Tamil & Japanese

Peter D Banos pdb1 at columbia.edu
Mon Jul 3 04:08:26 UTC 1995

On Fri, 30 Jun 1995, Ganesan wrote:

> Here are some random things that come to my mind - the views
> of an interested outsider for the field of linguitics/humanities.
Fair enough.

> The early poems of Japanese literature and Tamil Sangam poetry have several
> similarities. Especially, the tamil akam poems describing "interior landscape"
> (See A. K. Ramanujan's aesthetic translations) and Japanese
> love poems....

> Nowadays, lot of tiny poems modelled on Japanese Haiku are being written
> in Tamil. After all, Tamil is eminently suitable to write poetry
> with "uLLuRai poruL" and "iRaicci".

I find this extremely suggestive and intriguing. I wish I knew more about 
both traditions of poetry; they are very beautiful. There are certainly 
serious phonetic and syntactical parallels between Japanese and the 
Dravidian languages...
> Bodhi Daruma, founder of Zen,  (Note the 'u' letter. This is unlike 
> Bodhi Dharma of Sanskrit/Indo Aryan tradition) hailed from Kanchipuram
> and is popular in Japan. 

I must warn you that the "u" doesn't really mean much. Japanese doesn't 
have consonant clusters, so the only way they _can_ 
write/say/conceptualize a word like "dharma" is by putting a "u" into it. 
"Christmas" similarly becomes something like "Kurisumasu."

> Japanese alphabets are arranged almost like Tamil (tamiz neTungkaNakku).
> (in the katakana system?) Japanese script is called Kanchi script.

No, the Chinese characters borrowed to write Japanese are called "Kanji," 
from the Chinese "han-tzu;" the term just means "Chinese characters" and 
has nothing to do with Kanchi.
The syllabic characters derived ultimately from Kanji, called "kana," 
(there are two types: hiragana and katakana,)
_are_ in fact arranged in a sequence that bears a strong resemblance to 
that of the Tamil alphabet. I _believe_ this is due to the fact that both 
sequences are derived from the Sanskrit alphabetical order - with quirks 
due to the fact that (a) a lot of Skt consonants are missing from 
both the Tamil _and_ Japanese systems, not being needed for either 
language; and (b) some sounds have changed since the systems were first 
devised. I have always been struck by the fact that in the place in the 
sequence where Skt has a palatal "c" Japanese has "s," and the 
corresponding Tamil character often sounds like an "s" also. On the other 
hand the Japanese "h" derived from and occupying the place of "p" is I think 
Presumably whoever devised the kana order knew something about Skt, or 
_some_ Indian language. The legendary inventor of kana, Kobo Daishi, 
apparently studied Skt in China. On the other hand, people and 
information very likely got to Japan also by sea from South India... 
Anyone know more about this?
						-Peter D. Banos
						pdb1 at columbia.edu

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