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Saturday, July 4, 2009
A look into the secrets of the Kanji family
By AMY CHAVEZ
Japanese is comprised of three syllable alphabets: kanji, hiragana and katakana. Yeah, you've heard this before. But do you know the history behind the three?
Kanji originated in China and came to Japan during the Han Dynasty (Japan's Asuka Period 530-710).
Kanji had two children: Hiragana and Katakana. Both of Kanji's sons were born via concubines because Kanji himself could never find a wife as it was said he was "too complicated."
When presented with a possible spouse, for example, he would complain that her name did not have a lucky number of strokes in it.
Kanji (of whom Genghis Khan is a probable descendant) often argued with his sons. During the Heian Period (794 to 1185), Katakana, who was very handsome due to his chiseled jaw and angular features, got tired of his father's strict ways and left Japan to spend some time abroad.
When Katakana came back to Japan years later, he brought many souvenirs back with him, most of which were exotic foreign words. These words were borrowed and thus to this day are called "loanwords."
But in reality, the words were pillaged with no intention of returning them. Nonetheless, Katakana went to great pains to transport these foreign words to Japan safely in the family's royal boat. The words were then stamped with a special seal to show that they officially belonged to the Japanese language.
But nowadays, when Katakana wants to increase his exotic foreign word collection, he just shops for them on the Internet.
Unfortunately, this process has been hampered by Japan's recently imposed anti-money-laundering laws, which make large transfers of money very tedious. Thus Katakana has turned to buying words through Lloyd's of London, which occasionally auctions off words from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).
The OED, however, is now considering publishing guidelines on usage to address the continuing bastardization of English loanwords to fit the Japanese language model.
Furthermore, some special interest groups in the United States are threatening to sue Katakana for attempting to use certain slang words such as "Yo mama," without paying royalties to their creators, who claim intellectual property rights. The Japanese high court has defended Katakana and claims that intellectual property rights shouldn't apply in this case since no intellect was used to create the words.
In the meantime, Hiragana, who has always had a calm cool demeanor with a flare for the cursive, has come out of the closet and revealed that he is gay.
However, he later retracted this comment, saying the public misunderstood him. What he really meant was that he was happy. The Japanese media, during a joint emergency news conference, decided that as long as Hiragana didn't flaunt his happiness, the media would politely just ignore it.
As Hiragana was the first male born into the royal Kanji family he has always been the favorite among the Japanese public. But there has been a recent explosion in popularity of Katakana, especially among young people who think Katakana is cool.
As a result, traditionalists are not happy with Katakana gaining such influence and are in favor of limiting his power.
Katakana is also rumored to have had a longtime tryst with a European woman named Romaji, which poses a threat to the pure bloodlines in Japan's most-documented language family.
Some foreign critics have predicted a slow but sure death of Kanji, mostly due to modern computer use.
There is evidence that using computers decreases the need to remember Kanji as well as the chances to write it.
When one considers the power and influence of the Romaji family around the world, along with the increasingly widespread use of English, the death of Kanji may be imminent.
While to foreigners, Kanji seems unnecessarily burdensome, those of us living with the Japanese language on a daily basis don't necessarily agree.
The death of Kanji would have far worse ramifications for us. For example, if Kanji died, would we really want to have to live exclusively with Hiragana and Katakana?