06 December 2007

Tessaku Seikatsu: Bad Language

From Life behind Barbed Wire [鉄柵生活 Tessaku Seikatsu]: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai‘i Issei, by Yasutaro Soga [1873–1957] (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2008), pp. 139-140:
No place had more "Do not" signs than Santa Fe Camp. "Do not pick flowers," scolded the sign in front of the Japanese office. They were especially numerous in the toilets. One admonished, "Do not wash your feet in the basin," which of course meant that someone must have already done so. I once saw a man washing a dog under the tap in the laundry room and felt that he and I would never be able to get along. At the entrance to the woodshop, a notice read, "Carpenter room not for use." Someone added a comma, changing it to "Carpenter, room not for use." One of the carpenters altered the sign further: "Except for carpenter, room not for use." In the camp, there were many good trees for hanging oneself. They should have put up a sign on each one saying "Do not hang yourself on this tree."

I was quite annoyed at the Japanese of the [camp radio] announcers. Small mistakes are inevitable, but here is a list of some things that I felt were extremely irritating:
  • muyo no nagamono for muyo no chobutsu (useless things) [無用の長物]

  • yosai for shosai (details) [詳細]

  • sonshu for junshu (observance) [遵守]

  • obo for oho (visit) [往訪]

  • shuppon for shuppan (sailing out) [出帆]

  • kakusho for oboegaki (memo) [覚書]

  • yuzetsu for yuzei (canvassing) [遊説]

  • kagawa for kasen (river) [河川]

  • usuho for kyuho (mortar) [臼砲]

  • kodai for kakudai (expansion) [拡大]

  • teryudan for shuryudan (hand grenade) [手榴弾]

  • hitokeri shite for isshuu shite (giving a kick) [一蹴]

  • issetsu for issai (all) [一切]

  • zenhabateki for zenpukuteki (to the full) [全幅的]

  • yotaku for yokai (meddling) [溶解]

  • keiniku for geiniku (whale meat) [鯨肉]
One man's pronunciation of not only Japanese but also English was muddled. He claimed to have graduated from the University of Southern California. He repeatedly pronounced Pearl Harbor as "Pole Harbo," Eisenhower as "Aizen-no-hawah," and Iowa as "Aioh." All of the announcers were newspapermen, teachers, or interpreters from the Mainland. I noticed only one Hawaii man who pronounced konrinzai (by no means) as kinrinzai. I have no intention of faulting them for an occasional slip of the tongue, but what I have recorded here is what I heard on several occasions.

Whatever the pronunciation, the broadcasts on current affairs were very popular. Since the outbreak of the war, news was censored and there was too much propaganda. On top of this, people tended to lean toward wishful thinking, so that in the end it was difficult to determine what was true and what was not. Most of the internees were simpleminded. When Japanese victories were announced, they greeted the news with applause and instantly became cheerful. If they heard that the British or the Americans were making progress, they criticized the broadcast. Some announcers tried to flatter their audiences and were guilty of "selling out." Those who knew better thought this was foolish and stopped listening. The cooks in the mess hall were thoughtful. When good news about Japan was broadcast, they always placed a bun with the flag of the Rising Sun on each of our trays. Sometimes they served us sekihan (rice and red beans) to celebrate. I thought this was very amusing.
All of the mispronunciations that irritated Soga so much are reading pronunciations, where the Sino-Japanese reading is substituted for the native Japanese reading (kakusho for oboegaki), one Sino-Japanese reading is substituted for another (keiniku for geiniku), or Sino-Japanese and native Japanese readings are mixed (kagawa for kasen).

UPDATE: Thanks to Matt of No-sword for supplying the kanji for oho (= ouhou).

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