UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Kanji no satori Russell, Bruce David


A translation of the title would read the "wisdom of Chinese-Japanese characters". The growth of Asian language instruction in British Columbia public schools has witnessed an unprecedented number of students enrolled in Japanese as a second language classes. For students with no prior experience with Chinese script the Chinese-Japanese characters, or kanji, can prove to be a barrier that limits progress in the written instruction and learning of Japanese. Current teaching methods such as those from Japan may continue to be in popular usage, but educators in British Columbia need to acknowledge that given the differences between the Japanese teaching environment and our own, classrooms attempting to establish interest in Japanese as a language of study require techniques that allow for the student to invest in their own learning process, particularly given the distance from the target culture. While the kanji have been long perceived as extremely difficult to learn and appreciate, I propose through a personal narrative that the characters can be appreciated by more students when it is recognized that the setting of the Canadian classroom and the students in it, can become participants in the intermingling of two languages generally considered to be vastly different, yet as revealed by the etymology of the kanji have very much in common. As human constructs, these characters may be deconstructed by students who then reconsider the inherent meanings of the intertext, the internal structure, of the kanji. With an appreciation of the multilayered context of the symbol explored in a familiar language, students may then apply their acquired knowledge and skill into newer intercultural contexts of Japanese and English. My conviction is that the kanji are central to a personal exploration of Japan. The very nature of the characters as moving, timeless symbols of human interpretation was considered in this study, as was the inherent pedagogical quality of their etymological structure. This personalized research was concerned with the re-writing and re-learning of written Japanese for the North American learner. The question was one of equipping the Japanese as a second language learner with a new perspective that will enable them to use the innately human view of language revealed by the kanji. Commentators on linguistics and semiology such as Roland Barthes and Julia Kristeva were cited in probing the symbolic foundations of language, and our ability to play with meanings we so often take for granted in communicating our ideas. Exposing the hidden and unused meanings within the characters is described as a valuable contextual experience, and a method, in combination with other classroom approaches, of instilling motivation to learn the target language.

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