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ongoing evolution of Japanese writing...

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ongoing evolution of Japanese writing...

Postby phreadom » Fri 10.29.2010 11:39 am

Well, this was originally part of another thread about handwriting... but furrykef had made some comments that sent me off on a tangent... and since the ensuing thread hijack was also interesting, I've copied it off into its own thread and retitled it so that we might continue it. :)

Furrykef's comments that sent off off course were...

furrykef wrote:
Hyperworm wrote:The stroke order diagrams in the katakana pages are using a font set to italics.

I have to wonder if I'm the only guy who really hates East Asian text set in italics. Not because it's harder to read, but because it's just ugly... the Chinese characters (and the kana derived from them... and Korean Hangul for that matter) are designed to fit into perfect square shapes. Italics turns 'em into parallelograms, which just seems weird.

Is this just me being a gaijin and having preconceived notions of what East Asian text should and shouldn't look like, or do Japanese people complain about this too? :P


And we went from there... ;)
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Re: ongoing evolution of Japanese writing...

Postby NileCat » Fri 10.29.2010 1:50 pm

I think it is a very intriguing question.
In fact, we originally didn’t have the concept of italic or oblique style in Japanese. I suppose it became common when the word processor was introduced. I wouldn’t say it’s ugly. But it is true that it is relatively illegible for average Japanese people. However, it can be useful because we can use it like as it is in English. Our culture has been “Westernized” in a way in these, say, a hundred years. Needless to say, we originally wrote letters vertically but it seems even obsolete nowadays. We originally didn’t have many katakana words such as テレビ or オリエンテーション but we use them as Japanese today. And when we see English writings, if our culture admit the benefit of using the italic style such as `orientation`, it would be rational that we adopt the concept in Japanese writings like `オリエンテーション`.
I admit that kanji is not inherently “designed” for italic style and that it could make it look `ugly` in a sense. Many experienced professional editors actually know that overuse of italic characters makes their readers uncomfortable. But I don’t think we can get rid of it since it works when it is used in appropriate sentences.
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Re: ongoing evolution of Japanese writing...

Postby phreadom » Fri 10.29.2010 1:58 pm

I really find this topic fascinating, in part because of the differences in writing systems, the adoption of 外来語 in Japanese, the arguments for "which is better" (and why such an argument is moot), and on and on...

This brings to mind a question... (although I fear I'm taking the topic a bit off course)

Are 外来語 always going to be written in Katakana? Or do they eventually become "adopted", like much of the English language is adopted from other languages, and be written in Hiragana/Kanji etc? Or will they always fundamentally lie outside of Japanese "proper" because they don't share the same language foundation?
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Re: ongoing evolution of Japanese writing...

Postby NileCat » Fri 10.29.2010 4:10 pm

Well...it would take a semester to explain it accurately, I’m afraid. Because it contains a fundamental question which is`where the Japanese language came from?`.

Roughly speaking, 外来語(loanwords) are written in katakana. But there are at least four kinds of loanwords in our modern Japanese language.

1. Simple exotic words (that nobody knows the Japanese words)

インク (ink), シリコン (silicon), マザーボード (motherboard), ハンバーガー (hamberger)

2. Japanized words (that many people realize they were originally foreign but altered, usually we don’t have appropriate translation : we call them 和製英語)

テレビ (television), シャープペンシル (mechanical pencil), ガソリンスタンド (gas station), サラリーマン (office worker)

3. Popular words rather than Japanese words (many people know the Japanese word but prefer the English word because it sounds simple: sometimes shortened)

プレゼント (present / 贈り物), ノート (notebook / 帳面), デパート (department store / 百貨店), ワイン (wine / 葡萄酒), ソファ (sofa / 長椅子)

4. Considered to be Japanese words (but actually not)

ミシン (sewing machine), ジグザグ (zigzag), 煙草 (タバコ / tobacco)


As you see, we use katakana for all the words above (except for tobacco). However, we actually have many kanji for foreign words which were imported in 19th century, such as 珈琲 (coffee) or 倫敦 (London). But we no longer use them mainly because it’s a pain in the ass. In a sense, we don’t “segregate” the katakana words.
Also, there are quite a few loanwords from China, Korea, Holland, or Portugal.
Did you know Tenpura, one of the most famous Japanese foods, was originally Portuguese word “tempero”?

Japanese language has a complex history. And it is still changing. I don’t know which direction it is going to. But being a member of this forum gives me a good opportunity to think about it.
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Re: ongoing evolution of Japanese writing...

Postby phreadom » Sat 11.06.2010 8:24 am

Thank you very much for the great response NileCat-san! :bow:

I had somehow missed that reply until just now when I went back to look for your post about italic kana/kanji. :blush: ごめんなさい :doh:

Anyway... I decided to start learning how to use the program Inkscape tonight, and while messing around with the tutorials, I opened the Japanese and was shocked by the ugly italic kana/kanji at the top of the file and wanted to share it here. :P

I have to agree with furrykef, I just really really don't like the way this looks at all. :( Japanese writing is so beautiful as it is... when it get italicized or bolded, it just seems like someone who doesn't know what they're doing messed it up...

italikana1.png
italikana1.png (113.84 KiB) Viewed 2237 times


When it comes to italicized roman fonts, it's because we actually have writing styles that look similar... and italic is based on these styles, such as cursive handwriting. Normal print (and specifically sans serif), such as what this post is mostly displayed in, emulates machine type... specifically created for printing or engraving, or use with children etc as it is easier to read and write block letters than cursive etc.

So when roman text is italicized, it's not just tilted... it's actually a separate style of font entirely... switching from emulating block type that you'd see in a printing press, to emulating hand written letters (which tend to be naturally angled when written depending on which hand the writer is using, the angle of the paper, etc).

The proper analog in Japanese print would be to switch from a font such as a standard mincho (serif) or print style gothic (sans serif) font to a specifically clearly calligraphic hand written styled font for the same style of emphasis that italic text in roman alphabets signifies.

Thus using the same logic, a proper "translation" of italic usage to Japanese writing would be something more like the following example:
italikanaproper2.png
italikanaproper2.png (3.97 KiB) Viewed 2237 times


Of course one could argue that such text might not stand out enough in contrast compared to upright versus tilted text as in italicized roman lettering... :P (or that it doesn't have the same appeal as writing emulating the "western style" etc) ;)

But I'm getting too sleepy to think anymore for now. :) Just my opinion on the aesthetics of italicized kana/kanji.
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Re: ongoing evolution of Japanese writing...

Postby NileCat » Sat 11.06.2010 10:31 am

Tilted letters can promote awareness because of its ugliness, I think.

Image
:P :P :P

EDIT:
Sorry! I agree with your opinion that the tutorial looks weird.
I admit the effect/impression is totally different from this ↓

Image

EDITED
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Re: ongoing evolution of Japanese writing...

Postby phreadom » Sat 11.06.2010 5:38 pm

One more link to further clarify this issue...

Fonts that are merely slanted are called "oblique". They basically are identical in shape, just slanted a bit.

True italic fonts are actually drawn differently in the more handwritten script style than their upright counterparts. :)

So really this whole discussion could be characterized better as using normal vs oblique styles with kana/kanji for emphasis borrowing from western writing styles.

I do understand that the oblique kana/kanji do stand out more because the whole character is slanted rather than merely having slightly different writing style. This does make it more effective for emphasis... that's hard to deny. :think: I just don't think the aesthetic transfers well from roman type to kana/kanji.

Roman type seems utilitarian in nature... simplified and more akin to katakana. Japanese type extends far beyond that into not only scripted writing (hiragana), but full ideographic characters (kanji) which are like entire ideas put into a tiny picture... they're small works of art on their own.

While I can see using an oblique style with katakana and not having it really seem very ugly... it's when you start setting everything, hiragana and kanji as well, all to oblique that things start to look really bad in my opinion.

If, for instance, Japanese were almost entirely written in katakana (in the same way English is written in the Roman alphabet), it would be much easier to use either oblique (slanted katakana), or italic (hiragana) for emphasis and I think avoid having it look as bad because it wouldn't be wrecking the traditional and natural artistic beauty and balance of the scripted and ideographic characters.

italiobliquekana3.png
italiobliquekana3.png (23.07 KiB) Viewed 2201 times


I did some tests...

Lines 1, 2, 5, and 6 are all written mainly in katakana. 3 and 4 are written in the "normal" mix of kana/kanji.

On line 1 I tried oblique katakana for emphasis... it doesn't stand out much.
On line 2 I tried normal hiragana for emphasis... it doesn't stand out much either.

On lines 3/4 I tried the normal kana/kanji mix as both normal and oblique... while my non-native eye doesn't notice the change much on the kana, the kanji are much more easily noticeable as being slanted. :( But the overall effect is a bad one and doesn't seem to work well for general emphasis.

On line 5 I tried a script font as katakana for emphasis in contrast with the block type of the rest of the kana. This stood out a bit better...
On line 6 I tried a script font as hiragana for emphasis in contrast with the block type of the rest of the kana... this seemed to have the best contrast of all.

Sorry for the length of my post... I was kind of just "thinking out loud" so to speak and enjoying exploring the ideas. :)

I just find the topic fascinating and can't help it. ;) It's fun for me to explore the ideas about how italic and oblique texts developed in western cultures using the Roman alphabet, and how that translates to Asian writing systems, and if there might not be better "translations" of these underlying ideas into a native counterpart that conveys the same utility without sacrificing the actual different history, development, and aesthetic of the Asian scripts.

Obviously switching to all katakana block type with hiragana script for emphasis is not a valid option... but it at least illustrated, in my mind, what a better direct "translation" of the emphasis idea from roman → kana would be. Next I'd have to extend that to fix normal Japanese writing... perhaps the clear font change, to a lighter or heavier weight, and between script and block for contrast, is the most optimal and artistically pleasing option?

hmmmmmm.... :think:

italikana4.png
italikana4.png (11.21 KiB) Viewed 2201 times


I tried out some variations, and while line 3 clearly stands out the most, it wouldn't work well for web pages because the default link indicator is the underline... so I subsequently give up. I'm too far out of my element and out of ideas for the moment. :P

Enough rambling (for now). ;)
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Re: ongoing evolution of Japanese writing...

Postby Rypervenche » Sat 11.06.2010 11:13 pm

Perhaps a new method should be used for Asian languages. For example, Chinese has a different method for underlining, although it is not used on the net, http://3.ly/Wnww (Emphasis mark), you can see what it looks like here http://3.ly/aByK.
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Re: ongoing evolution of Japanese writing...

Postby Hyperworm » Sat 11.06.2010 11:31 pm

A dot ・ (or a comma 、), placed to the right of each character in vertical text and above each in horizontal, is the preferred method of emphasis in Japanese too, at least where novels are concerned.

Increasing the weight of the font (i.e. bold) also works well. (Rarely does a Japanese typeface come with specially-designed oblique versions of the kanji, but it's not uncommon for there to be upwards of five specially-designed weights.)

In other mediums, you could maybe use larger size text.
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Re: ongoing evolution of Japanese writing...

Postby phreadom » Sun 11.07.2010 12:48 am

Ah, thank you both for the replies... :bow: I learned something new today! :mrgreen:

It appears that part of my problem is a lack of access to native printed materials, as it sounds like such usage of . and , next to (or above) kana/kanji (and similar usage in Chinese) are basically non-existent in the digital world due to lack of support in the HTML specifications and in word processing programs etc, but fairly common in print form. :sweatdrop:

As Rypervenche's link states:
For emphasis, Chinese uses emphasis marks instead of italic type. Each emphasis mark is a single dot placed under each character to be emphasized (for vertical text, the dot is placed to the left hand side of each character). Although frequent in printed matter, emphasis marks are rare online, as they cannot be represented as plain text, are not supported by HTML and most word processors, and otherwise inconvenient to input.
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