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Subject Linguistics

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631214816.1999.x


A Japanese term which literally means ‘Chinese writing’. It refers to classical Chinese as used in Japan, a language variety which exists in writing alone. A distinction is made between jun-kanbun ‘genuine Chinese’ and hentai-kanbun ‘abnormal kanbun ’, a hybridized form of Chinese which displays many features of Japanese grammar. Hentai-kanbun texts make difficult reading because, rather than following a fixed pattern, the hybrid features are highly variable, leaning more in the direction of Chinese or Japanese as the case may be ( figure 2 ). It is even difficult in many instances to say whether a hentai-kanbun text represents the Chinese or the Japanese language, that is whether it is basically Chinese with occasional Japanese word order or heavily Sinicized Japanese. In fact, there was a gradual transition from one to the other. Since most Japanese literati learned Chinese as a written language only, and since Chinese characters expressed morphemes rather than meaningless syllables, the Japanese developed the practice of reading Classical Chinese sentences in Japanese, in much the same way as speakers of English usually read e.g . as ‘for example’, rather than exempli gratia . This ‘translating while reading’ procedure was gradually formalized and marked in the text by okurigana , i.e. kana which indicate Japanese particles and suffixes, and kaeriten or ‘return ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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