More katakana, fewer kanji

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In a comment to "Character amnesia and kanji attachment " (2/24/16), I wrote:

For the last 40 years and more, I have informally tracked kanji usage in Japanese books, newspapers, journals, magazines, signs, notices, labels, directions, messages, reports, business cards (meishi), packaging, etc., etc. and the conclusion I reach is that the proportion of kanji used now is much less than it was four-five decades ago. Conversely, the proportion of katakana, hiragana, rōmaji, and English has increased dramatically.

Has anyone done studies of this phenomenon in a more formal, rigorous way? And I would suggest extending the investigation back a hundred years or more.

Mark ST called my attention to this article (in Japanese) that goes part of the way in documenting the trend that I noticed informally:

"Frequency of Katakana Representation for Japanese Non-loan Words as Observed in the BCCWJ Corpus" (in Japanese) (pdf).

Wakako Kashino (Dept. Corpus Studies, NINJAL)

Takenori Nakamura (Center for Corpus Development, NINJAL)

NINJAL = National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics

The article supposedly supports the claims made by scholars that there is an increasing tendency to represent words originally written in hiragana* and kanji** with katakana***.  It does so by illustrating the top 100 words from BCCWJ (Balanced Corpus of Contemporary Written Japanese) database (eliminating those used for particles, numbers, prefixes and suffixes) originally written in hiragana and kanji but frequently represented by katakana in contemporary writings. The article stresses that, unlike other studies on this issue, it selects the sources of analysis randomly and does not target particular genres of writings.


*hiragana  Cursive syllabary " used to write native words for which there are no kanji, including grammatical particles such as から kara 'from'. Likewise, hiragana is used to write words whose kanji form is obscure, not known to the writer or readers, or too formal for the writing purpose".

**katakana  Angular syllabary " used for transcription of foreign language words into Japanese and the writing of loan words (collectively gairaigo); for emphasis; to represent onomatopoeia; for technical and scientific terms; and for names of plants, animals, minerals, and often Japanese companies."

***kanji  Chinese characters — their use in Japanese is far more complicated than in Chinese; see Victor H. Mair, ABC Dictionary of Sino-Japanese Readings (University of Hawai'i Press, 2016).

Informal response by Jim Unger:

This study is an automated analysis of the frequency of words in a large modern corpus that are written with katakana but are normatively supposed to be written in some other way.  That is, what words other than gairaigo, which one expects to see in katakana, are nevertheless found in katakana in modern texts?

Table 1 gives a breakdown of the total of approximately 105 million words in the corpus by source category.

Table 2 gives the top 100 words written in katakana rather than in kanji and/or hiragana in descending order of instances in the corpus (4th column from left). The 6th column gives the total number of times the word occurs in the corpus; the percentages in the 5th column are the ratios of the figures to the left over the figures to the right. As you can see, they vary from a high of 97.5% for #8 to 0.1% for #31. N.B. the headings in the 2nd column are just rubrics; it would have been better to write them in phonemics. E.g. #1 物 stands for 物, もの, モノ, i.e.any noun /mono/ unless the authors excluded mono 'person'—whether they did or not is unclear.  it is also unclear whether, e.g., #6 良い is just /yoi/ 'good' or is meant to include /yokatta/, /yoku nai/, /yosasoo/, etc.

The authors now say that, if Table 2 were extended, there would be four words with rank #298, each of which appeared in katakana 246 times.  The rest of the study concerns the 301 words with katakana frequencies of 246 up to 3798 (#1).

Table 3 gives the top 50 words in descending order of the percentage of katakana instances in the corpus.  The authors note that the data are not as clean as one might like.  E.g. #16 劫 occurs in the top 50 despite the fact that it is not found in ordinary writing except in material on Buddhism or the game of go; however, all other こう, including the common adverb 'this way', got lumped into the count, which inflated it.  Likewise, #44 上 /kami/ picked up instances of カミ and かみ for 神 (and, I suppose, 紙, 噛み, etc.).  The authors argue that these flaws, introduced by the automated data analysis, do not significantly obscure trends in usage.  (Too bad they didn't use phonemics instead of katakana for their yomi field and glosses instead of kanji-loaded forms in their rubric field.)

Table 4 gives the top 50 words in descending order of the percentage of hiragana instances.  Again, note that the 2nd column gives rubrics, not actual written forms.  E.g. #1 為る /suru/ 'do' is an old-fashioned way of writing this verb, which, in fact, occurs less than 0.05% of the time in the corpus; hence the entry 0.0% for 305 instances.

Table 5 gives the top 50 words in descending order of the percentage of kanji instances.

In the concluding paragraph, the authors say that this is a preliminary study and briefly describe their research agenda.

I found the large number of words in Table 5 in which kanji take kun-yomi to be of some interest.  It struck me that whether or not a Japanese writer sticks with normative rules (this word must be written with this kanji, that word must be in hiragana, etc.) depends a lot on what the writer thinks will be most easily readable in context:  the choices seem to be motivated to a great extent by the need to compensate for the the lack of spaces in texts.  The authors say they want to look at register as a salient variable; perhaps (manga and blogs are in the corpus), but I suspect that ease-of-reading may be more important.

It seems to me that a far simpler way to test whether the use of katakana has increased over the last fifty or a hundred years would be to take the total number of hiragana, katakana, rōmaji, and kanji used in widely read periodicals and novels from, say, 1900 and 1950 for which electronic databases are available and separately compare the usage of the four different categories of script with that in comparable, widely read periodicals and novels from the year 2000 or 2015.  It would be especially instructive if the same journals and newspapers that were in existence in 1900 (or other particular year in the past) were still publishing fifty and a hundred years later.

Going back to the comment with which I began this post, the purpose of this exercise would be to determine if there is empirical evidence to demonstrate that katakana, hiragana, rōmaji, and English (i.e., phonetic writing) is increasing at the expense of kanji (i.e., logographic / morphosyllabic writing).

[Thanks to Hiroko Sherry, Tianran Hang, Mengnan Zhang, and Ashley Liu]


  1. Guy said,

    April 4, 2016 @ 6:57 pm

    I think the advantage to looking at how common words are written compared to just looking at overall frequency is that Japanes has a large number of English loanwords, and an increase in their frequency should lead to an increase in katakana even if words that can be written in kanji are written in kanji at the same rate. Looking at individual words allows one to measure whether words that traditionally are written with kanji are now being written in other ways. And if one is concerned about character amnesia, one should consider tending to write words with hiragana as showing that just as strongly as writing them in katakana, given that hiragana and katakana are basically in one-to-one correspondence.

    Incidentally, I didn't even know that する could be written in kanji, but now I see that my Japanese keyboard has 為る as a replacement option.

  2. Neil Dolinger said,

    April 4, 2016 @ 7:09 pm

    @Guy, Does 為る count as kanji? I can see the first part, which is 【wèi】 in MSM, as kanji, but the second part looks distinctly Japanese.

    Dr. Mair, in the study, would hybrid constructions like this be counted as kanji, hiragana, katakana or in their own hybrid category?

  3. Guy said,

    April 4, 2016 @ 7:16 pm

    Interestingly, the inflected forms します and した don't offer the kanji substitution, which I suppose is a reflection of how rare it is.

  4. Guy said,

    April 4, 2016 @ 7:20 pm

    @Neil Dolinger

    る is hiragana. I called 為る "in kanji" because the inflectional endings of Japanese verbs are always written in hiragana, so the only thing that's really at issue is whether you write the verb stem in kanji.

  5. Guy said,

    April 4, 2016 @ 7:24 pm

    For clarity, I should mention that the stem of する changes to し in other forms because する is one of Japanese's very few irregular verbs.

  6. Ross Bender said,

    April 4, 2016 @ 8:29 pm

    Thanks very much for the pointer to this study, and to Jim Unger for his very helpful summary.

    On a personal, grumpy, and totally unscientific note, every time I visit Japan katakana seems to have increased exponentially. This irritates the heck out of me entirely on aesthetic grounds, as I find the script totally inelegant and ultramodern, and ultramodern in not a pleasant way. I associate it with comic books and all those bizarre onomatopoetic buzzkill "words" that permeate the genre.

    While I know that Victor is wildly enthusiastic about the whole trend of the increasing use of phonetic script at the expense of old-fashioned logography, I am emphatically not. Again, my personal predilection is for kanji, not only because it is prettier, but also because I find katakana MUCH harder to read than mixed kanji/hiragana script.

    I am also quite aware that Victor finds pinyin MUCH easier to read, and might be said to have a personal pinyin predilection. Actually I am quite baffled, since my experience is so much to the contrary.

    It may simply be that I spend most of my time reading very ancient texts and that is why modern Japanese bothers the hell out of me. Or it may be that I am simply a grumpy old fart.

  7. Jim Breen said,

    April 4, 2016 @ 11:56 pm

    My engagement with Japan and Japanese only goes back 35 years, but my impression is that if anything kanji are being used more. I think this is because the availability of good input methods for computers, phones, etc. has made it a lot easier to whip out a kanji when needed. My own ability to hand-write kanji has degraded horribly, but I can churn out the correct kanji compounds in digital text with ease.

    As for the growth, if any, in katakana usage for non-loadwords, I simply don't see it happening. I think I've been seeing バカ, ゴミ, カラス, etc. for years.

    I checked some of Table 2 against the Google n-grams corpus (based on a WWW crawl from 2007), and also the smaller Kyoto/Melbourne one (from 2004). Both have much higher counts than the ones reported from the BCCWJ, and they differ from it quite a bit in proportions. For example for 林檎 (apple), the Google corpus reports:

    リンゴ 2005099
    林檎 1204319
    りんご 4435078

    whereas the paper reports リンゴ as much the same as 林檎. Of course, the hiragana りんご is the most common form.

    The WWW may be rather noisy, but it probably reflects how the bulk of Japanese are actually writing their language.

  8. wren romano said,

    April 4, 2016 @ 11:57 pm

    FWIW, the 「為る」 form is actually ambiguous. It was used historically both for する "to do" and for なる "to become". (I'm not aware of any (standard) alternate kanji for する, but なる was also historically written as 「成る」.) This conflation isn't completely arbitrary. The verbs する/なる are in alternation in various places throughout the grammar, most particularly for the honorific forms where one can easily determine the reading of 「為」based on whether it's 「御〇〇為る」or 「御〇〇に為る」。

  9. Michael Watts said,

    April 5, 2016 @ 1:19 am

    A note, because I was confused by the combination of Neil Dolinger's comment with everyone else saying 為る was a verb:

    the verb 為 in mandarin chinese, is not wèi but wéi. 為 wèi is a preposition.

  10. heji said,

    April 5, 2016 @ 4:59 am

    Japanese language has the formal criterion that functional words should be written in kana. But it's always shifting what words are functional or lexical, and there's no absolute criterion word for word. So writers have their own criterion.
    補助動詞 (auxiliary verb, light verb) is one of the part of speech that tends to change into functional words. For example, some editors prefer しはじめる (to start to do) to し始める.

    In addition, it seems to me that some conjunctions and adverbs are getting preferred to be written in kanji. I think this is because they don't have or have lost their inflectional suffixes. Many people believe in the simplified idea that stems should be in kanji and suffixes are in hiragana. 全く (totally), which was the adverbial form of 全き, an obsolete inflectional adjective, and no longer have inflectional paradigm, seems to be preferred to be written in まったく.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    April 5, 2016 @ 7:49 am

    It's interesting that Ross Bender (a specialist on medieval Japanese history) and Jim Breen (a lexicographer of contemporary Japanese), who have comparable depths of experience with Japanese, can have such different reactions to the overall role of katakana during the last thirty to forty years.

  12. Ross Bender said,

    April 5, 2016 @ 9:31 am

    Just a brief correction, Victor — my area of research is 8th-century, or Nara period, Japan, not medieval. Thus I am a kodai 古代specialist, rather than a medievalist. The Japanese medieval period, or chuusei 中世 is generally considered to be Kamakura and Muromachi, roughly 12th-16th centuries although your mileage may vary. Kodai is everything up through Heian, and is generally translated as "ancient" or "classical."

  13. V said,

    April 5, 2016 @ 12:36 pm

    I agree with Jim Breen; I think there is a large subset of vocabulary for which kanji are used much more commonly in informal electronic communication than they "should" be used according to normative rules.

    Three examples of very common words for which I notice this are 美味しい (おいしい)、沢山 (たくさん)、流石 (さすが); most Japanese people I know seem to use the kanji versions more often than the hiragana versions in text messages, while in published works the opposite is true.

  14. SW said,

    April 5, 2016 @ 1:59 pm

    Looking at chart #3 by topic, I think there are 5 basic categories all of these fall into: species, trend, yuck, onomatopoeia, or niche meaning/reading of a more common kanji. I think this gathers up all the types. Words with two or more types (like species+yuck or trend+yuck) might be more likely to be written in katakana… but I'd need to really crack in to find out the factors.

    Species contains words like 鸚鵡 (oumu – cockatoo), 鸚哥 (inko – parrot), 蛙 (kaeru – frog), 壁蝨 (dani – tick), 蛾 (ga – moth), 海豚 (iruka – dolphin), and 麒麟 (kirin – giraffe).

    Yuck words are ones that you want a safe distance from, either because they're a gross item or a socially gross behavior. This contains words like 黴 (kabi – mildew), けち (kechi – stingy), でぶ (debu – unattractively fat), 醜女 (busu – very ugly woman), and 軟派 (nanpa – overtly hitting on).

    Onomatopoeia words in this category are historically written in hiragana, but align well with onomatopoeia sounds that are written in katakana. This includes かりかり (karikari – crisp), がんがん (gangan – intense), and どきどき (dokidoki – heart pounding).

    Niche words are a very specific reading or meaning of a more common kanji, which if written only in the kanji, may be confusing. Or the writer may want to distance the meaning from the kanji's more common associations. Some of these include 女 = メ (female, but not strictly a human woman), 蛇 = ジャ (serpent, not strictly any snake), and 骨/こつ = コツ (knack or trick, not strictly a bone).

    Trend words are similar to niche, because their meaning is specific and heavily influenced by current context. These are relatively recently-popularized words. This includes もてる (moteru, to be popular), 酷 (koku – rich and weighty which has become fashionable), ぱちんこ (pachinko – a kind of game parlor), 鍍金 (mekki – a coating, putting on pretenses), and ねたばれ (netabare – content spoilers).

    Exceptions to the above categories in the top 50 are a "food" word, わん (bowl) that may be a trend word, and two writing words 括弧 (kakko – parentheses) and 片仮名 (katakana – the writing system itself).

    I couldn't figure out ぴん/ピン and ちん/チン because I wasn't sure of the intended meaning. Anyone know what these are supposed to be?

  15. Victor Mair said,

    April 5, 2016 @ 2:27 pm

    From Cecilia Segawa Seigle:

    This is a very interesting question and I am impressed by those scholars who have gone deeply into research on the comparative usage of kanji, hiragana, katakana, etc. My head starts swimming just to think about such a project.

    To me the use of katakana is, as you say, for foreign terms, emphasis (or drawing attention to something) as a joke, irony, mockery, etc. Either hiragana or katakana, I suppose people use them because the use of kanji is too time-consuming (trying to figure out which kanji is the right one, if you are using the computer’s automatic and often outrageous selections), or too much trouble if you are actually handwriting the characters.

    The use of katakana or hiragana can create problems because of the abundance of homonyms in Japanese. I suppose you can judge which “tentou” (店頭,転倒、点等、展等) or “dendou” (伝統、電灯,電燈)the writer is talking about from the context. But as someone has pointed out, it is more economical space-wise, and the comprehension is instantaneous if you use kanji.

    To me, the use of kanji is very important, not only for esthetic reasons, but for the nuance that the choice of kanji can create or eliminate. For instance, “to be surprised” (kikkyou きっきょう) can be written 吃驚 or 喫驚. The impressions of these two compounds are quite different. Or “shirafu”, which can be written “素面” or “白面”, create quite different impressions. I am not a poet or a creative writer, so I cannot think of more appropriate choices of words at the moment, and I don’t have to spend time worrying over the effects of the choice of kanji on the readers, but I know that a stylist like Mishima Yukio was careful in his choice of kanji for the effects that they could create.

    I would very much like to see the use of kanji (not 10,000 kanji but the regular 1,800 or 2,000) remain in Japanese daily lives.

  16. J. W. Brewer said,

    April 5, 2016 @ 2:47 pm

    Obviously Dr. Bender was comparing katakana to the standard kanji/hiragana blend, not directly comparing one "font" of kana to the other on an apples-to-apples basis. But maybe he almost was, because hiragana are (but for their comparative simplicity) much more kanji-like in their lines. On the one hand a purely aesthetic strong preference for katakana over hiragana or vice versa strikes me as just as arbitrary as the (where rival fonts ended up taking on all sorts of symbolic political baggage). But then it struck me that maybe a better Western analogy is the mixing of type styles within a single text. Katakana is broadly used (for foreign words, for emphasis, for brandnames, etc etc) for same the sorts of things we often write differently in English printed text by putting them in italics. Or in boldface. Or in ALLCAPS. I expect that many Anglophones would find a marked increase in the percentage of text found in those specially-marked forms to be psychologically irksome, the way that emails with too much of the content put in ALLCAPS somehow "feel" to the eyes as if the writer is gratuitously yelling at you.

    Me, I like katakana just fine (not that I dislike hiragana . . .). But since I haven't been back to Japan in almost 40 years now, my own aesthetic sense of it is almost certainly mixed up with nostalgia for the Tokyo phase of my boyhood, where the traditional and modern-yet-not-completely-Western aspects of Japanese culture did not appear to be in tension with each other but harmonized as equally and intriguingly different from what I had previously been used to.

  17. Chris Button said,

    April 5, 2016 @ 3:21 pm

    @ Jim Breen – "Again, my personal predilection is for kanji, not only because it is prettier, but also because I find katakana MUCH harder to read than mixed kanji/hiragana script."

    Geoffrey Sampson makes an interesting comment in this regard on p.208-209 of his 1985 book on writing systems: "We must not assume, because European writing usually could be read phonographically that it commonly is… Anyone who succeeds in becoming a skilled user of written English must eventually learn to use both 'look-and-say' (or logographic) and 'phonic' strategies in both processing modes, reading and writing".

    I remember reading somewhere that a native reader of English can read faster than a native reader of Spanish because of the distinctiveness of the spellings in English.

  18. Mark ST said,

    April 5, 2016 @ 5:30 pm

    I also want to send a shoutout to Kanamoji-kai (カナモジカイ, established in 1920) who has been promoting the use of kana instead of kanji-kana in Japanese writing for many years. (kanji-kana version) (kana version)

    Their arguments (with tons of examples) of why the use of kanji is irrational and inefficient are listed here:

  19. richard said,

    April 5, 2016 @ 7:05 pm

    A couple of observations from an historical ethnomusicologist working primarily in the early Meiji period. Materials printed beginning in the 1870s through to the early 1900s tend to appear with a mix of kanji and katakana, not a mix of kanji and hiragana, and the exact mix (in my experience) varies tremendously from author to author, with no real standardization regarding what (other than verb endings and particles) is presented in kana rather than kanji. Even the small kana providing the reading of kanji (typical in newspapers and even some academic writing) used katakana, not hiragana. Second, reading and writing began (and I believe still begins) with katakana plus a few kanji, much as in the U.S. we being with block capitals and then move on from there. It is my sense that the Meiji practice of kanji + katakana reflects in part a belief in the pedagogical nature of printed public discourse, helping the people as a whole develop their literacy, particularly in the brand-new vocabulary and concepts coming out of schools and government ministries. I then see a shift moving through Taisho, definitely in place by the beginning of Showa (i.e. through the teens to 1925) replacing katakana with hiragana in the normal mix.

    So if one were to do the study using a longer-period corpus of printed texts, I think the result would be an ebb and flow in the use of the different kinds of scripts, and some of those movements can be linked to politics as much as anything else.

  20. Jon Forrest said,

    April 5, 2016 @ 7:52 pm

    One of my hobbies is to propose to Japanese and Chinese people that although written characters might have significant cultural, aesthetic, emotional, and other subjective qualities, they are completely unnecessary linguistically. The people I'm pontificating to usually think this is the stupidest idea they've ever heard. But then I point out that spoken Japanese and Chinese, such as what you'd hear on the streets of any Japanese or Chinese city, proceeds quite well without written characters.

    The point of the article above, that written Japanese is drifting toward a phonetic representation, is further evidence for what I'm talking about.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    April 5, 2016 @ 9:47 pm

    @Ross Bender:

    Your first comment made me laugh so hard that it brought tears to my eyes.

    Regarding your second comment on the use of the word "medieval" as it pertains to Japanese history and culture, here are some remarks from colleagues which seem to support your position:


    Various scholars use various standards, but roughly speaking “medieval”, i.e., 中世, runs from the end of the Heian period (12th century) to the unification of Japan in the late 16th/early 17th century.

    If you want tight years, I use 1185-1600, but there are arguments for beginning in 1156 (Heiji no ran uprising), 1192 (appointment of Yoritomo as shogun), and 1185 (Minamoto victory over the Taira), and for ending the medieval as early as 1542 (arrival of the Portuguese, 1568 (Nobunaga’s seizure of Kyoto), and as late as 1615 (fall of Osaka castle).

    I would follow the typical late twelfth to late sixteenth centuries, with the caveat that the first century-plus is not "the warrior age" that we used to call it. If you would like more detail, see Andrew Goble's piece in Karl Friday's *Japan Emerging* (the G. Cameron Hurst festschrift) on defining the medieval.

    Defining the term “medieval” in the context of Japanese history is about as difficult as defining the words “Japanese” and “history.” The term carries with it incredible political weight in so far as it rather arbitrarily establishes the primacy of certain cultural and communal boundaries over others. Moreover, it subsumes certain pedagogical traditions and invites the potential to view history as a series of “radical breaks” rather than continuous, self-conscious endeavors. This sort of understanding is particularly problematic when one considers the history of Buddhism in Japan. There is a wealth of scholarship in the wake of Kuroda Toshio’s grand deconstruction of the model of “old” and “new” Buddhism (and his introduction of an alternative, eso-exoteric model) that speaks to this issue at length. If you are interested, I would be more than happy to share my thoughts on this matter with you at some point.

    For now, suffice it to say that I tend not to use the category of “medieval” in my own scholarly analysis. If another scholar or primary source uses the term, I do my best to keep my own definition in line with their points of reference. Nevertheless, if I find myself in a position where I must give an exact range of years, I suppose I would say it extends from the Kamakura Period (1185) until the Edo Period (1600). While the “old” and the “new” may never be fully disaggregated, there is a substantial reconfiguration of space, material, and ideas at the start of the Kamakura period that marks a major transition from that which defined the Nara and Heian periods. Likewise, the same may also be said for the Edo period.

    As you may imagine, the issue is somewhat unsettled. There are three takes. Two of them come out of Japan, and I would say at this point dominate the field (the third is Bill LaFleur's, but I don't think it ever caught on beyond Penn circles, at least not among historians).

    The dominant view sees the medieval as comprising the Kamakura through Sengoku periods, so late twelfth through late sixteenth centuries. It coincides with the early warrior regimes. I've always used this one, mostly as a default.

    The more common alternative was created by Kuroda Toshio and was eventually embraced by Jeffrey Mass (and possibly some of his students, like Adolphson; I'd have to check for others): it is based on the idea that the classical polity was based on a power-sharing balance among court, temples and (later) warriors. This is called the kenmon taisei ( the gates of power, in Adolphson's title). This system broke when the Ashikaga rose to power against the court and usurped its governing prerogatives. In this account, the medieval period goes from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries only.

    I forget the specifics of the LaFleur periodization. I think it was devised primarily for literature. One element of the scheme is that it includes the high Heian period (tenth-eleventh centuries) in the medieval. Amusingly and I think unintentionally, this periodization evokes an earlier and long abandoned one used in postwar US academia, which called everything before Meiji "medieval."

    I'd go with the first definition.


    In Chinese Studies, we have a different breakdown, with the Early Medieval period lasting roughly from the end of the Han to the beginning of the Sui-Tang era (ca. 220-581), the Late Medieval period lasting from the Song era (960-1279) to the early Ming (ca. 1500), and the Medieval period occupying the centuries in between, i.e., the Sui, Tang, and Five Dynasties.

  22. mark said,

    April 6, 2016 @ 1:00 am

    Well I can't make head or tail of Japanese written in kana. I still have my 1年生 readers and it is a major chore reading them. I find the 6th grade readers easier because of the kanji.

    Re the comments on:
    美味しい (おいしい)、沢山 (たくさん)、流石 (さすが)
    My phone comes up with 美味しい、たくさん and さすが respectively as first option. Personally I haven't really noticed anyone writing the first two in kanji on my occasional trips to Japan.

  23. mark said,

    April 6, 2016 @ 1:10 am

    I'm not sure if my difficulty reading in kana alone is due to being a relative beginner though. I can only dream of reading medieval manuscripts however defined.

  24. Victor Mair said,

    April 6, 2016 @ 8:01 am


    Your "difficulty reading in kana alone" is probably due to the fact that you are likely not very fluent in spoken Japanese.

  25. Guy said,

    April 6, 2016 @ 11:18 am

    I think that even a fluent speaker of Japanese might need spaces to read hiragana-only text easily, (although the slower reading rate English speakers have with spaceless English is probably partly due to lack of practice) but a mixture of hiragana and katakana could probably show word or morpheme boundaries about as well.

  26. Victor Mair said,

    April 8, 2016 @ 12:53 pm

    From Nathan Hopson:

    "Medieval" was applied to Japanese history first by historian Hara Katsurō a little over a century ago. If memory serves, Hara meant the Kamakura~Muromachi periods, i.e. roughly 1192~1573/1600. This definition has more or less stuck, I believe.

    The Encyclopedia of Japan, e.g., gives this in its article on "medieval literature:"

    While Japanese scholars disagree on the time frame of the term “medieval” (chūsei) as applied to Japanese literature, this article treats the medieval period as occurring roughly between 1200 and 1600.

    Hara, the first Japanese to write an English-language survey of Japanese history (1920) was concerned with placing Japanese history within universal frameworks, and borrowed European terms and periodization to do so. For example, he described Kamakura Buddhism as analogous to the Protestant Reformation and, most famously, the 1200-1600 period as "medieval" (中世).

    Hara's chūsei was more about analogous structures of government, and historical progress, than it was about matching the time period.

  27. John Lagos said,

    April 13, 2016 @ 3:19 am

    If you see a graph tracking the increase of English loan words in a language, you don't start assuming that language will become just English loan words in the future…

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