Linguistics Colloquium – Zev Handel (04/02/10)

Zev HandelZev Handel from Asian Languages and Literatures is giving a colloquium talk this Friday entitled “The Influence of Linguistic Typology on the Adoption of Chinese Characters for Written Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese”.

Friday, Apr 2, 2010
3:30 – 5:00 p.m.
Mary Gates Hall 241

In the first millennium of the common era, Chinese cultural influence led to the introduction of writing, and of the Chinese writing system, to many peripheral areas within and beyond the Chinese empire. In this paper I will first summarize the well-known developments of the Chinese script as it was adapted to write the indigenous languages of the Korean peninsula, the Japanese archipelago, and Vietnam. A comparison of early writing of Vietnamese (the ch? n?m script), Japanese (including kundoku practice and the development of kana), and Korean (various forms of idu) reveals many similarities. These resulted, in part, from potentialities inherent in any logographic script: the capability to employ individual graphs phonographically (to represent homonyms) or semantographically (to represent synonyms). Making use of these two techniques, Chinese characters representing morphemes in Chinese were employed to represent linguistic elements in these other languages, leading to the development of what might be termed ‘sinographic’ writing systems.

A more detailed analysis, however, shows that developments in Vietnam were in many respects strikingly divergent from developments in Korea and Japan. I argue that typological features of the Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese languages were a major factor in these writing system developments, constraining and motivating particular kinds of change and adaptation, and accounting for many of the observed differences and similarities. In particular, they help explain the eventual emergence of complex Vietnamese n?m characters on the one hand, and of simplified Japanese kana and Korean
to (= gugyeol) on the other. The results of this study have broader implications for our understanding of how logographic writing systems change as they are adapted for use with different languages, subject to the constraints imposed by linguistic typology.

Reception to follow in same room.

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