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18.11.27.10:56: JADE LONGEVITY: NISHIDA TATSUO'S 90TH BIRTHDAY

西田龍雄 Nishida Tatsuo, Japan's greatest Tangutologist, would have turned ninety today*.

The first Tangut I literally heard was Nishida's reconstruction. Thirty years ago, I saw the movie 敦煌 Tun-huang on a flight to Japan. The Tangut characters spoke in Nishida-style Tangut; they would have pronounced

𗢭𗰗

'ninety' (lit. 'nine ten')

as ŋgɨ̃¹ ɣɑ̣² - equivalent to my 1gy'4 2ghaq1. My Tangut notation is designed to be easy to type and not be precisely phonetic. If I were asked what I think 'ninety' sounded like, my guess would be something like [ŋgɨ¹ ɣɑ̣²] which happens to be pretty close to Nishida's reconstruction. (I should write about the lack of a nasal vowel in 'nine' later. I still don't know what phonetic feature my 'prime' symbol represented.)

Four years later, I was studying linguistics in Japan. The assigned textbook was his 『言語学を学ぶ人のために』 For People Who Study Linguistics. At the time I had seen glimpses of Khitan and Jurchen in Nakanishi Akira's Writing Systems of the World, but I think it was Nishida's textbook that gave me my first linguistic introduction to those languages and scripts. (I don't have my copy on hand, so I can't check my memory.)

In the Khitan large script, 'ninety' (pronunciation unknown - possibly a cognate of Written Mongolian yeren 'id.'?) looks exactly like the Chinese anti-fraud numeral character 'nine':

To the eye of someone familiar with Chinese characters, the left side looks like 𤣩, an abbreviation of 玉 'jade' resembling 王 'king', and the right side looks like 久 'long time'.

The Khitan small script character for 'ninety' is unknown, at least to me.

One of the Jurchen (large script) characters for uyewunju 'ninety' (cf. Manchu uyunju 'id.') looks like a reversed Chinese character 上 'above, top':

~

All of the similar-looking Chinese characters I've mentioned - 'jade', 'king', 'long time', 'above' - suit the great Nishida, a gem and master among scholars. He was at the top of his field, and his work will endure for a long time.

*As I write this, it's still November 26th in the UTC -11:00 time zone; no one lives in the UTC -12:00 time zone.


Tangut Yinchuan font copyright © Prof. 景永时 Jing Yongshi
Tangut character image fonts by Mojikyo.org
Tangut radical and Khitan fonts by Andrew West
Jurchen font by Jason Glavy
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