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At 01:09 -0500 on 11.11.1998, Nik Taylor wrote:


> Christophe Grandsire wrote:
> > Only a century later, men created another syllabary (I think they
> > were bored of writing ideograms) from a different set of ideograms.
>
> Actually, katakana was used to indicate the pronunciation of certain
> words in Buddhist texts, since it was believed to be important to
> pronounce those words just right.  I think that it was originally used
> like _furigana_ today (hiragana placed above an unfamiliar kanji to
> indicate pronunciation).

That's more or less what I heard too, except it was not only  *Buddhist*
text: any Chinese text could be disambiguated by indicating in Kana the
pronunciation or meaning of some characters or supplying some Japanese
modifiers that had no real equivalent in the Chinese.  These were written
_between_ the (vertical) lines of Chinese characters, or right under a
character if there was room.  When reading as opposed to reciting texts it
became customary to actually pronounce these "glosses".  So is it thought
that the mixed character-kana and furigana writing arose.  It occurs to me
that indicating the correct pronunciation of a character might have been
useful in original Japanese texts too, since the same character was
sometimes pronounced in Sino-Japanese, sometimes in pure Japanese.
     Furthermore there were some Buddhist formulae (similar to the "kyrie
eleison" in Christian liturgy, but much longer) that were always read in
Sanskrit.  The Chinese translators had made phonetic renderings into
characters, but these were at best from early Song times, and normally much
older, and quite misleading to Japanese monks, so learned monks who could
decipher Siddham -- the Chinese adaptation of Indic letters used by those
East Asians who actually knew Sanskrit -- supplied a new transliteration
into katakana.  Interestingly the same process repeated itself in Korea a
few centuries later, with the Korean Hangul alphabet fulfilling the same
role as kana in Japan.  I have some experience of these transcriptions --
they are interesting because they in both countries reflect a Middle
Indo-Aryan pronunciation rather than the orthodox Sanskrit pronunciation.
What those Koreans who wrote voiced stops as nasals where thinking of I
don't know, however.

/BP (aka Nga'wang Dyiynba)

[Please forgive my all my late replies!  On October 30 my computer got the
notion that there was no sc thing as a "Hard drive" inside it... ;-(]

B.Philip. Jonsson <[log in to unmask]>

Solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant (Tacitus)
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