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Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby HarakoMeshi » Thu 12.13.2007 12:01 am

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
But the word already had those meanings before any kanji were assigned to them. The kanji were assigned based on the different shades of meaning the word already had. Any native Japanese understands all of these meanings in context without having to see any written symbols; the written symbols do not specify the meaning, they are merely assigned by convention.


I am not sure that words "already had those meanings". They may, or may not have.

Many of these nuances were proably adopted only for literary purposes. In most languages, writers brought about major changes, and coined tons of new words. And they still do.

In a literary work, you may or may not want to go into extra context. When you can express it clearly with a specific writing then you have extra literary freedom.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Thu 12.13.2007 12:41 am

Are you seriously trying to claim that "toru" did not have these extra meanings until kanji were assigned to them, or that the meanings only show up in written form and cannot be used in speech? I'm really tempted to chalk this up to yet another kanji-saturated RTK influence, but I don't want to start that debate again.

Dr. Unger's article has another salient point here:
...all I can say is that linguistics is an empirical science and has yet to find any evidence that writing in general, much less the details of a particular writing system, influence speech. [footnote:] See, for instance, Aronoff 1994, a review of a collection of papers "centered around the idea that literacy promotes linguistic awareness and hence linguistic analysis." Some articles in this volume "exploit this idea admirably, showing how literacy affects ideas about aspects of language ranging from phonology to syntax. . . . Other articles go beyond this connection between literacy and awareness or analysis to a much bolder claim: that written language has an effect on spoken language. Linguists have long rejected the possibility of such influence, and the argument provided here should not change that" (619a).


(EDIT: To clarify what's being said here -- they're not saying that words cannot be coined through writing or that you can't learn a word through writing. What they're saying is that it's impossible for there to be developments in a language that could not have happened without writing -- i.e. there are no words that could not have been created through speech, or grammatical patterns that can only be used (or learned) in a written context. Even when you learn or create something in a written context, it is being created through your spoken language and you learn it through the same process you learn a word in speech.)

I know you will be tempted to simply ignore this, but please keep in mind that both Dr. Unger and Aronoff whom he quotes are linguists that have spend decades studying these issues. Linguistics is a real science and you can't hope to make bold pronouncements in the field without doing any research yourself.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby yukamina » Thu 12.13.2007 12:58 am

Yudan Taiteki wrote:

But the word already had those meanings before any kanji were assigned to them. The kanji were assigned based on the different shades of meaning the word already had. Any native Japanese understands all of these meanings in context without having to see any written symbols; the written symbols do not specify the meaning, they are merely assigned by convention.

But using the different kanji instead of kana gives a different feel. Of course Japanese people can understand it without the kanji.
Also, I sometimes see kanji with furigana for different words...The combination of the kanji and the different furigana isn't something you can do with romaji. Or using kanji to make up words and still have the reader understand.


This is what I was talking about; it's mostly confined to manga, advertisements, and other things like that.

I see it in books and song lyrics too. I think kanji is a way to be flowery with words. I don't expect I'd see that sort of usage in a technical manual or the like(which I don't plan on reading).
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby HarakoMeshi » Thu 12.13.2007 1:46 am

Whether the chicken or the egg came first, we can not argue that the variations on "toru" are understandable in both writing and speech, and I didn't try to. If they were not identifiable within situations in the spoken language, nobody would be able to tell when to use them.

I think my point was not that written language affects spoken language, but rather than a written language can be a superset of the spoken language in its expressiveness. Or perhaps a better word may be in its explicitness, in that it seems the Japanese writing allows an idea to be transferred more explicitly and succinctly than the spoken language.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Thu 12.13.2007 10:21 am

I just don't see how とる is less succinct than 取る or 撮る. A Japanese knows what meaning is meant by the context, without the kanji. This isn't a "superset" because the written language is not adding any meaning that the spoken sentence doesn't have, it's just forcing you to do specific things with the orthography.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby BetterSense » Thu 12.13.2007 2:31 pm

There are tons of english words that have shades of meaning...the word 'shoot' (shoot a gun, shoot a film, shoot somebody, shoot your mouth off, as an expletive, a plant stem,) or 'chute' (para', coal, a part of a race track, etc.). These are all phonetically identical (for me), but different parts of speech, transitive versus intransitive etc.

How many different symbols must a writing system have for this one sound element? Just one, the way you hear it in speech? Or two, like english? Or possibly 6+, the way it would be if english was written with kanji?


These shades of meaning with the same spelling, well, english speakers get along just fine, without even conceiving of different spellings. And there are kanji that are written the some but used for separate meanings too. People get along.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 12.15.2007 10:41 am

One other issue that's important here is the cases in which kanji actually *add* ambiguity (if you ignore context) rather than removing it.

i.e.:
方(ほう、かた), 額(ひたい、がく), 下(した、もと), 開く(あく、ひらく), 誘う(さそう、いざなう)

There are probably more, but in these cases the only way to know what word is being represented is from context.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Shirasagi » Sat 12.15.2007 10:49 am

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
One other issue that's important here is the cases in which kanji actually *add* ambiguity (if you ignore context) rather than removing it.

i.e.:
方(ほう、かた), 額(ひたい、がく), 下(した、もと), 開く(あく、ひらく), 誘う(さそう、いざなう)

There are probably more, but in these cases the only way to know what word is being represented is from context.


One I realized yesterday is 避ける(さける、よける).

Thanks for being absolutely no help at all, okurigana!
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 12.15.2007 11:05 am

汚す(けがす、よごす) is another one I forgot. There are a huge number if you go beyond the Jouyou-legal readings, which Japanese often do.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby hyperconjugated » Sat 12.15.2007 12:52 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
-- the kana isn't even enough to completely phonetically represent standard Japanese.

Could you give some examples. That sounds interesting.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 12.15.2007 1:15 pm

ん is the easiest example. The ん sounds in かんべん, こんやく, and とんだ are all pronounced differently. The kana also do not indicate whispered mora.

Kana is a phonemic system, but not phonetic (although it is nearly so).
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby hyperconjugated » Sat 12.15.2007 1:19 pm

I see. Thanks for the explanation.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Nibble » Sat 12.15.2007 2:52 pm

I've asked a number of native Chinese speakers if they think that they should scrap the current writing system in favour of pinyin or zhuyin fuhao ("Chinese romaji" and "Chinese kana," respectively), and the best argument against it that I've heard so far is that of the limitation of expressiveness in writing. This person did not argue that spoken language cannot be properly expressed in pinyin, but that the current written language cannot be.

Due to the nature of Chinese characters, a writer wanting to be concise may remove significant portions of a sentence, chop words in half, or rearrange everything in such a way that it would not be understood in speech. There are also many common words and phrases -- particularly four-character idioms -- that are popular in writing, but, again, incomprehensible if spoken. A writer may also engage in wordplay, using alternate characters that give a different "feel" to a word or change the emotional "tone of voice" (which was the one part of speech that he felt would be hard to express in pinyin), or replacing them with characters for another, similar-sounding word. He may purposely use characters with ambiguous meanings or pronunciations, or ones that are very precise. He may represent the speech of a man from Taiwan in traditional characters, that of a woman from China in simplified, that of a child in zhuyin fuhao and that of a man from Canada in pinyin (I've seen similar things in Japanese, using hiragana for children and katakana for foreigners, for example). By limiting writing to only pinyin, that literary tradition will be lost, and writers will be significantly limited in the ways in which they can express themselves.

He likened it to the use of acronyms and emoticons on the internet. If one day our ability to use things like "LOL" ":'(" "(>^_^)>" "<3" or " B)" were taken away because such things do not exist in speech and thus have no place in writing, then our ability to express emotions would be limited, and we would have to find new, possibly less-satisfactory ways to express ourselves:
"..and then he told me it was over. I am making a sad face and am crying."
"Don't worry, you'll find someone better. I am smiling and giving you a hug. I am expressing my care for you in a way that one might represent by drawing a picture of a heart, or of two people embracing each other."
"Thank you. I am smiling now."

I don't really think the benefits of literary expressiveness and conciseness outweigh the benefits of scrapping Chinese characters, but it's the most compelling argument I've heard so far.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Wakannai » Sat 12.15.2007 4:33 pm

If one day our ability to use things like "LOL" ":'(" "(>^_^)>" "<3" or " " were taken away because such things do not exist in speech and thus have no place in writing, then our ability to express emotions would be limited, and we would have to find new, possibly less-satisfactory ways to express ourselves:


That's an extremely good argument.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 12.15.2007 5:15 pm

Asking native speakers with no linguistic training is not a very reliable way to determine the effectiveness of the writing system. Without linguistic training and research, even native speakers are not qualified to make judgments about their own language (whatever that language is).

The way to determine kanji's effect on expressiveness would be through research and experimentation, which could be done both through analysis of existing publications (i.e. in what type of writing and how frequently is expressiveness via kanji utilized), and through experimentation through blind studies of native speaker reaction to certain types of text.

Same thing with the "incomprehensible when spoken" idea -- the way to test that would be to run an experiment with a number of native speakers divided into two groups -- one group who would hear sentences read aloud, and another group who would read the sentences themselves silently. Just asking native speakers is likely to produce answers that fit people's "common sense" perceptions, or that are based on one or two instances that are sticking out in their mind. There's also a tendency for native speakers to answer questions about their own language with what they think they're supposed to say or know rather than what they actually do.

Now, even John de Francis acknowledges that written texts with a lot of classical Chinese features in them *do* become incomprehensible when spoken aloud and thus could not be romanized, but once again, rather than just making the knee-jerk reaction of "loss of culture!" you would have to do some research to find out just what effect it would have.
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