I’m first to admit that I’m “culturally shell-shocked.” At times, I’m thankful for that; like when they release an “Expendables” movie and I’m able to enjoy it much as a bewildered bystander enjoys marveling at a kangaroo at the zoo, instead of feeling some artificial sense of patriotic unity or attachment to the horror before me. Other times, it alienates me from my would-be peers, and in those times there is little I can do but strive to understand those around me and try to help them understand me.
But then there are times–especially in the last year or so–where I find myself unnaturally at odds with a roomful of people. I have one view, everybody else has the opposite view, and I find myself having to stand up for a totally conventional belief.
The other day I went out to lunch with two coworkers. I was driving, and happened to have Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy on the CD player. I will grant that it’s not the most timely album in my rotation, but in a way, it’s kind of timeless. Widely respected as one of the best records released by one of the most influential bands of our time, it went platinum five times, remains on Rolling Stone’s 500 Albums of All Time list (updated this year, no less), spawned some of the band’s most experimental moments as well as some of their greatest hits, including Grammy-winning “Spin the Black Circle,” and “Better Man,” which spent eight straight weeks in the number one spot on the Billboard Top 100. Heh, I did a little research.
So yeah! In my last post on the “unspeakable” foibles of language, I was talking about ate-ji. And then I finished. To summarize, they are kinda neat, kinda annoying, but often serve as a testament to a man or woman’s mastery of kanji. They’re kind of like puns if puns had dignity.
Today I want to talk about the other thing I mentioned in the last post–“fake furigana.”
So first I should probably explain furigana for the noob crowd. Basically, in Japanese you’ve got three writing systems: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Hiragana and Katakana are what they call “syllabaries,” which is kind of like alphabets, except that each character is a whole syllable, like ka or u or chi or go. Mastering the syllabaries is a simple matter of memorizing some 46 characters (each), which really isn’t that hard at all, given the distinctive vibe possessed by many of these characters; I swear, some of them just inherently look like the sounds they make. か is totally ka and there’s no unseeing it once you’ve seen it.
You can do a lot with the written language–even do things you couldn’t do with the spoken word. Modern Japanese explores this quite a bit through the frequent application of ate-ji and what some people like to call “false furigana” (there may be an actual name for this, in which case, please somebody tell me what it is!)
So let’s look at these. Ate-ji could be described as the creative assigning of substantially irrelevant kanji to a word, in an attempt to provide onlookers all the convenience of a phonetic representation whilst still preserving the tedium of writing with kanji and the confusion of that kanji not having any pertinent meaning.
I am of the opinion that the English language is pretty neato and fun, but I suppose people make that same claim for just about every language. And why shouldn’t they? Language is pretty neato and fun.