22.214.171.124:56: 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
'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
-11:00 time zone; no one lives in the UTC -12:00