Young Japanese teacher studies ancient, vanished language of Western Xia

CNA, Taipei, Taipei Times, Thursday 25 September 2003, page 4

A Japanese teacher working in a school in southern Taiwan has a passion for a vanishing language that few others in Taiwan or his own country share.

Yuji Kotaka, a language teacher at the Wenzao Ursaline College of Languages in Kaohsiung, said that he fell in love with the language of the Western Xia regime (1038-1227) in China when he first saw the beautiful shape of the characters in a high-school history textbook.

I made up my mind to devote my life to the study of the beautiful language at that point, Kotaka said.

Kotaka, 35, who holds a Ph.D in literature, is one of less than 40 scholars in Japan devoted to the study of the Western Xia language.

He said he is not lonely pursuing the path less trodden, but instead derives great joy from piecing together very limited information to gain a broader picture of the Western Xia regime.

Kotaka said that since he began studying at Hiroshima University, he has spent his leisure time dabbling with research into the Western Xia.

In the beginning, I had only a few clues and had to rely on the encyclopedia for more information, he said, adding that he was eventually able to locate three Western Xia language dictionaries and teach himself about the ancient language.

Kotaka said that he has now established his own computer databank, which he uses to analyse the language in a scientific way.

He is also planning to study the languages of the Qidan and Nuchen—ancient northern nomadic tribes of what is now China.

He noted that the Western Xia regime was roughly in the area of the present Chinese provinces of Ningxia and Gansu. However, because it was hemmed in between the Sung and Liao dynasties and faced repeated wars, it was eventually annihilated by Mongolia and its language vanished.

Kotaka said that few in the world are able to read the language now and those interested can only rely on a few surviving documents and its obscure language to try to get a more complete picture of the Western Xia, whose people excelled in printing, astronomy, construction and textiles.

In addition to Japanese, Mandarin, and Western Xia, Kotaka also reads Korean, German, French, Greek, Latin and Russian. After coming to Taiwan, he also began to learn to speak Taiwanese and Hakka.