Yona Siderer- The Evolution of Chemistry Language in mid-19th Century Japan

Yona Siderer 9.3.16-page-001


Translation of chemistry books from the West started in Japan in early 1800s to be able to confront and adapt western civilization. Udagawa Yōan (1798-1846) translated the most important book on chemistry, Seimi Kaiso, (Introduction to chemistry), published 1837-1847.

For the introduction of a new discipline with a different world view, what terms did Udagawa Yōan use? Old terms or new ones? The question relates to names of chemical elements, compounds, tools, chemical processes and manufacturing methods. Udagawa Yōan used the Dutch translations of more than twenty books from Europe in his studying and writing Seimi Kaiso and other botany and chemistry books. Those books that he possessed indirectly emphasize the vast exchange of scientific knowledge among European scholars, in contrast with the work in isolation of the Japanese scholars.  An example of Yōan’s translation of Antoine Lavoisier’s “On the combination of light and heat with substances” will be presented.

Yōan was the greatest pioneer of introducing natural sciences language and coining new terms for botany and chemistry. It will be shown that some of those terms are in use today.