Dissertation Abstract (Japanese language version)


The Origins of Writing in Early Japan: From the 1st to the 8th Century C.E.

David Barnett Lurie, Columbia University (2001)

    Coordinating archaeological discoveries and reinterpretations of well-known texts, this dissertation traces the early history of writing in the Japanese archipelago from the first appearances of inscribed objects to the rise of written vernacular styles and bureaucratic communication.  After examining the talismanic and diplomatic functions of highly prized but largely unread inscriptions during the first six centuries C.E., it investigates the causes and consequences of the emergence of widespread written communication in the 7th century, emphasizing the importance of reading and writing techniques that enabled texts to simultaneously be both 'Chinese' and 'Japanese.'

    Imported inscribed objects arrived in the archipelago from around the last century B.C.E., and in the 5th century swords with inscriptions referring to central kings, written by scribes from the Korean peninsula, began to appear in outlying regions.  However, until the 7th century, such written objects functioned in a largely illiterate environment, in which their texts were rare symbols of political authority or spiritual power, laden with a great deal of meaning but rarely carrying a specific message.

    Contrastingly, unearthed objects and transmitted texts reveal an explosion of written material through much of the archipelago in the mid- to late 7th century.  Influenced by the pre-existing written culture of the Three Kingdoms of the Korean peninsula, this explosion involved the development of techniques for logographic reading and writing in an environment of bureaucracy construction and text-based state-building.  Such kundoku techniques for interpreting character texts in a new vernacular register, which make it impossible to maintain a linguistic opposition between 'Chinese texts' and 'Japanese texts,' were the key to the rapidity of this transformation.

    A principle [sic] obstacle to appreciating these circumstances has been the preface to the 712 Kojiki, which has been misread as evidence for transcription of oral narratives, as a reliable account of early history compilation, and as a theoretical statement about the limitations of early Japanese inscription.  Reconsidering this preface reveals that it attempts to legitimize the historical project of the main text by creating an idealized image of early orality, so that it cannot be relied upon to specify the nature of early Japanese inscription.
  On the relationship between this dissertation and my 2011 book, click here.

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page created 24 November 2001; modified 12 October 2011