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Can the average Japanese read 1000 year-old Japanese text?

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Can the average Japanese read 1000 year-old Japanese text?

Postby sweetscrazy » Tue 05.28.2013 1:07 am

Hi, I'd like to know if an average Japanese person is able to read a 500 year-old Japanese text? I'm comparing the ease or difficulty of reading pictorial (Kanji) and non-pictorial text systems (roman, hiragana, sanskrit, thai) over time, such as 500-1000 years apart. For example, this English text from 1526 is still readable today without special training, but from 1400's and earlier, it is much more difficult. Is it the same for old Japanese text?
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Re: Can the average Japanese read 1000 year-old Japanese tex

Postby SomeCallMeChris » Tue 05.28.2013 1:26 am

Really? I think it involves 'special training' or at least looking up words in a dictionary (that includes antiquated terms) to support reading even Shakespeare, Marlowe, and contemporaries, ie, Circa 1600s.
While I'm a native English speaker, I do feel that the gap in Japanese is very clearly between pre- and post- WWII.

That is, while English gradually changed from 1066 (battle of Hastings and an infusion of French & Latin terms) to today, Japanese on the other hand went through a dramatic change pre-war to post-war, though not an instantaneous change. If you can read Japanese from 1900, in other words, you can probably read Japanese as long as there has been a written form of Japaese, and if you can read modern Japanese you can read it back to 1960's or so. In between the beginning and middle of the 20th century, the language - especially in written form - shifts dramatically.

OTOH, many ancient expressions are preserved even in modern Japanese, through poetry, song lyrics, kabuki, etc, so for a native it's considerably easier than for a foreign student of the language to get the gist of ancient works even without special training. Anyone will encounter these preserved expressions in enough time, but native speakers naturally have a more thorough understanding of them.
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Re: Can the average Japanese read 1000 year-old Japanese tex

Postby jimbreen » Tue 05.28.2013 1:55 am

sweetscrazy wrote:Hi, I'd like to know if an average Japanese person is able to read a 500 year-old Japanese text?


Most can't but it's not at all due to kanji; it's because the written language has changed significantly.

Until the latter part of the 19th century texts in Japan were mostly written either in kanbun, which was a form of classical Chinese, or in something rather like the mediaeval Japanese of the Heike Monogatari, etc. The introduction of widespread education and literacy was accompanied by the 言文一致 movement which advocated a fusion of written and spoken Japanese, as was the case with European languages. Literature since then has really been in a quite different language than that used earlier. Older texts these days are usually read in translation - I've been to Noh plays where the audience have all followed the play using modern translations.

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Re: Can the average Japanese read 1000 year-old Japanese tex

Postby Ongakuka » Tue 05.28.2013 4:39 am

It also depends on the difficulty of what one is reading. Just like when we read Shakespeare some parts are pretty easy to follow and some parts don't make any sense at all without an explanation (unless you are already well-versed in Shakespearean English no pun intended.)

Only Japanese people (or non-Japanese) who have properly studied classical texts can fully understand them. Otherwise it usually ranges from getting the gist to ...???
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