I've just finished reading the New Yorker article "Utopian for Beginners." For people like us, that piece is a must-read, as it's about invented languages and has lots of juicy tidbits, including these three:
• "Phonoaesthetics" is "that hard-to-pin-down quality which gives a language its personality and makes even the most argumentative Italian sound operatic, the most romantic German sound angry, and Yankee English sound like a honking horn."
• He "stuck out like an umlaut in English."
• A word from an invented language: "Radiidin: a non-holiday, a time allegedly a holiday but actually so much a burden because of work and preparations that it is a dreaded occasion; especially when there are too many guests and none of them help."
It says in the article that 16th-century Jesuit missionaries traveled to Asia and brought back to Europe the first substantial accounts of the Chinese language. On hearing these reports, many European philosophers were intrigued that characters "signified concepts rather than sounds, and that a single ideogram could have the same meaning to people all over East Asia, despite sounding completely different in each tongue" (p. 88).
Well, we know that the "rather than sounds" part isn't right. But what jumps out at me right now is this bit: "a single ideogram could have the same meaning" across Asia. Yes, it certainly can. However, even within one country (let's take Japan, why don't we?!), it's certainly not as simple as that!
Lately, my conversations with proofreaders have largely been devoted to what Wikipedia calls disambiguation. We've been splitting hairs about what a particular kanji means in various contexts, and it sometimes feels as hard as splitting atoms (not that I've ever tried that).
I'll give you four recent examples in the order of publication.
1. Fragrance vs. Incense vs. Perfume: 香
There's no room for confusion here; context makes it quite clear whether 香 means "fragrance," "incense," or "perfume." Of course, there's ambiguity in the English I just used; you may not know whether "fragrance" there means "pleasant aroma" or "perfume." I mean the former.
Anyway, I noticed the split between the meanings of 香 acutely during my recent travels through Hong Kong and Singapore. For example, I saw this sign:
And I said to my husband, "There's the fragrance character I just wrote about!" Shortly afterward we came upon this:
[To read the rest, go to Joy o' Kanji!]
Causes Eve Kushner Supports
The Milo Foundation, Planned Parenthood, Doctors Without Borders, PCI, FINCA