Thursday, February 01, 2007

Linguistic Turmoil

I was reading a recent book by Genichiro Takahashi ("The Novels of Japan--A hundred years of solitude", written in Japanese, translation of the title mine). I am going to write a review for the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, the largest circulation daily here.
During the perusal, I found resonance in Mr. Takahashi's appraisal of the origins of the modern literature in this country.

In the Meiji period, Japan was playing a game of catch up in the wake of an encounter with the Western civilization, which started with the end of the Edo period when the country had been closed to outside world for more than 200 years. Takahashi's thesis is that the basic format of Japanese literature was coined in the crush of different cultures in that era.

The other day I was having conversation with the novelist Masahiko Shimada. We agreed that great works of literature are nurtured when a linguistic system is in turmoil through the interaction with other culture. The impressive lineup of authors of prose from Ireland (James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw) must surely due to the difficult linguistic situations in that country.

Thus, some good can come from a linguistic turmoil, although politically it is often traumatic. It pays to open one's heart and
absorb exotic cultures. Conservative people always talk about "a proper usage" of language and hate influences from outside. That kind of protective attitude is a paranoia. More importantly, linguistic purity is not sustainable, from the viewpoint of the physiology of the living organism which is language.


SHIRO said...

I've not read Joice's work except for "Finegan's Wake", but that was so excite for me. I've heard interesting topic. "Finegan's Wake" was translated by a Japanese "Rakugo-ka", but is that true ? Anyway, I would like to go to Bhutan where they are closing to outside world.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Mogi,

Here is what I thought when I came across the last sentence of "Linguistic Turmoil."

Language changes as time goes by as if it were an organism. However, it doesn't mean we should regard changes as good ones.

Language and human are like a river, which flow down -- down to the sea. Since they prefer the easy way, human beings also tend to go down morally, spiritually and materially in the world. So does language. That's why changes aren't necessarily worth accepting. As for language, I think there should be some guardians to observe in order for it not to "corrupt" but to get through with "turmoil" correctly.

I hope my comment make any sense.

Keep on writing, and we will enjoy reading them.

Best wishes,


Jonhinus said...

It's Finnegans Wake (no apostrophe - this is very important), and his name is Joyce.