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Just an observation...

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RE: Just an observation...

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Thu 07.26.2007 9:26 pm

I just meant the roman alphabet works well for Japanese, not necessarily better than kana. About the only way romaji would be better than kana is in computer processing.
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RE: Just an observation...

Postby Dehitay » Thu 07.26.2007 11:41 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
Good point, but I would argue that the phonetic parts of kanji are secondary to its meaning. Do you disagree?


Yes, I disagree emphatically. The phonetic value of a kanji is primary.

There are a number of things that support this:
1. Kanji only have meanings when they are used to represent the words in a spoken language. Separated from spoken language they have no meaning.
2. Historical development of kanji shows that meaning elements were added to phonetic elements.
3. Research indicates that native speakers read kanji primarily for sound value rather than meaning.
4. The idea that the East Asian writing systems are processed by the human brain differently from other writing systems has no foundation in any reliable experimentation or research.


1. How can you say kanji has no meaning on its own? If it's only purpose was for pronunciation, then there would be no valid reason to use it. There are thousands of kanji and a phonetic system like kana would have every advantage over it.
2. I won't deny that, but you have to look at Chinese. The same syllables with different accenting could mean a variety of things. Hanzi was most likely invented because just phonetic pronunciation wasn't enough. Instead of adding some way of measuring how to accent the syllables, they probly added meaning to each of their script characters so you would know how to accent it when you say the syllable.
3. I'm pretty sure that's the case as well
4. I'll agree with the phonetic systems, but systems like kanji (I don't know of any other script like it in East Asia though) where a single character can represent a concept I definitely process differently. Your statement tends to make me thing there's just no reliable experimentation or research.
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RE: Just an observation...

Postby stevie » Fri 07.27.2007 8:56 am

1. The point is that outside of Japanese, a Kanji does not have a particular meaning. Even within Japanese it can be argued a Kanji does not have a particular meaning, though I suppose often (if not always) they have been assigned one, maybe for classification purposes.

For example, you can say that the meaning of the kanji '百' is 'hundred' - but how on earth does that have anything to do with 八百屋, a vegetable/grocery store? Maybe this makes sense if you look into the etymology but I don't think etymology is foremost in the Japanese beginner's mind. Also, if you need to check the etymology then the 'meaning' of the Kanji obviously doesn't come across so easily.

Now, I have no problem with saying the Japanese -word- 百 (or ひゃく) means (ie, can more or less translate to) 'hundred'. Saying the character itself 'means' hundred though, just seems redundant. I bet no-one on earth without foreknowledge of the characters, sees 百 and thinks of the concept of 'hundred' - even if you turn it on its side it's a bit of a leap.

4. I can process kanji differently, but I find it so much easier and more fun to learn if I don't. To me it's more practical to look at it like this: if I am learning a word like 八百屋, I accept that it's pronounced/read 'やおや' despite what I've learned before about the reading of '八百'. If I just accept it for what it is, I don't worry about why the grocery store is seemingly an 800 shop (though I'm sure this is one case where it's really easy to think of mnemonics, if that's your thing). I doubt the majority of native speakers worry about it so much either.
Last edited by stevie on Fri 07.27.2007 8:56 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Just an observation...

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Fri 07.27.2007 9:13 am

1. How can you say kanji has no meaning on its own? If it's only purpose was for pronunciation, then there would be no valid reason to use it. There are thousands of kanji and a phonetic system like kana would have every advantage over it.


You can say that a kanji has an associated meaning from the words it is used to write, but that doesn't mean that the kanji has an inherent meaning.

For instance, dictionaries will tell you that 簡 means "simple", but you can't write あのテストは簡でしたね and have it be valid Japanese. If the meaning element of kanji were really as strong and dominant as people make it out to be, you would see people doing things like this in writing.

This may seem like a pedantic issue, but I think it's important because it affects the way people study kanji. And unfortunately for a native English speaker, learning a "kanji meaning" usually means associating a kanji directly with an English word, bypassing the Japanese language entirely. Kanji meanings can be useful as a guide, but you don't want to rely on them too much.
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RE: Just an observation...

Postby spin13 » Fri 07.27.2007 11:58 am

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
I'm not quite sure what "the English alphabet" is, though.


The English alphabet is a subset of the Latin alphabet. Unlike, for example, the Italian alphabet, another subset of the Latin alphabet, it contains letters like J and K. Unlike, for example, the German alphabet, another subset of the Latin alphabet, it does not contain characters like ß.

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RE: Just an observation...

Postby Tesu » Fri 07.27.2007 12:59 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:

You can say that a kanji has an associated meaning from the words it is used to write, but that doesn't mean that the kanji has an inherent meaning.


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RE: Just an observation...

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Fri 07.27.2007 2:10 pm

Dehitay wrote:

4. I'll agree with the phonetic systems, but systems like kanji (I don't know of any other script like it in East Asia though) where a single character can represent a concept I definitely process differently. Your statement tends to make me thing there's just no reliable experimentation or research.


Research on reading and language processing is done by analyzing brain waves, movement of the vocal cords, and eye movements. It can't be done just through personal observation anymore than you can describe the way your heart works without any scientific knowledge.
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RE: Just an observation...

Postby Tesu » Sat 07.28.2007 2:55 am

Dehitay wrote:

4. I'll agree with the phonetic systems, but systems like kanji (I don't know of any other script like it in East Asia though) where a single character can represent a concept I definitely process differently.


Not to sound rude, but wasn't it you who learned the meanings to 2000 Kanji, but who's speaking ability is comparitively much worse? That might explain why you process it differently ;)

Although my Japanese level is still fairly low, I think I process Japanese the same way that I process English writing.
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RE: Just an observation...

Postby Dehitay » Sat 07.28.2007 10:34 am

Tesu wrote:
Dehitay wrote:

4. I'll agree with the phonetic systems, but systems like kanji (I don't know of any other script like it in East Asia though) where a single character can represent a concept I definitely process differently.


Not to sound rude, but wasn't it you who learned the meanings to 2000 Kanji, but who's speaking ability is comparitively much worse? That might explain why you process it differently ;)

Although my Japanese level is still fairly low, I think I process Japanese the same way that I process English writing.


It's not just me. What do you think when you see a 笑 or 汗 after a sentence? I would think that a good number of people don't bother to pronounce that in their heads at all. Such a thing isn't common with phonetic scripts but it's easy with a script like kanji. For phonetic scripts, you usually need a string of characters.

A majority of the time, you'll just see a word written in kanji and then process it like any other word, but when you run across a word written in kanji that you don't know, what do you do? Most people are going to put together the common readings and the common meanings of the kanji to see if they can figure it out before looking it up. Such a thing is rare in phonetic scripts. Maybe if you're using latin roots in English you can guess what solarphobia is without looking it up but that's not as common an occurence as it is with the Japanese language.

Actually, now that I think about it, it's correct to say that Japanese literate people read Japanese scripts in the same way English literate people read with the roman alphabet. However, to say that's the only way they read it is what I wouldn't agree with.
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RE: Just an observation...

Postby hungryhotei » Sat 07.28.2007 1:15 pm

Dehitay wrote:
It's not just me. What do you think when you see a 笑 or 汗 after a sentence?


Is there really a difference between that and putting 'w' at the end of a sentence? I'm not sure that anyone here would argue that the character 'w' has an intrinsic meaning of 'laughter'. It only carries that meaning there because it is representing the word warau, just like 笑 is.
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RE: Just an observation...

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 07.28.2007 1:20 pm

In that case I think the character (or letter in the case of "w") is acting ideographically to represent the sense of humor or laughter rather than a specific word, even though the reason for the characters used comes from the word "warau". But as you can see from the fact that both 笑 and "w" are used, this ideographic sense is not something unique to kanji. (And this has little to do with the way that kanji are used in normal Japanese writing.)

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RE: Just an observation...

Postby Chris Hart » Sat 07.28.2007 2:38 pm

Dehitay wrote:
Maybe if you're using latin roots in English you can guess what solarphobia is


What's an irrational fear of the sun/sunlight have to do with anything?

Most native speakers of English will recognize certain roots, and automatically put them togeather. Before your post, I had never heard of solarphobia, but could easily put it togeather from it's roots. Many people may not realize completely what the root is, but will have an idea. Many people will make up words on the fly from certain roots, phobia being one of them. There are some that many people will think what's that a fear of, and I'll give a partial list of a few that may be stereotypically attributed to children. See if you can guess them. Here's a breakdown of the solarphobia to it's roots, as they are used in English:

sol - sun
solar - of or pertaining to the sun
phobia - irrational fear

Ablutophobia, Achluophobia, Arachnophobia, Astrapophobia, Brontophobia, Coulrophobia, Daemonophobia, Dentophobia, Didaskaleinophobia, Tonsurophobia.

And sometimes the older members of our society may be acused of having cyberphobia. I doubt we will find anyone with this problem here.

(edited to add content)
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RE: Just an observation...

Postby Dehitay » Sun 07.29.2007 10:13 am

hungryhotei wrote:
Is there really a difference between that and putting 'w' at the end of a sentence? I'm not sure that anyone here would argue that the character 'w' has an intrinsic meaning of 'laughter'. It only carries that meaning there because it is representing the word warau, just like 笑 is.


The difference lies in the way that if somebody had never seen 笑 or w used at the end of a sentence before, they would likely be able to figure out what 笑 would mean the first time they see it used in that fashion, but unlikely would it be the same for w. Regardless of how a kanji character acquired meaning, it still has meaning.
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RE: Just an observation...

Postby stevie » Sun 07.29.2007 11:26 am

Doesn't the 'w' in your example has just as much meaning as the kanji does, because like you said, regardless of how the meaning is acquired, it still has meaning? It's like saying 'haha' or *laughs* vs 'lol' - just about every first time internet user can understand haha, but maybe won't pick up 'lol' quite as fast.

Just so, a kanji dictionary will list a meaning (or several meanings) to each Kanji. In that sense they do have meanings. But what is it worth without knowing the words to go with it? These 'meanings' somtimes (or perhaps often) do not show through when dealing with their usage in the language as a whole, as well as the other languages that use them.

I'm not totally against the idea that Kanji have 'meanings', I have two kanji dictionaries after all and they are very useful - but I do think these meanings are made out to be much more important than they are, at least to the beginner. It's mainly that I see people stating that "if I know the 'meaning' I can at least guess what a kanji compound means!". I just don't know why you'd want to guess when the resources are abundantly available (even without cost on the internet) to look things up and confirm meanings within seconds.

Of course, some people enjoy guessing and trying to work it out, and to that end, I have no problems at all with the idea of individual meanings for Kanji. Personally I just don't find learning such things all that useful, at least not as a beginner.
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RE: Just an observation...

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sun 07.29.2007 12:40 pm

Kanji definitely have meanings in a way that kana or letters of an alphabet don't. I just think it's important to remember what these "meanings" are and are not, and not to rely on them too much in learning Japanese. As I've said, if you want to use the meanings to help you organize the vocabulary you're learning, or to give yourself an additional tool to help you when you encounter a word you don't know, that's fine. If you're learning meanings *instead* of words, that's bad.
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