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In Session: Foreign Language Pedagogy, Acquisition, and Perception in Pre-Modern East and Inner Asia
3: A Brief History of Japanese Adaptation of Chinese Sound Glosses
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
University of Washington, United States
The fǎnqiè 反切 sound glosses of Chinese medieval lexicographical traditions have afforded researchers invaluable insight into Chinese historical phonology. However, there is still much we can learn from this early spelling system. In the 6th century, the use of fǎnqiè was applied to the recitation of Indic dhāraṇī to render more accurate pronunciations in Chinese orthography. Japanese scholars of Buddhism carried this spelling tradition home with them, reshaping it into their own unique system. At first, fǎnqiè was mainly copied directly from Chinese lexicographic works but over time Japanese philologists began to create their own modified glosses based entirely on native Japanese phonology. These new glosses, wasei-hansetsu (和製反切, “Japanese-made sound glosses”), found in both Japanese commentary on Buddhist incantations and Japanese-made dictionaries, preserve robust attestation of phonological features of Early Middle Japanese such as pitch accent and consonant voicing.
The tradition of wasei-hansetsu declined after the 11th century, the same time the tradition of fǎnqiè fell out of vogue in China. However, the philological treatise Han’on sahō’s (反音作法, “The Method of Creating Fǎnqiè Sound Glosses”) attempt to interpret the near-obsolete system, provides great perspective into the nature of Japanese acquisition of literary Chinese, Siddham studies, and reorganization of kana into the gojūon (五十音, “fifty sounds”) system of the later period. This paper will trace the use of fǎnqiè from in the early Chinese Buddhist glossing tradition to its eventual adoption in Japan, and its subsequent influence on Japanese philology and study of literary languages.