Organized Panel Session
The earliest writing from both Japan and Korea is Sinographic writing. Despite difficulties inherent in the adaptation of a foreign logographic script to their vernaculars, from the outset of written culture in the sixth and seventh centuries scribes in the Korean kingdom of Silla (trad. 57BCE-660CE) and Japan began producing vernacular inscriptions. These early inscriptions are remarkably similar between Silla and Japan, in that they arrange logographs in vernacular word order (subject-object-verb) but feature minimal representation of grammatical particles or inflections. This paper will examine the earliest instances of this style of inscription found on mokkan [wooden strips] recovered from sites in the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago, in order to highlight not only the techniques for vernacular transcription seen therein but the implications for understanding the place of the vernacular in the earliest forms of written culture. In the early stages of the Sinographic written culture in both Silla and Japan, inscription in the vernacular appears to have functioned as both a shortcut for effective written communication in a context of relatively limited literacy, and as a means of circumventing the limitations of the cosmopolitan written language for representing complex grammatical and social relationships. Characterized by imprecision and idiosyncrasies, the production of these types of inscriptions nevertheless appears to have been motivated by the desire for a style of clear and nuanced communication only possible in the vernacular.