Sunday, October 19 2008

J, かく語りき

[Correction from the comments: “かく語りき is bungo forこう語った or こういうふうに語った”, where bungo = “literary language; formal (or archaic) written style based on Heian-period Japanese”. So, “thus spoke X” is actually probably the best English for it. Thanks, Thomas.]

Here’s today’s stumper, blogged for the benefit of anyone who runs across the phrase 「かく語りき」 (“kakukatariki”), usually in the form 「○○はかく語りき」. It’s not in your dictionary. It’s not in my dictionary. It’s not in the Tanaka Corpus. It’s all over Japanese web pages. Google for it with a variety of whitespace options, and 99% of what you find will be references to the game Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra, where it’s used in the subtitle as the Japanese translation of “also sprach”.

This suggests that it means “thus spoke X”, a deliberately archaic way of saying “X said”. But can you trust the translation of a video-game title, in a country where “Life, The Universe, and Everything” becomes “The Great Space Cricket War”? After about two hours of digging, I can report that the answer is “yes”.

After more than a dozen false leads, I found the answer in Google Book Search. According to Hepburn’s 1886 Japanese-English dictionary:

Ki キ A contraction of keri, used as a pret. suffix to verbs, also to mark a pause or end of a sentence: katariki, said; …

Not being a true grammarian, I also had to look up “pret.” = preterite = “past tense”. かく is “to write” (see correction above), 語る is “to say”, and you put them together with a past-tense verb ending that was current 120 years ago, for “Here are written the words of X”.

Where did I find it? In the book ちっちゃい矢口真里のでっかいあなたに会いに行くのだ‼ (loosely “Incredibly Tiny Mari Yaguchi’s Giant Interviews!”, literally “It’s Super-chibi Mari Yaguchi’s going out to meet giant you!”). She’s chatting with veteran television actor Masatou Ibu, her co-star from the daily drama series Sentou no Musume!?, and the phrase appears as a section header when their conversation turns to his advice on acting.

Here’s a picture of them from the book:

Mari Yaguchi and Masatou Ibu, dressed as their characters from 'Sentou no Musume!?'