Dec 23, 2015

ATA 2015: Skills and Strategies for Deciphering Handwritten Japanese Documents

ATA 56th Annual Conference Session J-6
Saturday, Nov 07, 3:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Session summary by
Paul Koehler

A session on how to decipher difficult-to-read handwriting in Japanese was given by Dr. Mariko Okada, an associate professor at J.F. Oberlin University in Tokyo, and ATA (American Translators Association) Japanese Language Assistant Administrator Yoshihiro Mochizuki, a lecturer of Japanese at the University of Michigan.

Several examples of difficult-to-read letters and correspondence in Japanese were given in order to show how relevant the handwritten style is to translators in the present day. A brief history of the evolution of the Japanese language was given. In particular, emphasis was given on the origins of hiragana and how the standardization of those characters reached its most current form only in 1900. As such, there are examples of handwritten documents that are very difficult to read due to changes in the characters over the years. Two terms used for these changes are変体がな (hentaigana) and くずし字崩し字 (kuzushiji). Technically speaking, くずし字 is the umbrella term for any cursive style (including kanji) and 変体がな are a variety of different kana that stem from different kanji (字母).

The second half of the session was dedicated to a workshop where participants broke up into four groups and attempted to decipher difficult documents, with the assistance of handouts and guidance by Okada and Mochizuki. This session helped shed light on how to deal with such documents, which are a problem for translators regardless of whether they are native English or native Japanese translators.

(Added 2016.01.07)
源氏物語から蕎麦屋の看板までマスター 変体仮名あぷり・The Hentaigana App 早大・UCLAで共同開発(早稲田大学,2015/11/2)

Kuzushiji Dictionaries
児玉幸多『くずし字用例辞典』東京堂出版, 1993.
児玉幸多『くずし字解読辞典』東京堂出版, 1993. 
高田竹山監修『五体字類』西東書房, 2001.

Self-Study Materials
O’Neill, P.G., 1984. A Reader of Handwritten Japanese, Tokyo: Kodansha International. 
菅野俊輔『書いておぼえる江戸のくずし字いろは入門』柏書房, 2006.
中野三敏『くずし字で「百人一首」を楽しむ』角川学芸出版, 2011.

変体仮名あぷり iPhone/Android

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