14 December 2011


When writing about Japan in English or Spanish soon one encounters a linguistic problem—that of the transliteration of Japanese words into alphabet. And this is an important issue as we, non-Japanese, need a consistent way of writing those, otherwise, mostly incomprehensible terms and names.

The most common set of rules for these transcriptions, or in Japanese terms, to write in Romaji, is the so called Hepburn Romanization, after James Curtis Hepburn, who proposed his system by the end of the nineteen century. The problem arises when Japanese native speakers are not really familiar with it. Needless to say, they do not need any transliteration in their daily life, and Romaji is not seriously covered at school. However, sooner or later, many a Japanese will have to write something in alphabet —a name, an address…— and mistakes are in order. The first type of mistakes is to follow the writing of the Japanese syllabaries. The second is to make the pronunciation of the written word in alphabet close to the Japanese sound when read by an (American) English speaker.

Behind the first mistake lays the inconsistency of writing certain sounds –mostly long o and most diphthongs (Yôon, 拗音). This is the reason why we see the name of the founder of the Japanese brand Swan written as Itou instead of Itô.

The second type of mistake --to help English native speakers to pronounce Japanese more correctly—accounts for spelling Ohto (大戸), a Japanese pen brand and a common family name—instead of Oto or Ôto, although this case creates no problem as the commercial name is well known and is not subject to different spellings.

At the end, the basic problem is one of consistency. Consistency both within any given text as well as with respect to other texts. Andreas Lambrou’s Fountain Pens of the World (1995) is an example of the opposite. The founder of Swan in Japan is spelled both as Itou and as Ito; SSS’s founder is both Asahirou and Asahiro Hosonuma; workshop or works (製作所) is randomly written as seisakusyo and as seisakusho; to name just a few examples.

I hope these problems were absent in the incoming Fountain Pens of Japan, by A. Lambrou and Masamichi Sunami. This book is bound to become a basic reference on Japanese fountain pens, and everything would be easier with good foundations.

(Pilot Prera, eyedropper – Senator Regent Royal Blue)

Bruno Taut
December 13th, 2011
[labels: japonés (idioma), libro, Japón]

1 comment:

Readymade said...

Am looking forward to Lambrou's book. Wonder when it'll be released?

Post a Comment

Your comments are welcome and appreciated.