Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Beats vs. Syllables
Vincent made a comment about syllables in my previous blog. Apparently, this issue had been a hot debate among linguists, and according to Kindaichi Haruhiko, Kamei Takashi, also a Japanese linguist, named “beats” for the smallest units of Japanese spoken sound to avoid mix-ups.
Kindaichi also wrote an interesting debate among French linguists. One French linguist said, ““Epe” could be divided into two, “e” and “pe.” Another French linguist said, “The first unit was up to the point of closing lips when pronouncing “p,” and the second unit starts at the point of opening the lips. Still, other French linguist said, “Discussing what point is a divider is as though we’re trying to reach an agreement on where the bottom of a valley is. Therefore, the discussion is nonsense.”
What a relief! Some western people agree with Japanese sentiment. For me, the syllable concept is totally confusing. Now I know why I couldn’t figure out the rules of English haiku. More knowledge helps. Don’t you agree? Besides, I couldn’t find written haiku rules on the Web. You might say, “Rules are not important.” Yes, that’s been my motto. From the perspective of cannot-help, I’m absolutely on your side. Otherwise, we can’t enjoy other cultures.
For a record, I think the 1953 version of “Japanese” by Kindaichi Haruhiko has erroneous data on syllables by a foreign linguist. So I checked them with the 1988 version of the same book. Sure enough, the data in question was completely gone. I’m just letting you know that I’m reading old books. But the two-volume 1988 version is not necessarily better than the single 1953 version. If any of you are interested in detail, please let me know. Otherwise, I won’t disturb you with more details.
In summary, the spoken Japanese has a relatively small number of clear beats, and the syllable concept doesn’t apply.