THE WORD FORMS 'GEISHA' AND 'GÉSA' AGAINST THE BACKDROP OF THE HISTORY OF JAPANESE (PART I)
Languages of publication
The word 'geisha' is represented in Japanese by two Chinese characters or by four kana symbols: ge + i + shi + ya. That word, adopted in a number of European languages as a Japanese loanword, is in general rendered as geisha (as in the modified Hepburn system, or 'Hyojunshiki') or something similar in most languages, as opposed to Hungarian where it is represented by only four letters as gésa. - In Japanese, the spoken form of what is represented by a kana symbol involving -e followed by the kana symbol for i when a Chinese character is transcribed into kana symbols (jion kanazukai) turned into a syllable whose nucleus is a long -e several centuries ago. In the Meiji period, the idea occurred to some spelling reformers that kana symbols involving -e should not be followed by the kana symbol i (e + i, ge + i, me + i, etc.) but rather by a straight line (e-, ge-, me-, etc.). Likewise, some people working on the Romanization of Japanese words suggested that -ei should be replaced by -e. However, the spelling reform was soon discomfited and until 1946 everything remained roughly as it had been; even after that date, the kana representation -e + i and ei-type transcription both survived as exceptions, to the present day. -In the mid-nineteenth century when (mainly English-speaking) Europeans and Americans came to know geishas, the word referring to them was committed to paper as geisha, reflecting the kana spelling pronunciation. In Hungarian, where the word may have been transmitted by German and English, after a short period of vacillation among geisa, gejsa and gésa, the last-mentioned form came to be generally used since the end of the nineteenth century, due to a Hungarian-internal phonological development. By mere coincidence, this traditional Hungarian form reflects the current Japanese pronunciation more faithfully than geisa, a potentially regular but non-accepted Hungarian transcription would.
Publication order reference
CEJSH db identifier