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In Session: The Politics and Poetics of Language in Contemporary Japan
Buddhist Hybrid Japanese: A Comparison with Secular Kanbun Kundokubun
Friday, March 26, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
The Ohio State University, United States
The term “Buddhist Hybrid” has been used to refer to linguistic styles resulting from translating Buddhist texts from one language to another. Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit is the term coined by Franklin Edgerton to describe the Sanskrit influenced by the Pāli Buddhist tradition. Buddhist Hybrid Chinese, which arose from translating those Sanskrit texts into Middle Chinese, not only contains newly coined vocabulary, but displays distinct grammatical patterns that distinguish it from its contemporary Chinese varieties. These translations formed the textual basis of the early Japanese Buddhist tradition. The linguistic style resulting from rendering Sinitic texts into Japanese, a process known as kanbun kundoku (‘Sinitic writing-vernacular reading’), has come to be both codified and standardized in modern Japan. However, when the translations of Chinese texts were first codified via gloss at the beginnings of the Heian period (794–1185 C.E.), there was no such standardization. For example, Heian-period Japanese renditions of Sinitic Buddhist texts contain much more grammatical variety than found in their secular, primarily Confucian, contemporaries. In exploring these differences, this paper argues Buddhist Hybrid Japanese is the most suitable description of the variety of Classical Japanese used when translating and subsequently localizing Buddhist texts, as such a label allows us to both more readily make comparisons with other Buddhist Hybrids used throughout Asia and distinguish the lexical and grammatical differences between it and other varieties of kanbun kundokubun (‘Sinitic writing vernacular reading styles’).