A Second Look at the 'Towa Sanyo': Clues to the Nature of the Guanhuah Studied by Japanese in the Early Eighteenth Century

Article excerpt

In an earlier article, I examined the phonology of the Towa sanyo [Chinese Text Omitted] and demonstrated that despite a Wu dialect-like cast, the sound system of the language represented in the text is actually a form of Mandarin.(2) Further to illuminate the text's language and more clearly characterize its nature, I present here a brief review of the vocabulary represented in this Chinese language primer, which was compiled by Okajima Kanzan [Chinese Text Omitted] (1674-1728) during the Edo period (1603-1868) and published in Japan in 1716.

The Towa sanyo presents a form of spoken Chinese that also is essentially Mandarin in its vocabulary and grammar, with obvious Wu forms making up a small minority. There are also many examples of bookish usage and forms drawn from the literary language. Yet it is obvious that the language the Towa sanyo intended to teach had a true colloquial base. It was not merely drawn, for example, from the language of Chinese vernacular fiction that was popular among the Japanese Sinophiles of Okajima's day. This is seen in the extensive lists of items and phrases listed in the Towa sanyo that are not found in such texts. The primer, then, represents an idealized form of spoken Chinese, one that probably carried great prestige in the Jiangnan region where the bulk of the Japanese merchants who learned from the text would have carried out their trade. Indeed, Okajima calls this language guanhuah [Chinese Text Omitted], the term for the prestigious idiom of the Chinese literate class. Yet while idealized, most of the fundamental features of the guanhuah represented in this text do not lack a living representative: they can still be found in the single dialect of Harngjou. It is thus possible to surmise that in ways similar to the fashion in which the language of the Towa sanyo corresponds to the dialect of Harngjou, a guanhuah koine current in the Jiangnan region during the Ming (1368-1644) may have also been strongly reminiscent of the Harngjou dialect in a majority of its major features.

ORGANIZATION OF THE TEXT

The Towa sanyo is divided into six chapters (maki [Chinese Text Omitted] each containing a different type of material:

Chapter 1 contains two sections, one listing twocharacter compounds and the other listing three-character compounds or phrases; within each section, entries are roughly sorted by meaning.

Chapter 2 is made up entirely of four-character phrases, also roughly sorted by meaning.

Chapter 3 is composed of two sections: The first lists five- and six-character phrases, with five-character entries across the top of each page and the six-character entries underneath, across the bottom half of the pages; all, again, are roughly sorted by meaning. The second section lists "common expressions" (jogen [Chinese Text Omitted]), phrases and sentences of longer length.

Chapter 4 presents "talk of varying length" (jotanwa [Chinese Text Omitted]), mostly snippets of conversation which vary in length from a few lines to over a page.

Chapter 5 has several clearly marked sections. Most are lists of generally two-character nouns grouped by topic: terms for clan and family relations; utensils and objects; animals; insects, snakes, and reptiles; birds; fish; grains; vegetables; fruit; trees; flowers and grasses; boating equipment; numbers; and fabrics. Between the lists of numbers and fabrics are several pages of short lyrics and folk songs.

Chapter 6 contains two short stories written in a rather literary style.

All the Chinese material presented in the Towa sanyo is in Chinese characters with the Chinese pronunciation written alongside in katakana (similar to the way furigana is used in modern Japanese). In chapter 6 only, tone is also indicated, using the traditional method of placing a dot at one of the four corners beside a graph. Except for the lyrics and songs in chapter 5 and the stories in chapter 6, all entries are followed by a Japanese gloss written in katakana. …