Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Esoteric Buddhist Theories of Language in Early Kokugaku: The Soshaku of the Man'yo Daishoki

Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Esoteric Buddhist Theories of Language in Early Kokugaku: The Soshaku of the Man'yo Daishoki

Article excerpt

The early modern renaissance in the study of ancient texts, Kokugaku, has been described as a nativist movement that developed as the antithesis of Neo-Confucianism. This paper starts from a different premise. It follows KUGINUKI'S (2007) argument that the introduction of a new framework for the study of the Japanese language by Keichu, the Esoteric Buddhist scholar-monk and "father" of Kokugaku, raised new questions about the ancient Japanese language. Through a close analysis of his discussion of language, this article examines Keichu's explanation of his radical shift in framework, revealing the importance of Esoteric Buddhist ideas in early Kokugaku.

KEYWORDS: Keichu-Kokugaku-Edo-period Buddhism-kanazukai-Man'yo daishoki

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

THE EMINENT historian of linguistics, Kuginuki Toru ..., in his recent book, Kinsei kanazukairon no kenky.: Goj.onzu to kodai Nihongo onsei no hakken (2007), argues that the replacement of the iroha poem with the fifty-sounds chart as the framework for discussing the ancient use of the phonetic script (kanazukai ...) transformed the study of ancient Japanese texts in the early modern period (2007, 10). He shows that kanazukai shifted from simply a model for transcription in commentaries on and compositions of Heian style poetry to a visual grid that sparked heated questions about a rational and unique order of sounds in ancient Japanese. It is to the work of the "father" of this early modern renaissance, Keich. ... (1640.1701), that Kuginuki traces the origins of this shift. In Keich.'s work, for the first time, the fifty-sounds chart was employed explicitly for the study of Japanese. This article builds upon Kuginuki's argument, looking closely at Keich.'s discussion of language in his first major work, the Man'y. ..., in which he reveals the logic behind his revolutionary shift.

After a brief summary of the history of the study of phonetics in Japan, which makes clear the importance of Keich.'s innovation, this article provides some background on the image of Keich. as found in the literature on Kokugaku. It then looks at a single text which is critical in understanding Keich.'s introduction of this new framework for analyzing ancient literature. It will conclude that this deeper understanding of Keich.'s thought exposes gaps in previous theoretical frameworks for explaining early modern intellectual history.

The Rise of Early Modern Language Studies

The origins of the study of phonetics in Japan are found in Siddham studies1 imported by K.kai and in the analysis of the pronunciation of Chinese characters, but it was not until the seventeenth century, with Keich.'s revolutionary work on the historical use of the phonetic script (kana), that research in specifically Japanese phonetics began.2 The poetry of the tenth and early eleventh century, which became a model for later poetry composition, tended to be recorded in the phonetic script and, for this limited period of time, the spelling and pronunciation of words displayed a high degree of homogeneity. However, by the end of the Heian period the pronunciation of some sounds had merged: /ye/ and /we/ becoming /ye/, /o/ and /wo/ becoming /wo/ and /i/ and /wi/ merging into /i/; and during the same period, the middle and ending sounds /fa/, /fi/, /fu/, /fe/, /fo/ had shifted into the /wa/ line. From the end of the Insei period,3 the people of Kyoto could no longer spell the poetry of the Heian court style according to their contemporary pronunciation. The origins of kanazukai, the study of the ancient use of the script, are found in the intellectual curiosity that this obstacle generated concerning Heian period writing. The Gekansh. ... by Fujiwara no Teika ... (1162.1241) is the first record of this kind of study; especially after its systemization by poet and linguist Gy.a ... (dates unknown) in the Kamakura period, Teika's system of kana usage became the chief authority for poetic composition and interpretation of ancient texts in medieval poetic studies. …

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