The Harvard University Library (HUL) has announced that researchers using HOLLIS – the Harvard Online Library Information System – can now search for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean materials in their original scripts. This new search feature is readily available to users whose desktops have been adapted for CJK scripts. It supplements and does not replace searches using the romanized forms of those three languages known collectively as CJK.
Each of the three CJK languages has unique features that render romanized forms largely unintelligible except in controlled and isolated environments such as bibliographic citations. Chinese, for example, has only a few hundred phonetic syllables, but each syllable might be pronounced in any one of four tones and each syllable/tone phoneme might be represented by one of more than 60,000 nonphonetic Chinese characters. Homonyms abound in Chinese, and words are generally composed of multisyllable combinations.
Romanized Chinese rarely indicates reliably the meaning of a word or phrase in context. An additional difficulty with reading bibliographic Chinese is the existence of many romanization systems (at least 23) and the fact that in the 1950s the government of China radically changed the writing system by simplifying it in an effort to obliterate illiteracy. Thus, today there are texts in both traditional and simplified Chinese characters, largely a division based on the political division between the Republic of China on Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China on the China mainland. Characters represent meanings rather than sounds, making them ideal for conveying in writing the ideas expressed in China’s numerous mutually unintelligible dialects and regional languages.
Japanese, which is not in the same language family as Chinese, adopted Chinese characters as early as the ninth century. However, that system was not well suited to the Japanese language, which, unlike written Chinese, is inflected and indicates verb tense, gender, levels of formality, and more. Subsequently, the Japanese developed a separate writing system (hiragana), used in conjunction with Chinese characters (known in Japanese as kanji) to represent verb forms and other aspects of the language that differ from the Chinese. Hiragana can even be used without recourse to kanji, which could be used for either meanings or for their phonetic values.
As words from Western languages began to flow into Japan following the opening of Japan, the Japanese developed katakana, a script used to record approximated foreign sounds. It is not unusual to find a text that employs kanji, hiragana, and katakana used together. The Japanese also developed a separate functional script that is written beside Chinese characters in classical Chinese texts to indicate the order in which the Chinese should be read to make it intelligible in Japanese.
Korean, which is in the same language family as Japanese, benefited from the invention of an indigenous phonetic syllabary (Han’gul) in 1443 under the leadership of the Korea’s King Sejong. Han’gul can be used alone or in combination with Chinese characters, which are used primarily for nouns. There are numerous romanization systems in use in Korea, where the government frequently replaces them with new ones. The confusion caused by the use of various nonstandardized romanization systems in bibliographic citations can be resolved most easily by use of Han’gul, which is now available in HOLLIS.
Implementation of CJK in HOLLIS has been a primary focus for HUL’s Office for Information Systems as well as an interfaculty group of librarians known as the CJK Working Group, chaired by Raymond Lum of the Harvard – Yenching Library. Today, the University’s library holdings include more than half a million CJK research resources that can now be accessed in their original scripts. These records are available to the Harvard community as well as to the international community of scholars. For more information, contact the HUL Office for Information Systems at (617) 495-3724.