GENGO KENKYU (Journal of the Linguistic Society of Japan)
Online ISSN : 2185-6710
Print ISSN : 0024-3914
Featured Theme: Graphology, Grammatology, Orthography, and Phonology
Strings of Sinographs in the Japanese Language
Shinji Konno
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2023 Volume 164 Pages 17-38


Sinographs (漢字 Ch. hanzi, Jp. kanji) largely function as logograms representing the spoken word when writing the Chinese language. When Sinographs are used to write the Japanese language, however, they tend to function ideographically. That is, historically, Sinographs serve as somewhat abstract markers of meaning whose meaning and/or pronunciation is made explicit through intertextual notation (e.g., furigana or okurigana) that relates the denotation (語義) of a Sinograph to a corresponding Japanese term. After arguing the above point, I analyze three texts, the mid-12th century Iroha jiruishō, the Muromachi Era Setsuyōshū, and the Edo Period Shogen jikō setsuyōshū, and demonstrate how the same string of Sinographs are used to represent both wago, vernacular Japanese lexical items, and kango, words originating from Chinese. Furthermore, I compare the Meiji Period Shōshū hana no niwakido, an illustrated storybook reproduced from an original plate, to a text of the same name printed in movable type and published in the so-called cardboard-cover format (ボール表紙本). By focusing my analysis on strings of Sinographs, I demonstrate the associated relationship that exists between them and Japanese lexical items, and show how such relationships are constructed not only in these two texts but also within the larger ecosystem of written Japanese. This suggests that a string of Sinographs can establish a non-phonetic associative relationship between Sinographs and Japanese lexical items, one characteristic of the Japanese language.

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