Academic journal article Style

Kanji: The Visual Metaphor

Academic journal article Style

Kanji: The Visual Metaphor

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

American Orientalist Ernest Fenollosa (1853-1908) argues in The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry (as edited by Ezra Pound):

   the Chinese written language has not only absorbed the poetic
   substance of nature and built with it a second work of metaphor,
   but has, through its very pictorial visibility, been able to
   retain its original creative poetry with far more vigor and
   vividness than any phonetic tongue. (24)

The present study tries to reevaluate this sharp insight of Fenollosa into the nature of Chinese logographs as a medium for poetry and to place it in the new context of cognitive poetics. Because of their iconic and metaphoric nature, an examination of Kanji logographs provides a deeper understanding of the cognitive role of written language in poetic texts. The formation of the shape and the meaning of Kanji is seen to be governed by iconic and metaphoric processing. Poetic language therefore exploits these iconic and metaphoric implications of Kanji to enrich the complexity and multiplicity of meaning in the text.

By using the model of blending (see, among others, Turner; Turner and Fauconnier; Fauconnier and Turner, "Principles," Way), the study first argues that the meaning generation of Kanji is manifested as a conceptual integration through creative blends of the constituents. The blending process is analyzed in terms of iconicity, metaphor, and metonymy. The study further examines orthographical revisions of haiku texts as an evidence to demonstrate the cognitive role of written language in relation to Fenollosa's thesis.

2. The Japanese Writing System

First, I would like to give a very brief explanation about the Japanese writing system, in which Kanji play a major role. In contrast to the Chinese writing system in which only Chinese logographic characters are used, the Japanese writing system combines both logographic (Kanji) and phonographic (hiragana and katakana) systems. Each character type has its own grammatical characteristics as shown in table 1:

Table 1.  Characteristics of Character Types

Character Types                     Characteristics

Kanji (Chinese logographic   For words of Chinese origin and for
characters                   the roots of such content words as
                             nouns, verbs, and adjectives of
                             Japanese origin

Hiragana (syllabary)         For words of Japanese origin for
                             which there are no Kanji,
                             conjugated endings, conjunctions,
                             particles, auxiliary verbs, and so
                             on.

Katakana (syllabary)         For words of foreign origin other
                             than Chinese and for onomatopoeia.

Examples:

Kanji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [ku] ('of long duration')

Hiragana [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [ku]

Katakana [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [ku]

Kanji, or Chinese logographic characters, are used mainly for words of Chinese origin and for the roots of such content words as nouns, verbs, and adjectives of Japanese origin. Most Kanji characters are built up from a limited number of basic constituents, called "radicals." Hiragana, or the moraic alphabet, are used mainly for words of Japanese origin, conjugated endings, conjunctions, particles, and auxiliary verbs. Katakana, another moraic alphabet, are mainly used for words of foreign origin other than Chinese and for onomatopoeia. All three modes of representation--Kanji, hiragana, and katakana--are ordinarily combined and used to write a sentence. Due to this mixed nature of notation, writing in Japanese involves a constant decision-making as to which character type from the three modes of Kanji, hiragana, and katakana as well as which Kanji from an inventory of synonymous Kanji one should choose in order to convey subtle shades of meaning on the visual level. …

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