My Participation in the 5th Meeting of the Permanent International Altaistic Conference (PIAC)

Source: Hattori Shirō: “The 5th Meeting of the Permanent International Altaistic Conference (PIAC) に出席して”, Minzokugaku kenkyū 民族學研究, vol. 26, no. 4, 1962, pp. 309–313.

Editor’s note: The astute reader will observe a number of emphasised terms (colleagues, discussion etc.) which, in a native English text, would not necessarily stand out from the context. However, Hattori Shirō chose to use these very words in English within his Japanese text, considering them worthy of attention.


My Participation in the 5th Meeting of the
Permanent International Altaistic Conference (PIAC)

Hattori Shirō

tr. by Oliver Corff

This year’s annual Meeting of the PIAC took place in Indiana University in the United States from June 4 to 9, 1962.

The origin of the PIAC is as follows. On September 4, 1957, the following decision was made in the Altaic Section of the 24th International Congress of Orientalists. There was a common understanding that a meeting on Altaic studies which only takes place every three years during the International Congress of Orientalists was not enough. An annual meeting under the name PIAC was established, and for the first three years, from 1957 to 1960, Prof. Walther Heissig of Bonn University was elected Generalsekretär and took charge of the organization. In 1961, Prof. Denis Sinor of Cambridge University, UK, was elected as Generalsekretär.

In this manner, the PIAC became an annual event which was independent from the International Congress of Orientalists.

  • 1st Meeting: Mainz, June 25–28, 1958
  • 2nd Meeting: Mainz, June 23–26, 1959
  • 3rd Meeting: Burg Liebenstein/Rhein, June 26 to July 1, 1960
  • 4th Meeting: Cambridge, UK, June 12–16, 1961
  • 5th Meeting: Bloomington, USA, from June 4–9, 1962

More than 30 participants appeared during this meeting, after 13 participants at the first and about 20 participants from the 2nd meeting onwards.

The following participants appeared, in order of nation:

Australia: Stephen A. Wurm (Camberra)
Denmark: Karl Thomsen (Copenhagen)
England: Charles Bawden (London), Sir Gerard Clauson (London)
Finland: Pentti Aalto (Helsinki)
Germany: Walter Fuchs (Cologne), Annemarie v. Gabain (Hamburg), Ulla Johansen (Hamburg), Klaus Sagaster (Bonn)
Hungary: Károly Czégledy (Budapest), Odon Schütz (Budapest)
Italy: Alessio Bombaci (Naples)
Japan: Shirō Hattori (Tokyo), Sitirō Murayama (Tokyo), Nobuo Yamada (Osaka, now at Harvard)
Netherlands: Karl Jahn (Utrecht)
Poland: Ananiasz Zajaczkowski (Warsaw)
Turkey: Reşid Rahmeti Arat (Istanbul), Akdes Nimet Kurat (Ankara)

From the Soviet Union, Prof. V. M. Nasilov of Moscow University was scheduled to participate, but unfortunately could not make it.

From the USA, the following scholars participated (university affiliation in parentheses): Schuyler van R. Camman (Pennsylvania), Cornelius J. Crowley (St. Louis), M. Dresden (Pennsylvania), Wolfram Eberhard (California), János Eckmann (California), Gerd Fraenkel (Indiana), John R. Krueger (Indiana), Dorothy Libby (Indiana), K. H. Menges (Columbia), Nicholas N. Poppe (Washington), Omeljan Pritsak (Washington), Alo Raun (Indiana), Denis Sinor (Indiana), Andreas Tietze (California), Werner Winter (Texas)

It is worth observing that more than half of the participants came in from abroad. Members of Indiana University participated as observers, among them Sang Chan Rhee [李相讃] from Korea and the doctoral student Nicholas Poppe Jr. could also be seen. Sang Chan Rhee was very kind and helpful with information when I needed guidance in the library.

The author received a letter dated 28 February this year from Professor Denis Sinor, Secretary-General of the PIAC (a Hungarian professor at Cambridge University, UK, who became a professor at Indiana University, USA, last year), inviting him to participate in the conference, with round-trip travel and accommodation expenses paid. In fact, I had been invited three times in the past but my financial situation did not allow me to participate. Even though the relationship among the Altaic languages (Turkic, Mongolian, Tunguz) is disputed, I found the meeting profoundly interesting. The enclosed circular mentioned the following four topics which were said to have been agreed upon at the previous meeting in Cambridge:

  1. The dwellings (houses, tents, etc.) of the Altaic peoples.
  2. Forms of cultural and musical expression.
  3. The diffusion of writing in the Altaic world.
  4. Dress and ornament in the Altaic world.

With regard to these topics, it was not so much an issue of presenting an article, but rather the opportunity to contribute some material by joining the discussions. With the expection of topic 3 I was not so much interested in the other topices, and I considered it most beneficial to exchange views on the course of Altaic studies with old and new acquaintances. Thus, on March 10 I wrote a reply accepting the invitation and asking why the word linguistic was nowhere to be seen, and also asking how I should prepare for the discussion.

On March 22, I received an answer explaining that PIAC meetings are very informal, and rather than being a congress, had taken the habit of good friends and colleages coming together to discuss the issues of their common interests by sharing detailed reports on their latest activities. Furthermore, the letter continued, unfortunately a big portion of Altaic scholars do not read Japanese, und thus cannot follow the course of research in Japan, not only in linguistics, but also in history and ethnography. So, everybody would be extremely thankful if I could give a detailed report on these matters. This time, we expect to be able to publish the proceedings, so if you can make such a report, it would be preferable to have it ready for immediate printing.

Although I had been relieved of my major administrative duties in March, I still had a mountain of various miscellaneous tasks to attend to, so this report was quite a burden if I was to take it seriously. However, if I participated, I thought I then had to deliver a report as well.

While there are quite a few ways to write an overview, I thought it was most appropriate to send out a questionnaire to researchers of the field and read relevant books and articles directly. I asked Mr. Mori for help in compiling a list of scholars, and by April 15, nearly 120 persons out of approx. 150 contacted scholars had sent replies and papers. However, only after the May holidays I finally started compiling the report.

In addition, Altaic studies in Japan — notably after Assistant Prof. E. Martin last year had raised the issue that Korean studies should be included as well — are far larger than Westerners can imagine. Singlehandedly writing a full overview within one month was impossible. In light of this situation, I asked Mr. Mori Masao to compile a report on all fields outside linguistics and entrusted Mrs. Ōtsuka Yuriko with the English translation. For my part of the work, I could use cards with English abstracts which I had prepared while reading books and articles on the subject of language. Besides me, another scholar from Japan, Murayama Shichirō, was also invited. He had been asked to cover a part of the travel cost himself and hence had hesitated to answer, when all of a sudden ten days prior to departure we both received tickets.

Short before midnight of June 3 we left from Haneda, with a flight time of 17 and a half hours. En route, we crossed the date line, gaining one day, and arrived in the morning of Monday, June 4 in Bloomington. The participants gathered at Prof. Sinor’s house for lunch, and the meeting started with dinner at 7 p.m. the same day. During the four days from Tuesday, June 5 to Friday June 8, we had sessions of three hours in the forenoons and of two hours in the afternoons. The meeting ended with the breakfast on June 9, but due to my flight on that morning I left Bloomington shortly after 7 a.m. Every evening at 8 p.m. we had a reception which was quite a challenge for some of us. With nearly 20 hours of travel from Haneda, night and day reversed, it was a tough ride for a few days.

Two things took place during the session: the first was the customary ‘confession‘, where each participant became a ‘victim‘ and gave a detailed account of what they (and their country’s researchers) had been working on over the past year, what they were currently working on, their research plans, etc., and various questions and notes were asked by everyone, and critiques were made and information was added. Figuratively speaking, in this way it was possible to follow developments in Altaic studies around the world from the comfort of one’s own home. In this context, it was all the more regrettable that Mongolian and Soviet scholars did not participate. Anyway, the atmosphere was really pleasant, and all questions and criticisms were constructive and encouraging, giving me a deep sense of a gathering of colleagues in search of the truth together. To put it bluntly, compared with comparative and philological studies of Indo-European languages, Altaic studies in the last century and the first half of this century lacked precision, but it can also be said that the standard is gradually being raised. In this respect, some of our country’s research could not be said to have been of a low standard. In comparative research, the Ramstedt-Vladimircov-Poppe line made a great deal of contribution, but I was keenly aware of the need for a different approach, and was very encouraged to learn that of the advances of the fundamental research by Pritsak and Sinor. At the same time, I felt the need to give myself a good whipping, as I had made various research plans, but had not yet realised them to any great extent. The activities and the degree of commitment of these persons had little to do with financial or other practical gains, and it may not be totally ruled out that laymen would consider them being deranged. Numbed by omnipresent threats to life during and after the war, the present atmosphere made me think that beyond focussing on the immediate needs of life, we could well rediscover our interest in and desire for scholarly research.

The other thing that took place at the session were the contributions which were intended to provide input for discussions on the above-mentioned topics, but it cannot be denied that they resembled the form of lectures rather than of research presentations. Yet sometimes, the discussions were heated and sharp. The topics were only remotely related to practical affairs, and I thoroughly enjoyed the scholarly atmosphere. Let’s take, for example, the presentation by Ulla Johansen, Museum Hamburg, on the cradle and the hearth among the Altaic peoples which she accompanied by slides. She identified four types of cradles which could be recognized as being of the hanging type in pole-tents or resting on beds as in Mongolian yurts, because the roofstaffs of the yurt were not robust enough to support the weight of a hanging cradle. Ιt can be conjectured from the apparent common origin of the Mongolian words ölägäi, “cradle” and ölgükü, “to suspend”, that the Mongolian lived in pole-tents before and used hanging cradles. The Mongolians also use a kind of kettle-stand, whereas in pole-tents hanging pots were used. Other distributional conditions and ethnographic and linguistic data suggest that the majority of the Altai tribes formerly lived in pole-tents in forested areas. When Ms Johansen raised the question of the etymology of the Turkic word bešik (cradle), Professor N. Poppe suggested that it was derived from the same root *bel- (to sway) as the Yakut word biliä (to sway). On the same Wednesday morning (June 6th), there were two slide lectures, one by Professor Annemarie v. Gabain of the University of Hamburg on the housing and clothing of the ancient Uighurs and the other by Professor Walter Fuchs of the University of Cologne on the clothing of the Turks and Mongols of the 18th century. Other contributions included Dr Zajaczkowski from Poland and Professor Arat from Istanbul University on words related to spatial orientation, Professor Aalto from Helsinki University on Mongolian folk songs and Mr Sagaster from Bonn University on Mongolian and Tibetan scriptures. Sagaster is a disciple of Professor Heissig, and his philological research devoted to minute detail is admirable. Professor Shichirō Murayama compared the Japanese words kutsu (shoe), biwa (Japanese lute), hue (flute) and koto (zither) with words in Mongolian and Manchu languages, and argued that these words (in their ancestral forms) were already present in the ancestral precursors of these languages. This is quite interesting, but I think a lot of research still needs to be done to prove or disprove such a theory. Mr Murayama pointed out that kutu in Japanese is kutu~kudu (shoe) in Korean, even though phonological rules dictate that it should appear as kot in Korean (see also Japanese nata, shima, kuma, etc. vs. Korean nat, syem, kom, etc.); in Middle Korean literature, only the word sin is seen for “shoe” and kutu is not. However, I think this is dangerous. If anything, even if the loss of the vowel in the second syllable occurred in Korean, as suggested by Murayama, it may be that the vowel in the second syllable of this word (i.e. the word for ‘kutsu‘) was long, or that the second syllable was a closed syllable (in fact, as Murayama pointed out by the example gutul [shoes] in Mongolian). The second syllable may have been a closed syllable in Korean (currently, as pointed out by Murayama, it is gutul, “shoes”), which may have preserved the vowels in the second syllable; alternatively, the word kutu may have been borrowed into Korean from a foreign language other than Japanese after the loss of the second syllable vowel as assumed by Murayama; and even if it does not appear in Middle Korean documents, it cannot be ruled out that the word kutu did not exist in Korean at that time (e.g. as a word for a different kind of footwear); if this word was borrowed into Korean from Japanese after the 16th century, it should show the form kucu rather than kutu (see Hideyo Arisaka 有坂秀世, Studies in the Phonetic History of the Korean Language, Enlarged and Updated Edition『国語音韻史の研究,増補新版』, p. 563 and following); The Governor-General’s Dictionary of the Korean Language 総督府の『朝鮮語辞典』 mentions kutu, ‘Western-made shoes’, but this may be an application of the old word to something new (as is the case with the Japanese word ‘kutsu’), so much research is still needed. According to Shinpei Ogura 小倉進平, A Study in Korean Dialects, vol. 1, p. 138, 『朝鮮語方言の研究,上巻』the ku-du form is widely distributed in the North and South of Jeolla, the North and South of Gyeongsang,  the North and South of Chungcheong, Gyeonggi, Gangwon and Hwanghae provinces, i.e. in the central southern region, whereas the ku-dʒu form is distributed in a small part of the Hwanghae Provinces and in Sungkyongnambuk Province, i.e. in the north-east. From this state of distribution, it is clear that this Japanese word did not enter the (South-Central) Korean language until after Western shoes were called ‘kutsu’ in Japan. The reaction of the audience to this speech was muted, with everyone, including myself, silent, but when the chairman asked me to speak, I explained that Murayama’s theory was not the only possibility, at least as far as the Korean kutu was concerned.

Since the confessions needed unexpectedly much time and there were so many contributions, no time was left for discussions.


  • “The diffusion of writing in the Altaic world” by Gerard Clauson,
  • “Zwei türkisch-mongolische Korrespondenzreihen” by K. Thomsen and
  • “The Mongol ‘Conversation-song'” by Charles Bawden,

a photocopy of the table of contents of the detailed study of Mongolian yurts (consisting of two parts: a descriptive study and a comparative and historical study) by A. Róna-Tas from Budapest was distributed, but as he was not present, we were unable to hear this interesting talk.

However, the detailed minutes of this fifth meeting are prepared for printing and will be ready for reading once being typeset.

At this meeting, English was used to some extent at the beginning, but when German started to be spoken, it became almost exclusively German, except for Prof. Zajaczkowski, who read his paper in French. Yet German was overwhelmingly dominant, and Prof. Sinor, after giving various notes on the meeting in English, repeated them in German, so that it could be said that German was the lingua franca of the meeting. When I met Professor Ferdinand D. Lessing in Berkeley in the summer of 1950, he once said, with some exaggeration, that “German is no longer a world language but has fallen to the status of a European national language”. This was not true, at least as far as Altaic studies was concerned. Although there were no French participants this time, it came to my mind that an international conference of our field would be inconvenient unless the participants can use at least four languages (English, German, French and Russian) freely. At the same time, it is a pity that outstanding scholars cannot attend international conferences because they do not speak a foreign language freely.

Now I must also mention what I have done myself. When it was my turn for the confession, I spent about half an hour reading from Trends in postwar Japanese historical studies of the Altaic peoples (translated by Yuriko Ōtsuka), which had been prepared by Masao Mamoru. Professor Pritsak immediately asked for a copy of the manuscript for the Ural-Altaische Jahrbücher, but was told that Professor Sinor was planning to publish it in the proceedings. Due to the length of the confessions and the number of contributions, the time allocated to each person was limited and I was asked if my report on Japanese research on the Altaic languages could be limited to 20 minutes. However, when I had rehearsed the report, it took about one and a half hours. In light of the constraints, I considered accepting questions on the basis of the distributed lists of books, articles and researchers the only responsible answer to deal with the time limit. However, I was given the opportunity to give a report on the morning of June 8th, the last day of the conference, with no time limit. Although my report is only a very brief history of research since the Meiji era in a little over an hour, I have tried to introduce the contents, albeit briefly, as well as mentioning the names of books and articles. For example, Maema Kyōsaku 前間恭作, author of “Keirin ruiji reigenkō” 『鶏林類事麗言攷』 (1925), is a leading authority in Korean studies and has recently published a major work, “Ko-sŏn ch’aek-po” 『古鮮冊譜』(1944, 1956, 1957). His reigenkō studies the Koryŏ language of Sun Mu’s Jilin leishi 鶏林類事, which came to Japan in 1103, and clearly shows that it is in Korean. In his Ryūka kogo sen 『竜歌故語箋』(1924), which is a commentary on the Korean of the Yong-pi-ŏ-ch’ŏn-ka 『龍飛御天歌 』(1445), the author also finds that mid-15th century Korean possessed strict vowel harmony (most of which has been lost in modern Korean). Etc. Immediately after the report, Prof. N. Poppe said: ‘We did not know that so much research had been done. It is like not knowing that there are trains running in the same direction next to each other. Somehow those studies should be made available to us.” Professor K. H. Menges agreed, and it was unanimously requested that a plan be drawn up and implemented to systematically translate and publish books and articles in Japanese into English. During that lunch break, I was consulted by Professor Sinor on the materialisation of the above plan. With this request, Professor Sinor expressed his wish to stay in Japan for a month or so to consult on what should be translated. We will try to make that happen.

At the last session in the afternoon of June 8th, various decisions were taken regarding the future of PIAC: Prof. Sinor was elected as Secretary General for the next five years. Helsinki was mentioned as the first candidate for the venue of next year’s meeting and Professor Aalto will make every effort after his return. It was also decided that a medal would be awarded each year to a person who had made a particularly significant contribution to the field of Altaic studies, and the method of election was voted on, with Sir G. Clauson, W. Heissig, D. Sinor and A. Zajaczkowski being elected as members of the election committee. Before that, a vote was taken on whether the electors could elect themselves or not, and although they could not, it was impressive that there were 10 votes in favour of them being able to.

Other suggestions were made, although there was not enough time to discuss them fully, for an abstracting service for books and articles, as is done in the natural and social sciences. The first phase of the project will cover works written in Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, Persian, Korean, Polish, Finnish and Hungarian, but in the near future it should also include works written in Russian, German, French and English. The traditional method of publication is to publish in a journal such as the Central Asiatic Journal, but a new method is to use the IBM system or punch cards, in which readers can write their own notes on the parts they need, as an example. There was also a suggestion to make the exchange of materials more effective. In some cases, if materials collected for research purposes were no longer needed or were not be used in the near future, they should be offered to colleagues or groups of colleagues who need them and, conversely, they can receive what they need. This could be done in form of published reference cards; the idea is to establish a system of exchange of materials based on a published set of reference cards. If this were to happen, it would be a wonderful thing.

In short, attending this meeting of PIAC, I was struck by how meaningful and how enjoyable a meeting of like-minded academics can be. It was a gathering of colleagues that transcended, or rather, disregarded, any politically created boundaries or borders, and I felt very fortunate to have been able to attend. We sent oversized postcards to colleagues who could not attend the meeting, including F. W. Cleaves (USA), L. Ligeti (Hungary), A. Mostaert (USA), V. M. Nasilov (USSR), B. Rintchen (Mongolia) and others. This list also gives some indication of the academic nature of the association. The absence of scholars such as Louis Hambis (France), however, gives some cause for concern, but we did not inquire into the cause of this. We can only hope that this is due to coincidence and does not mean that French scholars are not participating.

The major difference between the PIAC and the various specialized learned societies of Japan is that this is not a gathering of disparate specialists in linguistics, ethnology, folklore, history, philology, etc., but rather a group of scholars with various research inclinations who seem to form a large family of close colleagues, thus facilitating knowledge exchange between the various academic fields and creating, on the whole, extraordinarily favourable conditions for scholarly progress.

It is clear that the abolition of political and academic boundaries in the academic world is the most crucial condition for academic progress, and although it is easy to conceive a state-of-affairs devoid of boundaries, it is presumably extremely difficult to realise, but attending this meeting has given me great hope.