Category Archives: anglosphere

Legacies of Hepburn’s First Dictionary of Japanese, 1867

From: American Missionaries, Christian Oyatoi, and Japan 1859–73, by Hamish Ion (UBC Press, 2009), pp. 80-81:

[In 1866] Hepburn‘s dictionary was being printed at a rate of 6 pages a day, with nearly 250 pages of the first part of Japanese to English – out of a total of 600 pages – finished. Hepburn was now writing out a second part to the dictionary of English to Japanese (something he had not previously contemplated), which would add approximately another 300 pages. He had a deadline of 1 June to have it completed. It was an expensive business, costing two dollars a page for composition alone, and even though Walsh had agreed to cover any losses, Hepburn was obliged to pay him back all monies from sales until the debt was cancelled. There was going to be no immediate financial benefit to Hepburn from all his work.

Surprisingly, the dictionary was finished ahead of schedule, and Hepburn was back in healthy Yokohama by late May 1867 and able to send off a copy to the mission library back home. Although Hepburn was discounting the early work of his friend Brown in claiming his was the first dictionary, it was an immense achievement, far surpassing any nineteenth-century rival. Yet, the dictionary had its limitations for those learning Japanese. Interestingly, in early 1870, Christopher Carrothers, a new Presbyterian missionary then learning Japanese, wrote that Hoffman’s Japanese grammar was the best assistant for the written language: “Dr. Brown’s Grammar and Dr. Hepburn’s Dictionary are more adapted to the Colloquial. Hoffman is soon to issue a Japanese Dictionary for which we are anxiously waiting. Carrothers was referring to J.J. Hoffman, a German linguist who learnt Chinese, Japanese, and Korean in Europe and in 1868 produced a Japanese grammar in Dutch and English. Even though Hepburn’s dictionary might have been more suited for those using colloquial speech than wanting to acquire the written language, it remains Hepburn’s greatest contribution to opening Japan, not only to missionaries but also to the English-speaking world. It should not be forgotten that Hepburn was helped by the work of other Western scholars who had attempted Chinese or Japanese grammars and dictionaries before him, including W.H. Medhurst, Karl Gutzlaff, and S.W. Williams among China missionaries, and Liggins, Brown, and Hoffman when it came to Japan and Europe. He also benefited from the assistance of Kishida Ginkō, who had been with Hepburn in Kanagawa and accompanied him to Shanghai. In September 1872, the Japan Weekly Mail noted that the second edition of the dictionary “is a fresh encouragement to foreigners in this country to pursue the study of the Japanese language, and to the Japanese it will afford invaluable assistance in the study of ours.” The newspaper predicted that its print run of three thousand would be quickly sold out. It was close to a century later – in the early 1960s with the publication of the Nelson dictionary – before another American missionary produced a dictionary that would have a similar profound impact on those learning Japanese. The Hepburn system of romanization of Japanese, which the earlier dictionary first introduced and the Nelson dictionary used, remains the standard system of romanization.

The dictionary was typeset and printed in Shanghai, where it required “making copper matrices and casting of new Japanese as well as specialized English type, so the actual printing was moving at a snail’s pace” (p. 79).


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McWhorter on McCrum’s “Globish” English

In The New Republic, John McWhorter reviews Robert McCrum’s bass ackwards book, Globish: How the English Language Became the World’s Language.

But the central problem is that McCrum’s sense that English is somehow uniquely “direct” and “universal” and therefore well-suited to bestride the world is false. In two ways.

First of all, to the extent that McCrum is taking this from English being light on conjugation suffixes (in the present, just little third-person singular -s) and not having gender (no el sombrero for hat but la luna for moon as in Spanish), you can’t claim that this makes it easier for a language to be universal without looking at the fate of other languages. Russian started as a homely, unwritten Slavic dialect, but is currently spoken by 280 million people, speaking a vast array of indigenous languages natively. Yet Russian is murderously complex – three genders, verbs of pitiless complexity, assorted sounds that are tough to produce, squishy word order, unpredictable accent on words, and on and on. (Of those who have reviewed the book in big venues, I am aware of only TNR’s own Isaac Chotiner as touching on a comparison like the Russian one in his New Yorker review.)

Russians, too, are given to chauvinistic claims about their “great and mighty Russian language,” in which case one could posit that the complexity of the language makes it “mighty” as well as maximally clear. This would make, in the end, about as much sense as claiming that English has gotten around because it’s relatively easy to learn. Both English and Russian have spread the way they have because they were the languages that happened to be spoken by powers that happened to acquire vast amounts of territory.

There is a discussion to be had as to why England (plus America) and Russia have had such lasting influence – but the reasons are about sociohistory and geography, not conjugation. We know this because if there were any meaningful linguistic argument, England and Russia would neatly cancel one another out. Arabs, too, might be perplexed to hear that a language has to be easy – “direct,” as McCrum often has it – to be a vehicle of empire. As anyone who has tried to master it will attest, Arabic is a tough one for foreigners. Yet the region is unrecorded that scoffed “We shall not use this Arabic tongue, as it be too difficult on the tongue to serve as a language of conquest!”

Then McCrum errs in a second way. He misses that to the extent that geopolitical dominance and linguistic structure can be correlated, it’s in that the dominance causes the grammatical simplification, not the other way around. This was even part of English’s history – when Scandinavian Vikings occupied England starting in the eighth century, they produced Old English in a stripped-down fashion just as many of us have produced French and Spanish in classrooms. There were so many of the Vikings that kids heard as much English of this kind as “real” Old English, and in a culture with little schooling or media, this “funny” English became the only English.

McCrum knows this – but misses that it upends his paradigm. The Vikings didn’t pick up English because it was enticingly “universal” – they made it easier by picking it up. To the extent that McCrum may suppose that it was this that kicked off English’s “accessible” phase, we return to Arabic and Russian – universal in their ways despite being un-Vikinged. Sanskrit, Cree, Tagalog and other complex languages also seem to have gotten around – the whole construct McCrum builds just doesn’t work.

Meanwhile, the world over, languages are on the easy side because they happen to have been imposed on a lot of adult foreigners. The lingua franca in Papua New Guinea, for example, is Indonesian, which delights the learner in having no gender, no conjugation, and no Chinese-type tones.

Unfortunately, McWhorter confuses Papua New Guinea, where Tok Pisin is the lingua franca, with West Papua (formerly West Irian), where Indonesian is the lingua franca. Otherwise, he’s right on target.

via Rainy Day

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WW2: National Armies vs. Imperial Armies

From The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press, 2006), pp. 516-518:

The Axis powers were fighting not only against the British, Russians and Americans; they were fighting against the combined forces of the British, Russian and American empires as well. The total numbers of men fielded by the various parts of the British Empire were immense. All told, the United Kingdom itself mobilized just under six million men and women. But an additional 5.1 million came from India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Victories like El Alamein and even more so Imphal were victories for imperial forces as much as for British forces; the colonial commitment to the Empire proved every bit as strong as in the First World War. Especially remarkable was the fact that more than two and a half million Indians volunteered to serve in the British Indian Army during the war – more than sixty times the number who fought for the Japanese. The rapid expansion of the Indian officer corps provided a crucial source of loyalty, albeit loyalty that was conditional on post-war independence. The Red Army was also much more than just a Russian army. In January 1944 Russians accounted for 58 per cent of the 200 infantry divisions for which records are available, but Ukrainians accounted for 22 per cent, an order of magnitude more than fought on the German side, and a larger proportion than their share of the pre-war Soviet population. Half the soldiers of the Soviet 62nd Army at Stalingrad were not Russians. The American army, too, was ethnically diverse. Although they were generally kept in segregated units, African-Americans accounted for around 11 per cent of total US forces mobilized and fought in all the major campaigns from Operation Torch onwards. Norman Mailer’s reconnaissance platoon in The Naked and the Dead includes two Jews, a Pole, an Irishman, a Mexican and an Italian. Two of the six servicemen who raised the Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima were of foreign origin; one was a Pima Indian. More than 20,000 Japanese-Americans served in the US army during the war….

The Germans, as we have seen, had made some efforts to mobilize other peoples in occupied Europe, as had the Japanese in the Far East, but these were dwarfed by what the Allies achieved. Indeed, the abject failure of the Axis empires to win the loyalty of their new subjects ensured that Allied forces were reinforced by a plethora of exile forces, partisan bands and resistance organizations. Even excluding these auxiliaries, the combined armed forces of the principal Allies were already just under 30 per cent larger than those of the Axis in 1942. A year later the difference was more than 50 per cent. By the end of the war, including also Free French* and Polish forces, Yugoslav partisans and Romanians fighting on the Russian side, the Allies had more than twice as many men under arms. Fifty-two different nationalities were represented in the Jewish Brigade formed by the British in 1944. They followed an earlier wave of 9,000 or so refugees from Spain, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia who had joined the so-called Alien Companies, nicely nicknamed the ‘King’s Own Loyal Enemy Aliens’.

The best measure of the Allied advantage was in terms of military hardware, however, since it was with capital rather than labour – with machinery rather than manpower – that the Germans and the Japanese were ultimately to be defeated. In every major category of weapon, the Axis powers fell steadily further behind with each passing month. Between 1942 and 1944, the Allies out-produced the Axis in terms of machine pistols by a factor of 16 to 1, in naval vessels, tanks and mortars by roughly 5 to 1, and in rifles, machine-guns, artillery and combat aircraft by roughly 3 to 1.

*It is seldom acknowledged that for most of the period from 1940 until D-Day, black Africans constituted the main elements of the rank and file in the Free French Army. Even as late as September 1944, they still accounted for 1 in 5 of de Gaulle’s force in North-West Europe.

I did not quote the immediately preceding section that compares the mismatch in purely economic terms, but I cannot resist quoting the footnote appended to the end of it (on p. 516):

‘We must at all costs advance into the plains of Mesopotamia and take the Mosul oilfields from the British,’ declared Hitler on August 5, 1942. ‘If we succeed here, the whole war will come to an end.’ But three-quarters of total world oil production in 1944 came from the United States, compared with just 7 per cent from the whole of North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Kipuka

I learned a new English borrowing from Hawaiian today, a scientific term probably borrowed around the same time as the terms for two types of lava: clinkery aa (a crossword-puzzle favorite, from Hawaiian ʻaʻā) and smooth pahoehoe (from Hawaiian pāhoehoe). Kipuka shows up as a headword in the Encyclopedia Britannica and in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (unabridged). English Wikipedia, however, spells kipuka, aa, and pahoehoe with all their Hawaiian diacritics, as if they have never been assimilated into English orthography and usage.

Here’s an English definition from the introductory paragraphs of “Soil-Vegetation Relationships in Hawaiian Kipukas” by D. Mueller-Dombois, and Charles H. Lamoureux in Pacific Science 21(1967):286-299.

KIPUKA, the Hawaiian word for “opening,” has come into scientific usage as a term used to designate an older area on the slopes of volcanic mountains that has been surrounded by more recent lava flows. Kipukas are common landscape features on the slopes of Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes on the [Big Island] of Hawaii, where they can be readily recognized as islands of denser vegetation in the vast, sparsely vegetated areas. They range in size from a few square meters to hundreds of acres.

Kipukas are of special interest for several reasons. As vegetation islands they provide seedsource centers for the invasion of vegetation on new volcanic material. As vegetation islands they represent somewhat simplified ecosystems, analogous to bogs or lakes, that are very suitable for studying internal ecological relationships. The isolation of small populations in kipukas provides unique opportunities for evolutionary studies.

The usual Hawaiian (and Hawaiian Pidgin) term for ‘hole’ in the sense of ‘perforation, gap, blank (in a form), zero’ (vs. lua ‘pit, hole in the ground, latrine’) is puka, as in one-puka-puka, the U.S. Army’s 100th Infantry Battalion. Hawaiian kīpuka may be a puka with an intensifying prefix, and it has an interesting range of meanings that have nothing to do with lava. Here’s the full entry from Pukui and Elbert’s (1986) revised and enlarged edition of their Hawaiian Dictionary:

1. Variation or change of form (puka, hole), as a calm place in a high sea, deep place in a shoal, opening in a forest, openings in cloud formations, and especially a clear place or oasis within a lava bed where there may be vegetation. 2. Short shoulder cape; cloak, poncho. 3. Loop, lasso; snare, as for catching owls (a rat was tied to a sharp stick in a net; the owl, pouncing on the rat, was pierced by this stick).


UPDATE: As its Hawaiian etymology suggests, the kipuka is usually a hollow spot in a lava flow. A kipuka that projects above the surrounding lava is a steptoe, “named after Steptoe Butte, a quartzite protrusion above the Columbia Plateau lava flows near Colfax, Washington” or a dagala, from an Italian term for “an islandlike mass of older land surrounded by later lava flows,” according to the (1960) second edition of the Glossary of geology and related sciences: A cooperative project of the American Geological Institute.

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Rushdie on Slumdog Tourism

In a dyspeptic disquisition on screen adaptations from books in last Saturday’s Guardian, Salman Rushdie coughs up some colorful bile in the general direction of the recent Oscar favorite.

It used to be the case that western movies about India were about blonde women arriving there to find, almost at once, a maharajah to fall in love with, the supply of such maharajahs being apparently endless and specially provided for English or American blondes; or they were about European women accusing non-maharajah Indians of rape, perhaps because they were so indignant at having being approached by a non-maharajah; or they were about dashing white men galloping about the colonies firing pistols and unsheathing sabres, to varying effect. Now that sort of exoticism has lost its appeal; people want, instead, enough grit and violence to convince themselves that what they are seeing is authentic; but it’s still tourism. If the earlier films were raj tourism, maharajah-tourism, then we, today, have slum tourism instead. In an interview conducted at the Telluride film festival last autumn, Boyle, when asked why he had chosen a project so different from his usual material, answered that he had never been to India and knew nothing about it, so he thought this project was a great opportunity. Listening to him, I imagined an Indian film director making a movie about New York low-life and saying that he had done so because he knew nothing about New York and had indeed never been there. He would have been torn limb from limb by critical opinion. But for a first world director to say that about the third world is considered praiseworthy, an indication of his artistic daring. The double standards of post-colonial attitudes have not yet wholly faded away.

via LaurenceJarvikOnline

Like most Oscar winners, Slumdog had not yet enticed the Outliers to make an effort to go see it in a movie theater. Nor is it likely now to find a place in our never-very-long Netflix queue. We’ve already seen, courtesy of Netflix, Thom Fitzgerald’s award-winning, disgusting, poverty-porn movie, The Wild Dogs (2002), which views Romanians as nothing but beggars, con-men, sex workers, or dog catchers—and compares them with heavy-handed symbolism to the wild dogs of Bucharest, which the government is determined to euthanize. All foreigners there (or at least all Canadians!), on the other hand, are either corrupt exploiters or naive do-gooders. And the path from exploiter to do-gooder requires finding your own personal beggar to support: the Canadian ambassador’s wife takes on a legless beggar boy, who follows her around like a puppy; the Canadian pornographer tries to redeem himself by repeatedly giving stuff to a reverse-kneed, hand-walking beggar, whose companions promptly steal it from him; and the Romanian dog-catcher tries to redeem himself by creating a refuge for dogs he was supposed to have euthanized, only to be arrested and have his dogs taken away. I fully agree with the reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes, whose review (no longer available online) includes the quote, “No one in this sterile film is redeemed, condemned or even particularly humanized…. Ultimately, Fitzgerald’s gutless film is a muddled, grotesque travelogue.”

Sorry. Next time I’ll tell you how I really feel.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Brown brown, Poda poda, Upline

Among the more interesting words of Sierra Leone Krio that I learned from reading A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), were the following.

I took turns at the guarding posts around the village, smoking marijuana and sniffing brown brown, cocaine mixed with gunpowder, which was always spread out on the table, and of course taking more of the white capsules, as I had become addicted to them. [p. 121]

Where was I from? What was it like growing up upline? Upline is a Krio word mostly used in Freetown to refer to the backwardness of the inner country, its inhabitants, and their mannerisms. [p. 184]

The call for prayer from the central mosque echoed throughout the city, poda podas crowded the streets, their apprentices hanging on the open passenger doors and calling out the names of their destinations: “Lumley, Lumley” or “Congo Town …”. [p. 190]

Most reviewers gush over the book, as a story that needs to be told, no matter how embellished it may have been.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Begum, Jhampan

I never read much Kipling as a kid, and some of the vocabulary of British India that I have encountered in Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Emperor, by Alex von Tunzelmann (Picador, 2008) is new to me. Here are two such novelties.

The royal tour ground on, zigzagging up through the belly of India and stopping in Bangalore, Mysore, Hyderabad and Indore. By 4 February [1922], it had reached Bhopal, where Dickie [Mountbatten] and David [Windsor] were the guests of the only woman ruler in Asia, the Nawab Sultan Jaban Begum. The Begum was an ardent Muslim and usually ruled from behind a purdah screen. The rare sight of her tiny figure, swathed in a blue burka, next to the white-uniformed Prince of Wales gave the tour’s photographers some of their best opportunities. But it was an image more connected to the past than to the future. [p. 70]

Bhopal seems to have had a number of enlightened female nawabs. Begum is the feminine of Turkic Beg (or Bey) which turns up in many names from former parts of the Ottoman and Mughal empires—Izetbegovic, for example.

The British continued to come to Simla, sometimes for eight months of each year, with the European ladies and gentlemen carried up in the local jhampan sedan chairs. They were followed by hundreds of coolies, who had been press-ganged from their surrounding farms into the service of Her Majesty’s government, lugging dispatch boxes, carefully packed crockery, musical instruments, trunks full of theatrical costumes for amateur dramatics at the Gaiety Theatre, crates of tea and dried provisions, faithful spaniels in traveling boxes, rolled-up rugs, aspidistras, card tables, favorite armchairs, baskets of linen and tons upon tons of files; all the paraphernalia of the raj literally borne on the shoulders of one long caravan of miserable, sweating Indian peasants. Eventually, in 1891, a narrow-gauge railway was opened, weaving in and out of 103 tunnels up from the plains at Kalka—a journey which still took at least six hours. The British never questioned whether all this was worth it. Gandhi may have criticized the administration’s annual repair to Simla for being “government working from the 500th floor,” but that was exactly the point. [pp. 193-194]

This word turns up under jompon in Hobson-Jobson (via Google books), which cites a 1716 source that defines a jampan as a “palankin”; an 1849 source that defines a jhappan as a “kind of arm chair with a canopy and curtains”; and an 1879 source that specifically mentions its use in Simla:

The gondola of Simla is the jampan or jampot аs it is sometimes called on the same linguistic principle … as that which converts asparagus into sparrow grass … Every lady on the hills keeps her jampan and jampanees just as in the plains she keeps her carriage and footmen — Letter in Time Aug. 17

That’s the wonderful Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive by Henry Yule, Arthur Coke Burnell, William Crooke (J. Murray, 1903), digitized from a printed original at the University of California.

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