised middle finger, but with the palm facing the viewer); SO ~ sore ‘that’ (pointing); TE ~ te ‘hand’ (an open hand); TO ~ to ‘and’ (first two fingers side-by-side); NE ~ ne ‘root’ (all fingers pointing down); HO = ho ‘sail’ (back of hand like billowing sail); ME ~ me ‘eye’ (between thumb and forefinger); MO ~ mo ‘too, also’ (JSL sign for onaji ‘same’); YU ~ yu ‘hot water’ (three fingers like symbol for public bath house).
  • Adding diacritics – As in the kana syllabaries, voicing is indicated by diacritics. For instance, GA, DA, and BA are derived from the shape of KA, TA, and HA, respectively, by adding a short sideways motion, and PA is derived from the shape of HA by adding a short upward motion. Vowel length is shown by adding a short downward motion after a syllable, like the length mark in katakana.

See also Wayne H. Smith’s (2005) article in Language and Linguistics 6:187–215 about Taiwan Sign Language (TSL), which appears to share nearly half its vocabulary with JSL. Taiwan signers don’t fingerspell Bopomofo syllables. Instead, they rely exclusively on “airwriting” hanzi.

UPDATE: Unlike the JSL kana syllabary, which was clearly adapted from earlier manual alphabets in ASL and FSL, the Japanese Morse Code syllabary is utterly distinct from alphabetic Morse Code. Compare:

  • K –·– vs. KA ·–··
  • S ··· vs. SA –·–·–
  • T – vs. TA –·
  • N –· vs. NA ·–·
  • H ···· vs. HA –···
  • M –– vs. MA –··–
  • Y –·–– vs. YA ·––
  • R ·–· vs. RA ···
  • W ·–– vs. WA –·–

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Filed under Japan, language

Japan, Korea, Manchuria :: Torso, Arm, Fist

THE YEARS BETWEEN the collapse of the United Front in the fall of 1931 and the outbreak of the war with China in 1937 brought colonial Korea’s ironies and contradictions into sharp focus. While the fall of the United Front meant the collapse of overt nationalist resistance, what emerged in its place was a more violent anti-Japanese movement represented by the guerrilla movement in Manchuria and the Red Peasant Unions in the far northeast of the peninsula. Japan’s seizure of Manchuria in 1931 altered Korea’s position in the empire, for Korea then became a middleman in the empire’s development of northeast China’s vast untapped resources. The subsequent, seemingly anomalous industrialization of North Korea provided new jobs for peasants, but at the price of dislocating them from the densely populated south and moving them to the north; furthermore, Korea’s industrial labor force expanded simultaneously with the deepening immiseration of the Korean countryside. Finally this period witnessed the flowering of a capitalist mass culture in Korea’s cities, a popular culture providing the façade of a modernity that had evolved unevenly in the colony. The alluring consumer culture and glittering nightlife in the cities contrasted with abject poverty in the countryside, symbolizing each end of the economic spectrum of a dual economy—dual in the sense that parts of Seoul were as modern as anything in Tokyo, yet in rural backwaters profound poverty and wretched material conditions remained unchanged from the nineteenth century.

The addition of Manchuria caused large-scale shifts within the Japanese Empire. Increasingly isolated in world affairs and threatened by economic isolation as trading nations erected tariff barriers to protect their own economies, Japan began to create an autarkic economy formed around its colonies. The main axis of this system ran from Japan proper through Korea and Manchuria, with Taiwan playing an important, but less crucial role. Because Korea was more firmly integrated politically, had a more developed infrastructure, and was labor rich—not to mention its being geographically central—Japan began to industrialize Korea in order to exploit the raw materials of Manchuria. The state-led industrialization of Korea in the 1930s was an anomaly in colonial history. No colony had ever before been industrialized to the level of Japan’s Korea colony, a process that shifted labor from the densely populated south to the sites of huge new factories in northern Korea and Manchuria and spurred urban growth as well.

The increasing economic importance of Korea within the empire motivated Japan to intensify its efforts to spread Japanese values, language, and institutions within the colony. By the mid-1930s Japanese authorities were demanding active Korean participation in Shinto ceremonies, stepping up the pressure within the education system to spread Japanese language use, and trying to eliminate the last differences in legal and administrative practices that distinguished the Japanese naichi (inner lands) from the colonial gaichi (outer lands). The goal in the minds of colonial officials was a seamless cultural, legal, and administrative assimilation of Korea, and where this could not be accomplished in reality, cosmetic fiction would do. This was especially true in the dark years of the Pacific War (1941–1945), when the Japanese assimilation policies became increasingly hysterical and unrealistic.

By the end of the colonial period in 1945, Korean society [like Japan—J.] was suffering under a cripplingly harsh mobilization for total war. It was no consolation that the Japanese Diet had recommended the complete elimination of the distinction between naichi and gaichi, or true Japanese from their imperial subjects on the periphery. [One might say the same for the distinction between soldiers and civilians—J.] Becoming assimilated meant that Koreans would be allowed the same privileges to sacrifice for the emperor granted the citizenry of the main islands—namely, to be conscripted for the military and labor forces, to render their rice and precious metals to the imperial treasury, and to be forcefully moved wherever manpower was needed. Of course while distinctions disappeared in theory, Koreans and other colonials still carried identity cards designating their ethnicity.

SOURCE: Korea’s Twentieth-Century Odyssey: A Short History, by Michael E. Robinson (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2007), pp. 76-77

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Filed under China, industry, Japan, Korea, war