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This talk aims to better understand the complex role that written Chinese (hanwen/kanbun 漢文) played within the variation and history of Japanese written languages. The written language of classical Chinese became a means to write the Japanese language. The key factor in this development is kundoku 訓読, a system with which a written Chinese text can be read out as an idiom of Japanese.
I first survey the specific types of documents which used kanbun within the larger script system of premodern Japan even after the development of the phonetic kana script. Second, I will argue that this continued use of kanbun motivated and influenced the reliance on “classical” (Middle Japanese) grammar in writing, down to the 20th century. I also point out that there was room for linguistic variation even in texts in classical grammar and this enabled a wide variety of literate people to write classical Japanese, which had become so different from spoken Japanese.
Sota TANAKA received his Ph.D. in Literature (Study on Hentai Kanbun in the Heian Period 平安時代における変体漢文の日本語学的研究) from the University of Tokyo and the book of the same title was published by Bensei in 2019. He is currently Junior Associate Professor at the Faculty of Letters, Kyoto University.
Brian Steininger will moderate the Q&A.
This event is co-organized by the Colloquium on Literacies across East Asia (CLEA).