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Yoko Hasegawa "Elementary Japanese vol 1"

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Yoko Hasegawa "Elementary Japanese vol 1"

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Fri 12.08.2006 12:26 pm

I noticed a "new" book (well, one I hadn't seen before) in Barnes & Noble so I took a look at it. Yoko Hasegawa is a professor of Japanese Linguistics at UC Berkeley, and I imagine she's a good teacher, and from what I saw the book on the whole was fairly good. However, the section of this book that introduces kanji is a travesty.

First off, the title of the section is "introduction to the ideographic writing system" -- I have never seen this used in a textbook before. Not only does Japanese not use an ideographic writing system, but an ideographic *writing system* (as opposed to an ad-hoc code) is impossible.

Sometimes people just use "ideograph" kind of casually without actually intending the technical linguistic definition of the term, but Elementary Japanese goes on to say that kanji "represent ideas rather than sounds" (emphasis mine). If she really believes this, why are readings for the kanji provided at all in the text, and why are there exercises testing the readings of the words? She then contradicts herself in the next sentence by saying that kanji do have a "sound association" but that this association is "secondary" -- despite the research done by Richard Alan Horodeck and others that strongly suggests the sound association of kanji is primary.

Then there is a paragraph or two talking about how "ideographs" are more efficient than an alphabet or a syllabery because they can be processed more quickly in the mind. I really would like to know how she arrived at this conclusion.

I don't expect students of the language, even advanced students (or teachers!), to know about things like this if they don't study linguistics and pedagogy. But I would expect a textbook writer to do a little research on a topic like this and pay more attention to what they are writing. I don't think this is a minor thing because from what I've seen both of my own students and around the Internet, it's a widespread misconception that you can read Japanese simply by learning meanings of characters even if you don't know the readings of them or the vocabulary. Seeing things like this "introduction to the ideographic writing system" from someone the students would expect to be authoritative would only serve to strengthen these beliefs.

(I guess this just comes off as a rant, but I honestly have never seen anything this egregious in a textbook -- I thought the "Chinese characters are ideograms" belief was limited to people who had not studied the language. There's a tendency among native speakers of any language to believe that they know more about their own language than they do, but I would expect Professor Hasegawa to be aware of this given her background in linguistics.)
Last edited by Yudan Taiteki on Fri 12.08.2006 12:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Yoko Hasegawa "Elementary Japanese vol 1"

Postby Infidel » Sat 12.09.2006 1:16 am

-- despite the research done by Richard Alan Horodeck and others that strongly suggests the sound association of kanji is primary.


I have to be amused. All these times you've treated the idea of native speaker as a trump card, then you use a non-native speaker to trump a native.

The truth is most of these "truths" you speak of are highly debated in linguistics. You've just only been exposed to the linguistics teachers that stand behind one of the ideas, now you've seen a book by a linguistics teacher that follows the other ideology.

Not only does Japanese not use an ideographic writing system,


That really depends on who you are talking to.

Kanji are sometimes used ideographically, ergo they are ideographs, even if they are not always, or even usually, used in that manner, because the can be, and are often used as such, then they are such. Others, your teachers apparently, would argue that if they are not always used in in a given manner, then they can not be defined in the same manner. Which is the more outrageous standpoint?

If she really believes this, why are readings for the kanji provided at all in the text


This is a rather blatant overreaction and is not a rational counter-argument. It almost warrants the label "Drama Queen." The answer is obvious--because it's a textbook.
Last edited by Infidel on Sat 12.09.2006 3:41 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Yoko Hasegawa "Elementary Japanese vol 1"

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 12.09.2006 8:49 am

Infidel wrote:
-- despite the research done by Richard Alan Horodeck and others that strongly suggests the sound association of kanji is primary.


I have to be amused. All these times you've treated the idea of native speaker as a trump card, then you use a non-native speaker to trump a native.


Native speakers are the ultimate authorities on what sounds natural in a language, and questions like that. Native speakers are not ultimate authorities on everything related to the language no matter what. I'm a native speaker of English, but there is a lot about English that I can't tell you. The process of reading is one of the things that a native speaker isn't really qualified to speak on if they haven't specifically studied the subject.

Horodeck's research was done using native speakers as subjects -- it doesn't matter whether the researcher was native or not; the results would have been the same.

Not only does Japanese not use an ideographic writing system,


That really depends on who you are talking to.


No, it doesn't. There is no such thing as an "ideographic writing system." Ideographs can never be used as more than simple codes -- i.e. an up arrow on an elevator or a circle with a slash through it to show no smoking. A writing system has to be a representation of some spoken language. This is not in dispute.

If you're talking about "ideographic origin characters" like 上, that's a different matter, and it's clearly not what the author has in mind when she writes that they represent ideas "rather than sounds."

Kanji are sometimes used ideographically, ergo they are ideographs, even if they are not always, or even usually, used in that manner, because the can be, and are often used as such, then they are such. Others, your teachers apparently, would argue that if they are not always used in in a given manner, then they can not be defined in the same manner. Which is the more outrageous standpoint?


I think the only time you can claim that kanji are used as ideographs is their occasional use in signage -- for instance, the character 危 used on a box or the side of a truck to indicate "danger" without specifically indicating any one of its readings or associated words.

However, this is not a writing system. If you are writing a paragraph of Japanese, you cannot use the character 危 to call forth the idea of danger -- you have to use an actual word like 危ない, 危険, or 危機. Unless you're writing some avant-garde or post-modern thing, you're not allowed to just write 危 alone with the intent of representing an idea rather than a specific word. This is a logical indication that kanji are not simply representing ideas -- and going further, that you are not allowed (in standard writing) to use a kanji simply to represent an idea. If kanji really stood for ideas *rather than* sounds, as she states, you would be able to do things like that.

The problem I have with this introduction of Hasegawa's is not simply her use of the term "ideograph." I'm not just nitpicking -- a student who reads this introduction can come away with the distinct idea that kanji represent ideas rather than words and that learning meanings of kanji is more important than readings or vocabulary words. This is already such a widespread belief among learners of Japanese that it's disappointing to see a voice of authority apparently confirm that belief.
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RE: Yoko Hasegawa "Elementary Japanese vol 1"

Postby flammable hippo » Sat 12.09.2006 2:03 pm

Kanji are somewhat ideographic, not really though. Like it is possible to just use 人 or 山 or 魚 to represent person, mountain, fish without having to add any okurigana or anything like with 危ない. Those types of kanji could be considered ideographic since they represent concrete ideas. Although it is true that kanji that work that way are very few in number. But they do exist.
Two muffins were baking in an oven. One turns to the other and says "sure is hot in here." The other replies "AH TALKING MUFFIN!"

二つのマフィンがオーブンで焼かれていた。片方のマフィンがもう一方のマフィンに向かって、"暑いね”と言った。すると、話しかけられたほうのマフィンは"アッ!喋るマフィンだ!”と驚いた。 :)
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RE: Yoko Hasegawa "Elementary Japanese vol 1"

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 12.09.2006 2:21 pm

In cases like that it's hard to draw the line between representing a word and representing the idea that the word represents. For instance, if the character 魚 is written by itself on a box or truck, there's not too much difference between that character standing for the idea of fish, and standing for the word さかな.

If it's in a sentence like よく魚を食べる then I think it's definitely representing the sound and not just the idea, although even there it's difficult to separate the two.
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Re: Yoko Hasegawa

Postby Yodaki » Wed 05.14.2008 12:49 am

I agree with you, Yudan. The argument that all kanji are ideographs has been attacked by a number of authors, including sinologist John DeFrancis. While I am far from well read on this subject, I think this article by DeFrancis answers a number of common questions about kanji origins and the semantic / phonetic aspects of Hanzi/Kanji:

All Chinese characters, or at least all the characters one is likely to encounter in reading a text written within the past two millennia or so, and excluding a few of direct pictographic origin, are actually combinations of some 200 semantics and 4,000 phonetics. These numbers are large, but they are not open-ended, and above all they are finite enough to make the Chinese system manageable. It works because the phonetic elements are syllabograms that comprise a sort of syllabary . It is, to be sure, an outsized, haphazard, inefficient, and only partially reliable syllabary.

Perhaps it will help to visualize the structure of Chinese characters if we imagine a huge "Semantic-plus-Phonetic Matrix" composed by listing the 214 semantics on the left and the 3,867 phonetics across the top. Of course not all semantics combine with all phonetics, so that of the over 800,000 cells contained in our matrix, only some 25,000 would be occupied by the derivatives that Marshman selected for study from the Kang Xi dictionary. We can also imagine a smaller matrix based on Soothill's classification of 4,300 of the more frequently used characters (approximately the number needed for full literacy) under 895 phonetics, combined of course with the usual 214 semantics. We extract from the imagined overarching matrix a few examples (from DeFrancis 1984a:106) of cells filled by derivatives that are actually formed by combining one of the 3,867 phonetics with one of the 214 semantics. The numbering system follows that of what might be called the "Soothill Syllabary" of 895 phonetics that is contained within the "Marshman Syllabary" of 3,867 phonetics.

[...]
Notes
7. It may be of interest to note briefly how phoneticity in Japanese and Korean compares with that in Chinese. There will naturally be differences, because, when the Japanese and Koreans borrowed Chinese characters, their pronunciations of the characters resulted in the so-called Sino-Japanese and Sino-Korean variations from the original. For example, two characters pronounced shāo and shēng in Chinese both became shō in Sino-Japanese.
Horodeck (1987:23) summarizes the results of studies of the utility of the phonetics in 1,240 different Sino-Japanese readings or pronunciations of characters as follows: " Almost 58% of these readings can be predicted with 100% accuracy from the pronunciation of the phonetic contained in the kanji. Another 27.7% can be predicted with 50% or more accuracy."


Source: Extract from Visible Speech: The Diverse Oneness of Writing Systems by John DeFrancis
http://www.pinyin.info/readings/texts/v ... index.html

I would be interested in a book that focuses on learning the most common phonetic radicals of the kanji before moving on to differenciating kanji "meanings" based on semantic radicals. Obviously, this would only work with on-yomi, but it seems to me a more logical approach than rote-learning frequently used kanji and on/kun readings in some disorganized fashion (as in the Japanese educational system), or kanji story mnemonics approaches (Heisig) that focus on memorizing English keywords rather than actual Japanese ones. Obviously, kun-yomi require a whole-character memorization approach. But why not actively take advantage of on-yomi hints to improve one's compound reading skills? 60% understanding is a good start.

Do any of you know of an approach like this? Or where I can find a list of phonetically significant Kanji radicals in Chinese and/or Japanese and the sounds they represent?

Thanks.
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Re: Yoko Hasegawa

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 05.14.2008 7:36 am

I wish you hadn't necroposted this, but since you directly asked me a question I guess I have to respond.

Heisig book 2 is the only kanji book I know that systematically divides the kanji by reading based on phonetic element. The problem with this is that it doesn't really improve your compound "reading" skills; it just improves your ability to know the pronunciation of a kanji. You still have to learn the words themselves (separately), and the grammar.
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