Friday, February 8, 2008

Sanskrit and Japanese

Conveying the same Buddha Dharma, these two wonderful languages are very different in form. Japanese has a small variety of sounds, approximately 100 syllables. (Hawaiian has the least sounds with only 13 phonemes.) Using a syllabary rather than an alphabet means that consonants cannot stand by themselves but must have a vowel attached. Also different consonants cannot be combined. The result of having few syllables is numerous meanings per syllable. For instance, KOU is the sound for 1487 kanji and SHOU for 792 kanji. Along with various language devices for removing ambiguity, Japanese sometimes employ the hands in conversation. The right index finger writes the kanji on the left palm while the listener watches carefully.
Sanskrit, on the other hand, uses a large variety of complex sounds, combining consonants and distinguishing five separate locations in the mouth. (To a native speaker of Sanskrit-related languages, English sounds like mush-mouth.) The variety of syllables in Sanskrit is astounding, numbering 16,550. Here is a small sample, in roman letters minus the diacritical marks: BHRUM, RKHYAM, NKAU, RJVAI, STVAM, TTAH.

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